Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
Just in time for the big avian influenza pandemic, I have returned from the Beebe Flea Market with a flock of chickens. They’re replacement chickens, filling in for the Japanese Black Tail banty rooster, the two Barred Rocks, three Rhode Island Reds and a white Leghorn that the dogs killed last fall with the help of a red fox who lives somewhere along the tree line at the opposite end of my pasture.
But things are better this year. Yukon, a friend’s Alaskan malamute who lives on the farm because he is under a death sentence in Sherwood for disemboweling a neighbor’s wiener dog, is getting around pretty slow. His ACL tendon went out in October and even with an operation, a chicken can now outrun him. Whitey, my stray black-and-tan hound, has been scared of the chickens since I beat hell out of her with a Rhode Island Red after I found it in her mouth.
Our Japanese Black Tail banty rooster, a lovely, long-feathered, exotic bird, was the first casualty, disappearing not long after we started letting the chickens out from their new chicken coop. A few days before, I had been sitting on my deck when I noticed movement a quarter-mile away among the broom sedge at the far end of our pasture. With binoculars I was treated to the sight of a large fox bobbing in and out of the tall grass, apparently hunting. The banty rooster disappeared a few days later. A week later, walking the fence line where I’d seen the fox, I found what was left of my rooster.
We got the chickens for Lila, my 7-year-old daughter, but we got the rooster for me. I sleep with the windows open most nights and I love to hear them crow in the morning. So after the banty, we got another rooster, in a roundabout fashion. One afternoon I had gone to CJ’s, a little country store nearby, and when I returned found white feathers blowing around by the barn. I immediately suspected my dogs but it was hot and Whitey and Yukon were holed up in the house. Then on Sunday afternoon a fellow down the road who keeps chickens came up and asked me if we had lost a white Leghorn. He had discovered it, still alive, in the mouth of his huge, brindle-colored shorthaired hound a few days earlier. He had rescued the bird, which had lost some feathers and was pretty ugly but otherwise no worse for the wear. When he returned our miracle Leghorn, he told me he had too many roosters and could we take this large, blue-black monster that had been fighting everyone.
Our new rooster looked like something out of a 19th-century farm supply catalog. However, once there were no more roosters to fight, the poultry pugilist turned his attentions to us. He’d charge Lila, flapping his wings and flailing his legs, trying to flog her with his spurs. I finally hit him with a lawn chair and he never bothered people again. However, with a fatal sense of timing, he flogged the 134-pound Alaskan malamute one afternoon, just days before Yukon’s ACL went out. He was dog dinner.
So we have returned from the Beebe auction barn with our replacement chickens. I’m hard put to justify $10 for a chicken when I can get one killed and plucked for $3.40 at Kroger. Yet there is a pleasure to listening to them and watching them move about the lawn. Feathered yard art — a bargain at $10.
It has taken a year, but Whitey and Yukon appear to have gotten the message. Whitey will move to the back yard when she sees chickens approaching. We have six new pullets, three Rhode Island Reds and three black chicks of unknown variety. At first glance, scratching though the garden, they bear a disturbing resemblance to vultures. They join the miracle Leghorn and a Barred Rock that have supplied fresh eggs all winter. And we have a new rooster: a large tan-and-black Sussex, who I must say is a gentleman.
When he’s not cultivating heirloom tomatoes or gathering eggs, Alan Leveritt is publisher of the Arkansas Times.