Death By Mustard

Here’s a thing that didn’t even exist when I was a kid: Backyard Chicken Internet Forums. Nowadays, one can get all kinds of free advice from fellow poultry hobbyists without ever leaving one’s sofa!  And since I live by the motto “believe everything you read on the internet”, I recently found myself blowing the contents of an egg into the sink and filling the empty shell with yellow mustard.

Right now you’re thinking, if that’s the answer, what the heck was the question?    Well, Alex, I’ll take Chicken Remedies for $2000:  “This tangy trick will break your backyard chickens of the gross habit of eating their own eggs.”

Mustard

Some background: Over the last year, egg production from our three girls had plummeted from more than fifteen eggs per week to almost zero.  According to the Google, chickens – especially sick chickens – occasionally develop the somewhat repugnant habit of eating freshly laid eggs right out of their nests. The girls, especially Laverne, had not been looking well lately, and there was some evidence that eggs were indeed being cannibalized in the West Main Street coop.

Enter the mustard egg.   Working from the theory that the offending bird will taste the mustard and decide fresh eggs are no longer tasty, I stealthily placed the trick egg in nest number two. Egg yield increased immediately! Success! Thank you, internet!

The following Thursday, Laverne was discovered lying in the coop, barely breathing and unable to lift her head.  Not wanting to see her suffer (and not wanting to waste time or money on a chicken) I acted decisively and ten minutes later Laverne’s body -and her head – were buried under the magnolia tree next to Guinevere the former inside cat.   As I put away the shovel, I asked my wife when she had removed the mustard egg.  A chill crept down my spine as she responded that she hadn’t.  Exchanging a panicky glance, we both headed for the coop.  There, on the floor beneath nest number two, were remnants of a dried yellow blob.  Laverne had died of a mustard overdose.

Our grief came with a mixture of emotions: guilt, anger, sorrow and regret.  We skipped the denial, bargaining, and depression, and were pretty much over it in about three hours.

R.I.P., Laverne.

Laverne The Chicken, Before She Died

Laverne The Chicken, Before She Died

Age Old Question Finally Answered as Chicken Found Across Road

Henderson TX

A chicken was assaulted this morning in a residential yard in the 1600 block of West Main Street.  The victim, identified only as “Shirley”, sustained non-life-threatening injuries when she was attacked by an unknown assailant.  She was found by a neighbor, across the road from her residence, hiding between a small metal sign and a brick wall.

Heidi Bradshaw, the chickens’ landlord, said she noticed something was wrong when she heard loud squawking outside the house. “Lucy was carrying on at the top of her lungs, and I knew something was wrong. I ran outside to find Laverne cowering in her nest and Lucy running around like… well like a chicken with her head cut off.  Shirley was nowhere to be seen”, adding “If the good neighbor across the road hadn’t found her, I just don’t know what we would have done.”

 

Chicken feathers could be seen strewn across the yard where the attack took place.

Chicken feathers could be seen strewn across the yard where the attack took place.

The incident was witnessed by the victims’ two roommates, Lucy and Laverne.  “Bok, bok bok bok bok BAAAK, bok bok BOK bok!” Lucy told our reporter.   Laverne added, “Bok BOK bok bok.  BaKAAK! Bok bok.”

The chickens’ employer, Ben Bradshaw, says the chickens were left unsupervised for only a short period of time.  “We only let them out of the coop for about an hour each day to free range.  You think it can’t happen to you, but you just can’t be too careful these days.  There’s a lesson here.  People, keep an eye on your chickens”.

The attacker remains unidentified, but there have been reports of foxes roaming the neighborhood.  The victim, who declined to comment, was visibly shaken and missing several large chunks of feathers.  She is reported to be in good condition and is recuperating at home.

Victim Shirley escaped serious injury, but her breast was left partially exposed until the feathers grow back.

Victim Shirley escaped serious injury, but her breast was left partially exposed until the feathers grow back.

 

 

 

 

Our Foul Family Secret

That’s Not An Egg.

