By May Woodworth
First of a three part series on Wry Neck.
Our friends and family know Uno’s story well. They know that his Rhode Island Red parents (Red & RooRoo) had a zany relationship. They know that Red lost interest in sitting on her clutch of eggs on the exact day of RooRoo’s demise. They know my partner had an incubator rush delivered so I could try and hatch them. They are aware of Uno’s turbulent beginning, his ongoing physical issues, the special place he has in my heart, and that he started his life being called Una, because the whole plan was to hatch some egg layers.
Newcomers might look at Uno and wonder about him. He is lopsided, gnarly toed, and without the usual spurs or glorious tail feathers of a Rhode Island Red rooster. He is wider than he is tall. Unable to extend his head back, his crow is a bit garbled. He doesn’t stride; he lopes awkwardly due his deformed left foot. He is unique to say the least.
Despite his physical appearance, I would not entrust the Jennies (Novogen egg layers) with any other rooster. What Uno lacks in looks, he makes up for in determination and courage. We have witnessed him scare hawks away with his strange scream and mad dashing. He has kept a close eye on his sixteen girls for almost a year now, which is a monumental task. They are the most demanding and mischievous chickens I’ve had yet, and he does his best to follow my lead when trying to round them up. He is always ready to fight any perceived threat, as all good roosters will. He doesn’t rest from the moment he and his harem come out in the morning, until every hen is in the coop at night. His personality is quirky, which he demonstrates in body language and a slew of odd calls and sounds. He is like no other bird I have ever met.
Despite my ignorance regarding chicken mating, egg hatching, and incubator use: His inner spark is why he is here today. I do not feel that I ‘saved’ Uno. His inner spark spurred me to help him through a tumultuous begriming. This is Uno’s story.
On a beautiful August morning, Red, a midlife Rhode Island Red hen we adopted, sat on her clutch of eggs. What started as a joyous occasion, quickly went downhill.
RooRoo, her much younger Rhode Island Red mate, (part of an impulse buy at the feed store) was not pleased at her absence in the chicken yard. Next to slamming himself at the fence whenever anyone walked by, mounting Red had been his obsession since he hopped on her back as a wee little thing. Red allowed his practicing, but I wonder if she regretted that later. After that first hop, he became a Red addict. He followed her everywhere. She was the one card I played to get him in the coop, or out of the coop. Now that Red rarely left the eggs, he became even less of a joy to be around.
RooRoo was almost five months old when Red became broody He showed his frustration by crowing even louder and more often (I didn’t think that was possible), being even more ornery to my guy and the dog (didn’t think that was possible either), and even giving a go at me- quite viciously- something I had not seen up until that point.
Our previously (mostly) peaceful home had become chaotic. The other hens, the dog, and we humans made wide arcs around the rooster. I however, still had to feed, water, clean, and tend for the flock. I did so with a rake nearby and became much quicker at my poultry chores than I had been in the past.
My guy was skeptical about the situation. He questioned Reds’ advanced age and overall health regarding rearing young, questioned if the eggs were even fertilized, and questioned our ability to keep RooRoo from seriously injuring anyone.
I pushed all that aside. Red was going to have babies! Cute little balls of feathered fluff! This would be our flock of egg layers. We were going to be chicken grandparents! It would be GREAT.
I was a novice chicken person. I had never experienced broody. My Golden Comets hopped off the eggs before they even hit the straw. I had a lot of reading and learning to do. Once the excitement of her broodiness passed, and I researched my eyeballs out, I made ‘The List”
We needed a bigger coop. We needed a bigger chicken yard. We needed to get ready for the new egg laying flock Red was providing for us. Plans were made. Then a week later, things went wonky.
RooRoo (5 month rooster) + Red (5+ year old hen)
On the very day RooRoo went to a ‘better place’ (he is buried in the poultry graveyard), Red got off the eggs, and refused to sit on them again. She wandered around the property as she once did, back with the other hens, and free from the demanding rooster. Red seemed relived and happy, but what about the eggs? After a bit, I escorted her back to the coop, (along with her favorite treats), but whenever I peeked inside, she was not laying on them. All she did was cry to get out. A pitiful cry.
I panicked. Big time panicked. Then I calmed down. What if the eggs were not even fertilized? I would be freaking for nothing. Maybe Red was not sitting because she knew there were no chicks inside? Thanks to the internet, my guy figured out how to make an egg candler so I could see what was going on inside. Joy! I compared the spider webs and red blobs to the images online. There was life in those eggs. Then I really panicked. Red was still refusing to sit, and all the other hens were as far from broody as hens could be. I had nowhere to stick the eggs.
I kept Red in the coop overnight, while I researched how to hatch the eggs without an incubator. If that was even possible. My guy was patient with me that long day and night. He said something about nature taking its course. That farm life could be rough sometimes. I didn’t want to hear any of that. I wanted our new babies to live. It was a sleepless night for me. I prayed we would wake up and find Red on the eggs again.
That didn’t happen. She cried even louder to get out. I let her out, but wasn’t quite ready to give up on the eggs yet. While my guy was at work, I researched how to make an incubator. I was desperate to try anything. The plan was to construct a bulb/Styrofoam cooler model right after lunch.
Then around lunchtime, a delivery truck arrived. I messaged my guy because it was addressed to him. He told me to open it. He has been known to surprise me. This was a surprise big enough to make me cry. An incubator. He had ordered it as soon as Red got off the nest. Rush delivery.
We were back in the game. I could relax now, well at least for the rest of the month. I was wrong. The incubator was not the answer to our prayers. It was a whole new worrisome chapter in my desire to create a self sufficient homestead. A whole new experiment for me to mess up. All in my quest for more egg layers.