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
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
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
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.