The first family consisted of several absolutely adorable fuzzy chicks my son (and I) simply could not resist buying at our local Tractor Supply. I’m guessing there are leagues of families who began their foray into backyard chickening in this way. Suckers.
We thought he was a she in the beginning. I would muse aloud to the bird “Why Mrs. Roosevelt, you’re looking rather masculine today” as she grew larger and more impressive. Indeed, she was a he. A robust, handsome and large dark red rooster with a lovely iridescent blue-green tail, he was a rooster to be reckoned with. A living example of how testosterone supersedes good judgement. He mounted the hapless hens incessantly, and chased humans just as mercilessly. We came to hang spray bottles full of water all about the property, so one might have some defense against the aggressive and random attacks. Yet we loved him. Elihu would pick him up and hold him in his tiny arms, whisper to him, sing to him… Elihu’s manifestation of forgiveness was touching. Mr. Roosevelt would back the boy into a corner and attack with beak and claw – my poor son would often come away with some blood on his face and arms, and always tears and a pounding heart. I once took up an axe and swung its blunt side at the rooster’s head to defend my son. Horrified at what I’d done, as the poor beast was simply following his internal program and meant nothing personal, I rushed to him to see if he was ok. He waggled his head side to side for a moment – with an almost comic effect – and strutted away, unaffected.
One hot summer day I found Mr. Roosevelt, headless, in the field. How on earth was this possible? This was the beginning of a long line of lessons to follow on life in the country. Many voted it was an ambush from above, but I’ve come to think it was a raccoon. They killed several of our chickens since then. Whomever the assailant, it was a most unexpected death, and we mourned. For a little while. That night, Elihu bounced back with a jolly song about the rooster’s demise. I was rather surprised. He is a farm boy, no doubt. No extra sentiment for such an end. Everyone has to die, and at least Mr. Roosevelt left us with a good story. And some beautiful tail feathers, which now reside in Elihu’s bird collection.
A nice light red hen who lived her name. She is the bird of unending patience who sits on the railing and just listens as Elihu sings a two-minute version of “Fire Burning On The Dance Floor”. She was the only hen to approach humans unafraid. The only one to accept tidbits from your hand. She lived with us for a year, including a few stints inside the house, in the cellar, during the coldest days of the winter.
Her death is on my hands; one night I left the garage door open a mere four inches. I was tired and chose not to wrestle the door tight to the ground. Anyhow, what sort of predator could enter through such a small opening? (Answer: muskrats, mink, fishers…) I soon learned it was big enough to allow a raccoon to slip inside and kill the innocent and sleeping residents. Months later, I found a wing of hers as I was cleaning up. “Too bad they wasted this bit” Elihu mused. Very practical boy.