You might think you know us. Through the rose tinted lens of Facebook, we might appear to have it all together, with our perfect little  backyard birds in their fancy custom coop, enjoying delicious fresh eggs every morning without a care in the world.  But you would be wrong.  You see, our family harbors a deep, dark secret.  Beneath the pleasant veneer lies a wicked, loathsome presence so vile and disturbing that we never dared speak of it.  Until now.  Now, it’s time to come clean.  Our chickens poop in their nesting boxes.

Evil-Chickens

 

I feel better already.

Yes, –it happens.   Daily we replace the soiled wood shavings with fresh, and daily the hens execute numero dos in the very same spot where they drop their huevos.  Which means the poop sometimes gets on the eggs, which is gross.  Explaining the unsanitary ramifications of this habit to the hens has had no effect whatsoever.  And scolding them only seems to make matters worse. So each day, in utter humiliation, we set about the inexorable task of separating the eggs from the excrement.  Careful not to let the neighbors see us, we snap on latex gloves, pick up the poop with our hands, transport it across the yard in a bucket and empty it out like a servant with a chamber pot.  We never bargained for this. All we wanted was some backyard chickens and some fresh eggs!

So, with the stress tearing at the very fabric of our marriage, we decided to seek professional help: we Googled it. It turns out we are not alone!  Who knew so many families struggled with this issue? Thanks to the world wide web, we now have hope. According to reliable strangers on the internet, this condition can actually be reversed.  Although it’s mostly anecdotal, there is strong evidence that some chickens can be cured of their nest pooping lifestyle.  But it won’t be easy.  There’s work to be done…

 

Chapter 6: The Exciting Conclusion

DAY 27.

The reflective calm of Sunday gave way to apocalyptic dread as I stepped onto the patio at the break of dawn Monday.   The magic rooster had staked out his position beside the coop and was facing me defiantly. Taking in a deep breath and drawing back my shoulders, I met his gaze and we began a silent battle of chin raising and chest thrusting. It was clear that yesterday’s thoughts of peaceful coexistence were folly; there were political and metaphysical forces at work here that were clearly beyond our control.  Mutual admiration be damned; this was war, and war is hell.

Although The Silencer would likely be available at this early hour, I had already determined that The Bowfisher should be given a shot, metaphorically and literally.  I thumbed a message to his dad that Romeo was in the kill zone. My phone buzzed at precisely 3:20 that afternoon to let me know that high school was letting out, and the quiver was prepared. Alas, it was with a mixture of regret and relief that I had to respond that Romeo had once again vanished.  The chicken had honed his senses to a razor-like edge. This scene repeated itself for several days.  Romeo and I would do our dance until around 3:00 each afternoon, at which point he would disappear, slipping into a neighboring yard… or perhaps another dimension.

 

Day 30.

I’m not sure whether the rooster let his guard down or got his courage up, but the game changed that Thursday.  At 3:15, I spotted him entering the large hedge to the east of the chicken coop. How could I have been so stupid?  He hadn’t been leaving every afternoon! He was hiding in the shrubbery!  I quickly reached for the phone and sent the text.   Within 10 minutes, The Bowfisher arrived, weapon in hand, dad in tow. As promised, the bow was a serious device: camouflaged, compound, and equipped with a string line and retrieval reel.  Bow 1We developed a battle plan: the kid would hide behind the camellia bush, while his dad and I circled around and approached from both flanks in a classic pincer movement, flushing the enemy out of the shrubbery and across the path of the hidden bowman.  This sounded great on paper, but as it turns out we were in the real world, where things happen really fast.  On my way to the northeastern flank, I made the tactical error of trying to document the situation with my phone’s camera. The eagle-eyed chicken, who had of course spotted the camouflaged bow, took advantage of my miscalculation and high-tailed it in the opposite direction. Picture, if you will, two fifty-something men and one teen archer chasing a chicken across a large lawn, their battle plan dissolving to panicked chaos as the bird bobbed and weaved out of arrow range and towards Gray Street. Characteristically, he stopped at the road’s edge and did not cross.  Turning left, he headed north, around a tree line and into the neighbor’s driveway.  I followed and got a glimpse of him as he ducked behind a car, then vanished.  Somewhere on the other side of the tree line, the other two humans were engaged in all manner of shouting and frenzied running about.  I scanned the dense tree line for any movement.Bowfisher2

The escalation that followed is forever seared into my memory as a series of rapid-fire images. A sudden movement … a flash of red to my right … an open gate … a wooden fence … an empty yard… a thought: “What will my African-American neighbors will think if they see this old white guy running around in their back yard?” …  “Where is the chicken? WHERE?” … another neighbor’s disembodied voice shouting from next yard: “He’s up there!” … my foe perched proudly on the corner fencepost, poised to jump into his choice of four properties.

