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Mercury Media Group
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Opinion


Vol. 107 - Issue 49, 12/8/2005
Pee Wee hits the road
by Terry Berkson

In April I had to get rid of one of my roosters because he was stripping the hens of their back feathers. Unfortunately deporting the bully didn’t solve the problem because the hens continued to lose their feathers and I was sure it wasn’t due to molting. Eventually, I caught Geezbrook, my prize buff rooster, in the act with a telltale feather in his beak.

I decided, as handsome as he was, that he would have to go to King’s auction where I had unloaded his rebellious son. King must have liked the looks of Geezbrook because he chose not to put him on the block. Instead, he kept him for himself, maybe for breeding purposes.

Back on the farm, the remaining rooster continued the abuse but I decided not to give him up because then I wouldn’t hear his crow in the morning which always gave me a charge. Instead, I fitted a wire, that amounted to something like a horse’s bit, in his beak which allowed him to eat but prevented him from pulling out any more feathers. I suppose I should have tried this with Geezbrook but that egg was already fried.

Still, the plucking problem continued and I came to realize that the hens were pulling each others’ feathers out, probably when they were in the coop up on their roosts with nothing else to do. Once again, I consulted my chicken guru, Jim McNulty, to see if he could come up with a solution for the problem. “Maybe you’re feeding them too much corn,” Jim suggested. “That could result in a dietary imbalance making them crave protein – and feathers are made of protein.”

But, I wasn’t feeding them too much corn. At the suggestion of an article I read over the internet, I added a tablespoon of salt to a gallon of their drinking water but it made no difference. I fed them more grass and let them free range a little longer but to no avail. The last internet idea I was going to try was to get some pine tar from Agway and apply it to their exposed skin where it would serve as a repellent.

This would require catching all of my chickens one by one which was no small task. My son, Jonathan, who is a lot more agile than I, was up for the weekend and agreed to grab each bird so that I could apply the pine tar. When McNulty heard about my plan, he said, “If you’re going to the trouble of catching them, you might as well trim their beaks like you would a dog’s nails. Then they won’t be able to pull out any more feathers.”

This sounded like a more practical plan so I abandoned the pine tar idea. We were all under way trimming beaks, Jonathan delivering each captured chicken and it squawking bloody murder as I performed the painless procedure. My wife Alice, who was repelled by the idea of trimming beaks, refused to chase after any chickens, and stood nearby with a running commentary of chick chat.

All was going well until Pee Wee, my favorite, most intelligent and noble bird, the one who, with my assistance, was born in a similar surgical fashion to the great Julius Caesar, decided to make a break for it. I guess all the squawking was too much for her so she jumped the fence and headed for a hedgerow with my son in hot pursuit. Being a bright bird, Pee Wee hunkered down somewhere and gave Jonathan the slip. We finished trimming the rest of the beaks with no sign of the escapee in sight. By nightfall I sadly figured my favorite chicken was going to be food for the coyotes.

Two days later, I got a call from my neighbor Marilyn Purcell. She said that while driving past our place she saw a chicken out by the road in front of the pines with her wing out as though she were hitchhiking. It had to be Pee Wee! I immediately went to the feed bin for some cracked corn and headed towards the road. “Here chick chick,” I called as I threw the corn into the pines. Just then a tom turkey bolted out of the trees and crossed the road narrowly escaping death as a passing pickup truck came to a screeching halt.

A bearded man in camouflage hat and jacket sat behind the wheel with a puzzling grin on his face.

“What?” I asked as I dropped some corn back into the paper bag I was holding.

“You’ll never get a turkey that way,” the man said. “You want to use a gun.”

“No,” I said. “I was trying to catch...”

Before I could explain, the man rolled up his window shaking his head and was on his way again.

It wasn’t long before Pee Wee appeared and began to follow my trail of feed across the lawn in the direction of the coop. When I finally got her inside the fence she was strutting past the other chickens like she had been on vacation.

“Look at that bird,” I told my wife. “Doesn’t she look like she’s showing off?”

“I guess she is,” Alice quipped. “She’s the only one with a beak!”

Editor’s note: Terry Berkson will be doing a book signing of the newly released paperback edition of his book, “Corvette Odyssey,” at Border Express at Southside Mall in Oneonta Sunday, Dec. 11, from 2 -4 p.m.


 


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