Saturday, January 16, 2016

Riddle: When is a Rooster Not a Rooster?

I am a lover of anything politics.  However, even as early as we are in this election year, I am sick of hearing about it.  I have to remind myself that there are other important things.  That’s why this week I’ve opted to ask you to solve a 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 ten 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. While allowing my first flock to free-range, they fell prey to predators.  Soon, I was left with one annoying guinea. 

Having been spoiled to the rich taste of homegrown 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. Being my first auction ever, 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, if not weeks. 

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 delighted 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!” Confused, I asked, “What’s a capon?” He replied, “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 (among other things.)

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 figured, “How hard could it be?”   My grandson, 10 years old at that time, said he wanted to help.  I was intensely proud that I could give him this unique experience.

I told my grandson to hold the feet and when I chopped off the head, he needed to hold the rooster to the ground so it wouldn’t flop. I admonished him, “Don’t turn loose!” With a full audience looking on, I chopped, and my grandson turned loose. Chaos ensued as the headless chicken began to jump around and actually was doing back flips. Every move my grandson made, the chicken was right behind him. Thus, my grandchildren learned first hand the meaning of  “running around like a chicken with his head cut off.”

When the chicken calmed down and the audience stopped yelling, my grandson 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. We plucked, cleaned, quartered the rooster, and put him in the freezer.  My grandson said he was sure he was going to have nightmares about being chased by a headless chicken. My 8-year-old granddaughter vowed she was now a vegetarian. My 3-year-old grandson said, “Grandma, that was rude of you to cut that chicken’s head off.” For several years thereafter, if I served chicken to them they would ask, “Where did that come from?”

At the time all this happened, I thought the entire rooster experience was a nightmare.  I now know it was the making of a happy memory.  I’m certain my grandchildren will be telling this memory to their children and the experience will live on, regardless of who is elected President this year.

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


  1. OK, Lewis Grizzard, great story.

  2. Several years ago my mom, received as a gift 4 eggs from a Tyson hatchery. She placed them under a sitting hen with 6 free range eggs. The when the eggs hatched, the 4 chicks was same size, within 3 days you could tell difference. They were maturing twice as fast. When grown the 4 seemed retarded, they didn't scratch or roost like the other ones. They were never castrated or kept in commercial enclosure.

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