He calmly looked back over his left wing at me and, with a quick hop, disappeared.  He was headed west.  Shouting this to my team, I slipped through a gap in the fence and back into the tree line, hacking my way through the thick brush sans machete. I emerged into Mrs. Holmes’ back yard just in time to see him dart around her house, toward Spring Valley Road.  Rounding the corner into her front yard, I found myself facing two bloodthirsty hunters and a very nervous rooster.

Now I wouldn’t blame you for not believing this next part, but I have witnesses. The bird was surrounded on three sides, with me to the north, my team to the south, and Mrs. Holmes’ house to the east, with only Spring Valley Road between him and freedom to the west.  We slowly began fanning out to block his only escape route.  With measured steps, Romeo matched our pace.  Of course he stopped at the curb, looking both ways before stepping cautiously into the street.  Without warning, The Bowfisher broke into a full sprint in an effort to seal him off.  The chicken panicked and began uttering profane clucks and chirps as he darted back and forth looking for a way out.  Instinctively, my training kicked in.  All those junior high basketball drills came back to me in the form of lots of lateral shuffling as the two of us ducked and weaved for an embarrassing length of time in the middle of Spring Valley Road.  One might think it was the thirty-eight year gap in my training that put me at a disadvantage, but it was not.  It was my lack of ability to fly.  At first, I kept pace as we sprinted west, but then the magic chicken began furiously flapping his wings and one again lifted his scrawny body into the air.

Not a single arrow had been used. The Bowfisher hung his head in shame and his dad began making excuses as I tried to catch my breath.  We were pathetic.

 

Day 32.

It was Saturday before the rooster had the nerve to show his comb on my property again.  Surely he must have known the fate that awaited him if he returned, but I think he wanted to say goodbye to Lucy regardless of the risk. I had no choice. The time had come to call The Silencer.

Apparently, some hit men don’t fit the movie stereotype of Jean-Claude VanDamme-like self-discipline, preferring to sleep late on Saturdays. Nevertheless, the groggy voice seemed eager to pull out the big guns. What must have been three bowls of Fruit Loops later, The Silencer finally showed up (hypothetically, of course) with an AR-15, modified for subsonic .300 Blackout rounds and complete with silencing suppressor. Such a rifle would allow him to assault a chicken in a very violent manner without waking a single neighbor. Of course, the magic rooster had once again thwarted our plans and beamed himself up into chicken neverland. Chicken Map

 

Day 60.

In a shockingly anti-climactic twist, the rooster has not returned since that morning. More than a month has passed and the girls are once again laying at optimal capacity.  We can only guess what happened to Romeo.  Some speculate that he was beheaded by a hawk; others think he was eaten by a coyote.  One thing is certain: no human could have ever killed this bird.  Deep in my soul, a part of me believes he is still out there; that Lucy told him the story of the weapon she saw that day and begged him to never return.  Maybe one day we’ll meet again.  Until then, I salute the rooster who has gained my eternal respect.

Well played, Magic Chicken.  Well played.

 

Gun

Chapter 5: Inner Turmoil

Day 25:

I rose early on Saturday.  Romeo was out there, crowing softly at the break of dawn.  I reached for my phone to send a text to The Bowfisher’s dad… then stopped. It was too early on a Saturday; I didn’t want to wake him.  At least that’s what I told myself.  In my heart I knew father and son were both out of bed and anxious to spear a chicken, but something kept me from pressing the SEND button.

Yawning and stretching my arms, I watched through the window as the vaporous visitor strutted in front of the coop, the sun illuminating his brilliant reds against the bright greens of spring. The air was still. Lucy, clearly smitten, followed his every move with lustful infatuation. Laverne and Shirley seemed to have lost interest in the rooster and were busy concentrating on whatever it is that chickens think about in their spare time.

