by Henry Lane Hull

This past week I learned from Gayle Werling, a native of Louisiana, about a Rhode Island Red chicken that has been terrorizing patrons of a local ATM in Walker, a small city in the central part of her native state.

Apparently, the chicken not only attacks individuals, but also flies at their vehicles. When the local police arrived, the chicken fled the scene and is presently “at large,” with citizens warned not to confront it themselves, but to call the authorities.

Among the charges leveled are attempted battery, assault, attempted burglary and failing to obey the governor’s directive to observe social distancing. The situation down there sounds serious. Perhaps I am concerned beyond what I should be, but the picture of the chicken appears to resemble one of my flock, very closely! I question whether I should be wearing protective gear when collecting eggs, feeding or watering the assemblage.

Indeed, this has been a perplexing and peculiar year. I wrote in October of the death of our wonderful pet gander, Lou. For 10 years his spouse, Gladys, refused to make a proper nest, laying her eggs all across the barnyard. I would try to collect them, but she never seemed to learn or understand basic maternal instincts.

This year, alone without her faithful spouse, she has deposited all her eggs in a single spot, but as they are not fertile, we have collected them, and my Good Wife has reprised her magnificent goose egg frittata. Now Gladys has molted sufficient down and collected pieces of straw to make what I only can call the Platonic Ideal of a goose nest. She sets on it day and night, with no eggs under her, getting up only for a very quick bite to eat and to bathe in the cistern, which I have to fill daily to satisfy her need for cleanliness. By morning it is empty. I know full well that the chickens are not consuming that much water.

The B.E.s have constructed a traveling motel, or more accurately I should say “Chicktel” that can be moved around the yard and garden allowing a couple of hens at a time to enjoy a change of scenery, dine on some high-quality chickweed and contribute to fertilizing various areas of the property. They enjoy the experience and to a limited extent, their efforts reduce our need for maintenance.

With respect to the chickens, as noted previously, they are Rhode Island Reds, a highly productive breed of egg layers that produce large brown eggs of excellent taste and composition. They are not a friendly or docile class of fowl. One should never approach a Rhode Island Red wearing shorts or worse, being barefoot. They are conditioned to peck at skin. Although they are good producers, they are not friends.

My favorite breed is the Dominecker, a speckled black-and-white chicken that thinks of itself as a pet, more in the order of a dog or a cat. They also lay beautiful, large brown eggs and even their roosters genuinely enjoy human companionship. They were my grandmother’s favorite breed for eating, a practice I do not follow, as all of our chickens live on in retirement after their egg-laying careers are concluded.

Whereas every Dominecker gets a name and is treated as a family member or colleague, a Rhode Island Red normally is devoid of personality and therefore does not enter the family circle. None of them have a name, but I do appreciate and respect their food-producing capabilities and reward them accordingly, although the personal touch is missing except, that is, when they try to peck at me. No Dominecker ever would be so crude, or should I say, “ill-bred?”

After seeing Gayle’s item on the Walker chicken, I have been more cautious in endeavoring to practice social distancing in the barnyard. I have no concerns about Gladys, but I think being wary with respect to the hens is well-founded, as the chickens definitely are prone to “fowl play.”