A lot has happened since I filed the last fowl report; here’s an update. Our rooster king, Frankie, had just fallen victim to a hawk while defending his hens and his son Harry.
Harry ascended to the throne, and his reign, although short, was calm. He knew better than to follow the example of his father, who had been in the habit of sneaking up behind me and attacking my shins. I no longer needed a stick to fend off such aggression, and I moved freely about the spacious realm of the chickens, unconcerned for my safety.
This peaceful period proved temporary, however; an interloper appeared one afternoon, bulky and black, with feathers so stiff they grated against the ground as he moved.
“Who’s this?” I asked my husband Michael, not recalling having been consulted in the matter.
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“Oh, I found him on Craigslist. He can protect the chickens. The guy told me he’d been raised with them.”
“Uh-huh,” I replied, skeptical and still stunned. The turkey seemed a bit disoriented himself, wandering around the enclosure and puffing out his feathers into a stiff coat of armor. Michael named him Russell. (I prefer a different spelling: “Rustle” for that odd rustling sound of feathers against hard, dry earth).
Hoping that this might actually be a good idea, and not yet seeing any evidence to the contrary, I acquiesced. Two days later, however, I entered a battlefield, Harry against Rustle, parrying and dodging in a dangerous dance, wings aflutter, sharp beaks striking and fearsome claws rearing up and out. With a clear advantage, the larger bird was threatening Harry’s life, I was convinced, and so I mobilized my courage, my wits, and the stick still languishing in the corner.
I herded Rustle through a gate and into solitary confinement.
Later it was Michael’s turn to be skeptical, not having witnessed the fracas. I insisted, though, that this was a matter of life and death. We transferred him to the old coop, a small space, secure from predators and separated from Harry. New questions arose: What to do with him now that we knew he was more threat than protector? (I voted for returning him, but Michael had become attached.) How to provide him with companionship? Not my problem, I decided.
As I watched him pacing inside his small space, though, I wavered, sympathetic. We’d let him out sometimes, to roam around the yard. The dogs were smart enough to keep their distance.
Ultimately, we agreed to create a new space for Rustle, including turkey house with a latchable door. Michael hired some help, and soon Rustle was striding freely around his new domain. He was still alone, though. Two new Craigslist turkey toddlers appeared before long, white this time, and sociable. They tootled adorably along the fence line, following us and peeping.
“How do we know they’re both female?” I asked as soon as they arrived, envisioning multiple males in mortal combat, feathers flying.
“Well …” he replied slowly. We’d have to wait and see. In a few weeks, I named the male Panama and the female Hattie, crossing my fingers that Rustle and Panama would get along.
It’s fortunate Rustle had vacated the old coop, for King Harry soon sired five chicks. We put them in this securer space, along with two mamas. Here they grew and thrived, one with mottled feathers, one red, and three who resembled their father, with bare necks and goofy gaits. After four months, they would be ready to return to the flock.
Before this reunion, though, Harry took tragically ill, one eye stuck shut, his head awobble. We stood watch, hopeful, but in June – I report with great sadness – Harry lay down and took his last breath. Three months later, it’s still unclear if any of his five children will be his rooster heir.
My dear friend had warned me not to get emotionally involved; birds just die sometimes for no apparent reason. And indeed, after Harry’s death, we lost Panama, too.
“Maybe he choked on something,” Michael offered in explanation for Panama’s mysterious death. I was just thankful I hadn’t been the one to discover him slumped over on his side and blue in the face.
At the time of Panama’s death, he and Hattie had been the sole occupants of the new space. (As I had feared, the two toms had begun fighting.) We relocated Rustle again, this time to the rooster-less coop with the hens. They seemed to tolerate him well enough, but the arrangement was not ideal, and the chickens, especially the little ones, shrank away from him in the roost at night.
Panama’s death was thus good news for Rustle. He’s back with Hattie now, a comfortable togetherness. She’s started to lay eggs: large and speckled and sturdier than chicken eggs. Curiously, Rustle’s the one who lays on and guards them.
And so I have to admit that Rustle has grown on me. I’ve begun to admire his bravado and to identify with his nurturing instincts. It’s not often that I set my friend’s advice aside, but I’m willing to continue to risk my heart, on him, and on our whole feathered flock.
Beth Linder Carr of Tollhouse teaches English and drama at Sierra High School.