Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Riddle: When is a Rooster not a Rooster

I can do a lot of things well, but chicken farming ain’t one of them. When I started my flock four years ago, I thought it would be so easy to raise chickens. My childhood memories consist of Daddy buying biddies, putting them in the yard, and a few months later, we’re either eating their eggs or eating them. I only remember foiled attempts by predators thanks to Andy, the bulldog. However, I don’t have such a skilled dog in my yard. Due to attrition for whatever reason, one day I found myself back to square one with only one annoying guinea. I listed the guinea for free on Craig’s List and had a home for guinea immediately.

Having been spoiled to the rich taste of home-grown chicken eggs, I didn’t want to invest the time needed for baby chicks to start laying. A friend told me about an auction in Barnesville. The auction itself is another story entirely, but I’ll cut to the chase and tell you I was thrilled to be the high bidder on eight 4-month old white rocks. They were huge, healthy white chickens that appeared would start laying in the next couple of months.

By the light of day, I realized that these chickens were nothing more than commercial chicken house chickens. That was okay with me as long as they provided eggs. That first night, I noticed they didn’t attempt to roost; they just sat on the ground. I then noticed that they didn’t scratch at the soil. I attributed that to being in a chicken house all their life. But they could eat. I would fill the feeder and four hours later it would be empty. And they didn’t just drink water; they funneled it.

A friend offered to give me a rooster. I eagerly accepted because I thought an experienced free range rooster could teach the ladies how to scratch, how to roost, and make them more contented in general. Didn’t happen. The rooster wouldn’t have anything to do with them. My suspicions escalated the day I bought three grown Rhode Island Red hens and threw them in the pen. Bam! Bam! Bam! The rooster was so happy to see them and was strutting his stuff.

I decided to seek the help of a chicken expert. He said he had been in the chicken business for 53 years. I told the crusty old man my story. He said, “Lady, you ain’t never gonna get an egg from them chickens. What you have is a capon.” “What’s a capon?,” I said. “A capon is a castrated rooster.” He went on to explain caponization and the effect it has on the chicken. The high steroid content of their food while developing creates retardation. I was correct all along. The first day I had them I told George that they were “retarded.”

After that education, I had a dilemma. What do you do with castrated roosters? I listed them on Craig’s List for free but didn’t get any takers. I decided we had to eat them. It has probably been fifty years since I last witnessed a chicken killing but I found out it’s just like riding a bike. I made William, my son, chop the heads off the first two we butchered and I took it from there. Two weeks later and still no takers for the capons, I decided to put two more on the block. Nicholas, my ten year old grandson wanted to help. I told him to hold the feet and when I chopped his head, he needed to hold it to the ground so it wouldn’t flop. With a full audience looking on, I chopped and Nicholas turned loose. Chaos ensued as the headless chicken began to jump around and actually was doing back flips. Every move Nicholas made, the chicken was right behind him. When the chicken calmed down and the audience stopped yelling, Nicholas looked like he had been involved in a massacre; he was covered in blood from head to toe. I was clean due to the fact that I wisely fled the scene. From there, the children had an educational experience and learned all about the anatomy of a chicken. Nicholas said he was sure he was going to have nightmares about being chased by a headless chicken. Ryleigh, age 8 said she was now a vegetarian. Nathan, age 3 said, “Grandma, that was rude of you to cut that chicken’s head off.”

After all that, I still had half of them left and a depleted bank account from all the food I was buying. I paid $2.75 per chicken and no telling how much I spent on feed over a two month period for those Amazon chickens. I sent George an e-mail and told him I wasn’t fooling with butchering any more of those chickens; that I was going to chop their heads off and feed them to the cat fish. Much to my horror, George told a lady on his van pool of my plans…….this lady would probably be a PETA member if High Falls had such. In any event, she and her husband came that Friday and picked up the rest. In the meantime, when George arrived at work on Friday morning, his computer home page lists information about the day. He said he couldn’t believe his eyes when he read that Friday was “be kind to chickens day.” Seriously.

So, the answer to the riddle “When is a rooster not a rooster,” is “When it is a capon!”

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