Life Sketches by Terry Berkson
The Call of the Crewster
One spring I was late to order some laying hens from Roger Vaughn, who had a farm outside of Richfield Springs and housed among other critters about 2,500 chickens. I usually got the ones that he soon intended to rotate because of a drop in their production. Naturally, I wouldn’t get an egg per chicken every day, but it beat waiting about 20 weeks for baby chicks to mature and start laying. By then I would almost be getting ready to take my whole flock to King’s auction so that we’d be free for winter travel to Florida. One might think it was cruel to unload healthy chickens that were still laying but, the way I saw it, when I bought them from Roger I was giving the birds a stay of execution. If I didn’t take them they would have all been sent to the slaughter house to make way for a new laying crew. In my hands they lived an extra few months and I spoiled them rotten with lots of corn, hand-picked dandelions, leftovers from the kitchen, and brief free-range sojourns around the back yard in the early evening.
So, the problem was where to get chickens that were already laying. My neighbor, Dick Perry, lined me up with a guy from Miller’s Mills who had layers for sale and would deliver. The man warned that his birds were laying such big eggs that they were blowing themselves out and sometimes not surviving. I considered his obvious exaggeration unnecessary promotion. Upon the delivery of his Golden Comets he even threw in a free rooster. Incredibly, on the very first day, the biggest egg ever laid on the farm arrived. It was literally twice the size of the eggs I had been buying. I was eggstatic! All the big browns laid that day were at least jumbo in size.
In contrast, the free rooster wasn’t much to look at. He was short, white with drooping wings, had a small head and no comb, just red where the comb should be. No wonder the guy got rid of him. He had been given a crew cut, which made him look more like a “crewster.” Maybe the cut comb was mistakenly meant to prepare him to be a fighting cock, because when he crowed I thought he was more of a Screamin’ J. Hawkins than a Cassius Clay. His piercing crow sounded very much like a woman screaming. All day long this rooster just kept screaming.
That evening it was already dark when I got home from fishing on Canadarago Lake. When closing my birds in for the night, the rooster wasn’t there. I checked high in the two trees in the chicken yard and low under the laying boxes, but my crewster was nowhere to be found. Two times in the past I had lost birds to a raccoon and a weasel but there was no sign of a struggle, no blood and no feathers. It looked like the screamer just flew the coop. No big loss.
It was a warm night, so I opened the bedroom window before going to sleep—alone. My wife, Alice, was down in Tennessee enjoying a visit with the grandchildren. About five in the morning I was sound asleep when this terrible noise almost blew me out of bed. It came from right outside my window and when I lifted the shade, there, roosting in a cedar right next to the house, was the bald-headed bird from hell. My cell phone was on the night table so I took a picture. Then I got a broom out of the hall closet and tried to scoot the rooster off his perch, but all he did was sidle away while he continued screaming. I took my covers and went down to sleep on the living room couch.
In the morning the feathered nightmare was no longer in the tree outside my bedroom window. He was now over by the chicken coop trying to get in the yard. I figured it was easier for him to fly out of the coop than to fly in. When I let the girls loose and fed them, he remained outside the fence. I let him stay out and hungry all day. In the evening when I opened the gate he scooted in and headed for the feed pail. I was hoping he learned his lesson about staying where he belonged. Alice was due home that night and would be tired from the long trip. I was worried because she’s a light sleeper and kind of explosive when waked in the middle of the night—imagine by a woman screaming. Aside from that, I’m looking forward to those big brown eggs in the morning.
Terry Berkson’s articles have appeared in “New York” magazine, “Automobile” magazine and many others. His memoir, “Corvette Odyssey,” has received many good reviews: “highly recommended with broad appeal,” says “Library Journal.”