I sipped my coffee and began to reconsider.  Was it really so bad to have a rooster hanging out in our yard?  What was he hurting? These days he politely vacated the premises before evening rolled around, so letting the girls out for their evening constitutional was no longer a problem.  He and I had developed a sort of dance, like a choreographed gentleman’s agreement.  He could stand by the coop as long as he liked, but when I approached he would retreat step for step, and vice versa, a fifty foot moving demilitarized zone between us. I began to think I could live with this.

My wife, on the other hand, was still in mother hen mode.  She wanted that rooster dead.  And what of my pride?  My public image on Facebook? And then there were the two bloodthirsty hit men.  I felt a manliness crisis coming on.

Chicken Love

 

Day 26:

The rooster did not make an appearance that Sunday.  Lucy was probably sad, although I couldn’t tell for sure.  I was a little disappointed too, having become accustomed to our daily encounters.   Laverne and Shirley went about their normal routines – eating, drinking, laying eggs, and pooping in their nests.

As dusk settled and the weekend came to a close, my soul was in conflict.  I no longer wanted the rooster to die.  Lucy didn’t want the rooster to die.  Laverne and Shirley were addled, while my friends egged me on, pushing me into battle. Even as the sweet smell of holly blossoms wafted across the lawn, a spirit of violence loomed heavy.  All was calm that day, but a storm was brewing.

Next: The Conclusion.

Chapter 4: BONDING

DAY 24.

I’m now receiving daily text messages from two hit men:

Hit man #1 – now code named “Silencer”, is still looking for redemption after his first botched attempt, and offers to hypothetically bring larger caliber firearms.  I hesitate, still nervous about disturbing the neighbors and drawing the attention of local law enforcement.  He assures me that such weapons can also be fitted with noise suppressors.  He is on standby in the early mornings before work and in the evenings after six.

Hit man #2 – code named “Bowfisher” is, according to his dad, ready at a moment’s notice any time after the local high school lets out.

But alas, their communications are in vain. The rooster – code named “Romeo”, appears and disappears randomly and without warning.  As if sensing the bloodlust in the air, he somehow seems to vanish during hit man availability hours.

Shirley is not eating well.  Lucy has a little extra spring in her step.  Laverne is oblivious. Production is still at 2/3 capacity.

My life is beginning to revolve around the comings and goings of a feral bird. I find it difficult to focus on work, constantly looking out my office window or getting up and strolling through the yard to see if he is proximate.  Increasingly nervous, Romeo hides from sight, often just behind the coop.  He circles the other side of the coop when I walk past, the only evidence being an occasional glimpse of his trailing tail feathers.  On rare occasions our eyes meet as he peeks around the corner to see if I’m still watching. At these moments we we freeze, each motionlessly gazing into the other’s soul.

A bond begins to form between man and fowl. Is it shared hate, or could this be a form mutual respect?

IMG_1955b

Chapter 3: A NEW WRINKLE

DAY 23.

Egg production was off 33% the previous day, no doubt due to the emotional tumult of the rooster’s recrudescent presence.  The girls were obviously in a state of mild hysteria as the visitor continued his pattern of harassment, twitching his tail feathers and waving his wings in a flurry of fluttering intended to titillate the ladies.  But rather than enflame their passions, his flamboyant neck plumage puffery only served to unnerve them and interfere with their daily work schedule.Rooster-Dance3

After the failed efforts of the first hired gun (see Day Four), I received a tip through social media.  A Facebook friend told me he had a connection that was offering his services as a “fixer”.  Still leery of arrest from shooting firearms inside the city (hypothetically, of course), I was attracted to this new prospect, a bow fisherman.  While my first attempt with this type of weapon system had been a failure, this archer showed more promise.   Not only was he experienced, his arsenal included an adult sized, camouflaged compound bow, equipped with a string line and retrieval reel.  Together with barbed arrow tips, the package was designed to spear and retrieve fish directly from the water.  Such a weapon eliminated the risk of having an impaled chicken running down West Main Street crowing bloody murder, so I told the Facebook friend I was interested and he promised to put the shooter on standby as soon as school was out at 3:30.

