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R.I.P. White Rooster

January 12, 2010

March 13, 2009

The coyotes couldn’t kill him. They killed everything else they could find. All the old birds were dead and the little ones hid behind the doors in the henhouse. Johnny survived the attack and made the long run from the Middle School area to Cape Rental World, where he found an open door in the back and laid low until the owners found him in the early morning. I wonder if he ‘jaywalked’ across the Main Street intersection.

He was beat up, they say, with a wound to his breast, but was friendly and cocky, as always. They took him to the animal shelter in the next town and there he enjoyed a big cage and the admiration of all his new fans. They gave him bird seed at first, until they could pick up some chicken scratch at the feed store. I didn’t hear about the rooster at the shelter for at least a week after the Big Kill.

I swear he knew me when I went to pick him up there and talked to him. It makes sense – birds communicate through sound and can recognize different individuals within the flock. Why wouldn’t he know the lady who throws the feed? He had been with us since a broody buff orpington hatched him in the nesting box. A cool example of hidden genetics, he was the first white bird from this batch of chickens.  His white sister remained outside the henhouse today in the rain, pacing the dirt near his stiff, wet body.

We’ve lost roosters before, and it is always a noticeable loss. I try not to keep more than one, so when he goes, everybody knows. I don’t know how Henry died, but his head was stuck under the footer to the outside run’s chicken-wire fencing. Skunk? Big red Jimmy got nailed by an owl. Maybe he was out too early that snowy morning. Whitey Bulger flew the coop and went on the lam. My daughter insists he may be still hiding out in the swamp somewhere, living the wild and free life. I doubt it. The evil Spanish Black Minorca lost his head to a stump and some Lebanese friends. I couldn’t do, but after living through civil war and that cheese (arish?) they leave out in the sun for weeks on a rooftop, they had no problem doing the dirty work. I just couldn’t have a 5-year-old lose an eye to a wicked bad rooster.

So another one bites the dust, felled by the contagion brought into the yard by those horrid Craigslist chickens. At least two of them died too; strange justice as I paid good money for them. Our chickens all looked pekid for a while, shivering out in the cold and keeping away from their feed. Now, for the most part, they seem robust and I hope we will not lose any more.

What to do with a dead rooster? I must divulge, he is wrapped in bags in the freezer at the other house. After a week or two, long enough to kill most pathogens, I will take him out and take off his hackles for use as teasers for fishing plugs and droppers, usually tied like a Lefty’s Deceiver. The hackles are the long feathers that drape off the neck and can grow to look like a cape, ‘neck hackle’, or ‘saddle hackle’, which is a section of long feathers that grow from the back and hang off one side. Their movement in the water in unsurpassed. Fish can’t resist. For the last two summers the rust-colored Jimmy feathers have beaten all others. Double-headers were common, and often the fish would be on the dropper, not the plug.

The feathers aren’t taken off one by one. The rooster is skinned, in sections. The ‘pelt’ is heavily salted and pressed in newspaper under a heavy weight – to keep the sample flat. After it is competely dry the hackle can be kept indefinitely between new sheets of newsprint. If it sounds barbaric, it was surprisingly comforting to know that a fallen comrade was being given a new life, if you will. There’s nothing like fishing with an old friend.

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