After growing up well defended from crows, Peeper took on a masterful air that defied assault. He would watch with indifference as the crows landed within the chicken pen and took a few grains of leftover corn. They were nearly as tall as the hens, but were shaped more like bullets than pears, which made for a strange assortment of silhouettes strutting about the pen.
Eventually, the crows would sidle up to one of the hens and try a few quick swipes with their beaks before the master of the yard, now a handsome game cock, flew to the attack. Then they would hop up to sit on top of the fence and silently mock him. If he came too close, they would retreat to the top of the nearest pine tree and scold him from a safe distance with their obnoxious raspberry sound.
The little weakling in Peeky’s second hatch grew into a fine black hen called Stewball, but her third hatch produced too many roosters. When the male youngsters grew up, their battles became too bloody to tolerate. They never attacked Peeper. They only bloodied each other. Once, two of them made such a mess of each other, Don decided they would not long survive. Chickens are programmed to peck at fresh blood. We decided he might as well butcher them.
We had had the sense not to name them, but I think the kids named them anyway. We knew we couldn’t keep more than one rooster, which of course was the relatively sedate Peeper, Peeky’s magnificent game cock son. The neighbors would tolerate only so much crowing. After a while, the “nice country feeling” it gave them would disappear.
Don didn’t think twice about butchering the young roosters. He was a Colorado-reared hunter, a bleed-it-in-the-field game hunter from the time he shot a huge elk at the age of fourteen. He could murder two roosters without thinking twice.
Wrong. After the first whack, he came up crying, and he could barely make himself do in the second panicked rooster.
Eight-year-old Shawne, on the other hand, thought the whole process was fascinating. The headless fowls danced around just the way I said they would. She didn’t much like the chore of picking out the feathers, and the hot water dip stunk, but she had never seen Daddy cry before, so she did her job with little complaint. When she came in the house she had an odd twist to her mouth and the glint of amusement in her eye.
Those two roosters made the toughest chicken dinner I have ever tried to eat. The next summer, when Peeky, and later Stewball, continued to hatch out roosters from all the assorted fertile eggs we could assemble, we puzzled over more creative ways than butchering to get rid of them.
I found a nice man in the feed store who was delighted to have roosters. A leftover hippy still trying to farm in Northern New Mexico, he promised to give them a nice long life as long as they fertilized his hens’ eggs.