Rooster2

As the day progressed, I began to notice a new development.  Lucy had begun standing closer to the wire mesh protective barrier, and with increasing frequency seemed to make eye contact with the free-ranging Don Juan.  Maybe it was just my imagination, but I could have sworn that her comb and wattle seemed a bit brighter red than usual.

Things had just become a bit more complicated.

Chapter 2: The Magic Rooster Returns

Prologue:

Seventeen days had passed since I last saw my arch nemesis.  You may recall that the rooster had taken wing to the west after hypothetically being shot in the neck with a .22 caliber handgun equipped with a suppressor.  In the face of such a lengthy absence, one might naturally assume that he was gone for good.  One would be wrong.

DAY TWENTY-TWO.

IMG_1952a

April 9, 2014 began like most mornings.  My wife and I finished our breakfast together, and she left for work a few minutes early.  I can’t say what unknown force drew me to the back patio that morning; perhaps it was simply the fresh feeling of a spring sunrise. Perhaps it was the beauty of newly blooming azaleas. Or maybe I was lured subconsciously to the evil that awaited me a dozen yards away.   Peacefully surveying the colors of April, I sensed some small space-time disturbance behind the chicken coop.  There – through the mesh of the chicken wire – the familiar gesticulation of tail feathers indicated his presence.

The magic rooster had returned.

The Tale of the Magic Chicken – Chapter 1

Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true.  It contains no exaggeration or embellishment.

IMG_1848b_filteredDAY ONE.

The magic rooster suddenly appeared on the last day of winter, a beautiful sunny Wednesday morning.  An exquisite and awe-inspiring creature, his presence was a curiosity begging to be photographed and shared with Facebook friends.  The entire day, this beautiful bird strutted in front of the hens’ coop, entertaining them with impressive dance steps, flamboyant neck puffery, and surprisingly masculine clucking sounds.  Lavern, Shirley and Lucy were enthralled and quite flustered, so egg production suffered a bit, but the real problem didn’t occur to us until the time approached for the ladies’ evening stroll.  My wife Heidi would not have her little virgins despoiled by this vagrant gallus; the door would have to remain locked.  Unlike our lap-sitting pet hens, this little banty was standoffish, never allowing us within ten feet of him.  Yet despite his skittishness, he resisted all efforts to chase him away. And so on this warm eve of spring, I lost five points on my wife’s manliness scale, as my first attempt at trapping a bird ended in disgrace.  At sunset, the intriguing fowl disappeared as mysteriously as he had arrived, leaving us to ponder the odds of a repeat appearance.

Day one tactical recap:

  1. General chasing and amateurish cornering attempts.  Unsuccessful due to age and lack of quickness.
  2. Baiting a large dog carrier with chicken feed, then rushing the door upon rooster entry.  Unsuccessful due to the rooster turning and charging out of the carrier back at me.

 

DAY TWO.

On Thursday, our yard guest loudly announced his return at what can only described as an unholy hour, serving to remind us why it is illegal to keep the male of this species within the city limits.   As the sun rose on the first day of spring, I observed that the mysterious visitor was still colorful and majestic, but somehow less photogenic and slightly more ominous.  The girls were growing weary of him, having been cooped up now for more than forty-eight hours straight.  They just wanted to go outside and roll around in the dirt and eat from the compost pile, but the vagrant rooster constantly circled the coupe, leering lewdly and clucking what were no doubt rude comments.  The afternoon included two more capture attempts and ten more manliness points lost.  As I chased the rogue rooster around the house, he trotted into the carport, then behind my wife’s car, and then he was gone.  Vanished into thin air.  My nemesis had taken it to the next level, and I knew what had to be done.  I looked up a number and dialed the phone.  That night, in the shadows of a waning gibbous moon, a man handed me a weapon.  Not a gun, but a true hunter’s weapon: a compound bow and two arrows.

Day two tactical recap: 

  1. Repeat of dog carrier trap, modified with long rope to pull door shut from a distance.  Unsuccessful due to increasing wariness of chicken towards dog carriers.
  2. Throwing a blanket over the rooster.  Unsuccessful due to size 13 feet tripping over blanket.

 

DAY THREE.

Gray skies usher in the third morning.  The cock is crowing again and it’s no longer cute.  Now he taunts me at every turn, mockingly pooping in my yard as I watch helplessly.  In the daylight it becomes apparent that the man had brought me an archery set belonging to his ten year old daughter.  It’s a junior compound bow with two target practice arrows.  Second thoughts crept in about shooting the chicken and I decided to redouble my efforts at trapping.  I determined to make two more attempts that day, drawing on suggestions from Facebook friends and YouTube videos. Fortunately Heidi was not at home to witness the humiliation that followed.

And so it was that at approximately 11:30am on Friday, March 21, 2014, I decided to take up arms against a magic chicken.  Several practice shots at an empty Morton’s salt container convinced me that the bow had sufficient power to penetrate a standard chicken.   I drew back the bow and waited patiently for the petulant poultry to move into position.  Exhaling as I released the string, I saw the arrow fly straight and true, finding its target like a bull’s-eye!  But this was no standard chicken. The missile bounced off of him as though his wings were fashioned from Kevlar. In the words of the great Dave Barry, I’m not making this up.  The animal squawked curses upon me and ran, wings flapping at full speed across the lawn until he reached Spring Valley Road.  He stopped abruptly, LOOKED BOTH WAYS, waited on a car to pass, and then  the magic chicken crossed the road.  He then trotted west across the vacant lot until he was out of sight and did not return for the rest of the day.

Day three tactical recap: 

  1. Upside-down-tub-propped up-with-a-stick-with-a-rope-attached-and bait-underneath. Unsuccessful, due to the chicken looking at the bait, then at me, then clucking something that sounded like “how stupid do you think I am?”
  2. Segregating the girls into the henhouse and allowing the marauder to enter the pen, thereby trapping him.  Unsuccessful. A modicum of human dignity prevents me from elaborating, but I will say that when it was over there was chicken poop on my shirt.
  3. Bow and arrow. Unsuccessful due to improper equipment and armored magic bird wings. 

 

DAY FOUR.

The weekend arrived on day four, and with it came the villainous rooster.  We finished our breakfast, and with a calm reserve I again dialed the phone.   Keeping in mind that shooting firearms within the city limits is illegal, I’ll just say that hypothetically, if an unnamed man owned a hand gun with a suppressor on it, and if he were to come to my house and fire it in my yard, I would never admit it on Facebook.  But suppose, for the sake of discussion, this trained marksman were to hypothetically shoot this chicken in the neck from ten feet away.  Being a magic chicken, he would not die.  Feathers would fly, and so would he.  In fact he would flap his wings and fly like an overweight raven approximately 150 yards through and around the trees in my back yard, over Spring Valley Road, finally spreading his wings and soaring like an eagle to the west across the vacant lot.  He would then casually hop over a brick fence and disappear. Hypothetically, of course.

Day four tactical recap:

  1. Hypothetical silenced pistol.  Unsuccessful. Maybe.

 

EPILOGUE: DAY FIVE.

It is Sunday evening and the magic rooster has not appeared for some thirty-six hours. A peaceful calm has settled over the yard.  The hens are out taking their stroll, scratching up pebbles from the dirt and eating them.  Lucy lifts her head and looks to the west.  Is that a twinkle of sadness I see behind those black eyes?

Nah, there’s nothing in there.

IMG_1819

So Is So Trendy

What I would like to see:

Morning Show Host: Welcome, and thanks for preparing this nutritious beet casserole.  When did you first learn of the health benefits of chenopods?

Trendy Guest: So I started eating beets and chards after my…

Morning Show Host:   STOP.  Why did you begin your response with the word “so”?  It was completely unnecessary. And it seems rude, like you were continuing some previous thought and weren’t even listening to me.

Trendy Guest: Huh?

Morning Show Host:   It’s a coordinating conjunction, for Pete’s sake! It connects two complete, related thoughts, and therefore is not an appropriate way to begin a response.  Why did you do that?

Trendy Guest:   So I guess it’s just a bad habit.

Morning Show Host:   Stop that, or there may be violence.

Trendy Guest:   Okay.  So I…

Morning Show Host:  Get off my TV show.