I am the little red rooster
Too lazy to crow for day
I am the little red rooster
Too lazy to crow for day
Keep everything in the farmyard
Upset in every way.
Little Red Rooster, written by Willie Dixon, but immortalised by Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones (and many others too).
I have to ‘fess up and get it all out in the open for everyone to see. We are a weird and shameful family who practice strange rituals, cling to arcane beliefs and have unnatural relationships with farmyard animals.
For instance we have a Chicken Whisperer. The earthly form of this being is my wife Heidi. Apart from goats, dogs, horses and cats which I will not elaborate on in this blog, she has developed (and enjoys nogal) a special relationship with poultry. If I ask myself where it all started I have to think back some years. Perhaps the seeds were sown with that flock of geese that she purchased on the KZN North Coast which transformed our garden at Tugela Mouth into a wasteland.
More likely it was her broiler operations on the farm in the Umvoti district that played a major part. There she farmed chickens destined for the cooking pots of local residents which included Greytown whities, Muslims and lots of Zulus. There was an initial problem with the Muslim segment of this market because the birds had to be halal. Ever-resourceful Heidi quickly got around this by using the services of a Pakistani who was staying on the farm, to be part of the slaughter process.
The Pakistani liked to call himself Ricky. But I neither liked nor trusted him and simply called him ‘The Paki’, which I suppose was quite uncharitable. Heidi and the Paki used to slaughter birds on the back verandah near a wash-up facility. Occasionally I used to observe operations while leaning over the back stable door. The Paki’s job was to cut the bird’s throat, apparently while it was facing Mecca, and encourage it to bleed copiously all over the concrete. Heidi’s job was to disembowel the creature and get it ready for the plucking stage.
I looked on only because I was fascinated by this halal thing. I knew that the Paki was supposed to be saying something while he slashed and squeezed away. I saw his lips moving grimly but I could not hear anything apart from the whining of dogs desperately anxious to get to the pools of congealing blood at his sandaled feet and the clucking of escaped living fowls competing for the entrails of their recently departed companions.
‘What is he saying?’ I used to ask. ‘I can’t hear what he’s saying.’ I was also most concerned that he was about 180 degrees off the general direction of Mecca. I later learned that map reading is not a big thing in Pakistani schools because only the military types are supposed to be good with bearings, courses, maps and such things. It transpired that the only thing that the Paki was really good at was extracting cell phone numbers out of strange women and then sending them outrageous Mixit messages.
Heidi used to chase me away with strong and sometimes violent language. She warned me to leave the Paki alone while he was performing these vital tasks. ‘Do you want to do it?’ she asked me fiercely. No indeed I did not, so I left them to their own devices.
But deep down, Heidi never really liked this part of poultry farming and gradually came around to the point of view that chickens should have full and wholesome lives, eat natural food and be as happy as possible. Also, after two trips to Pakistan and a long stint in Saudi Arabia, she went off this halal thing in a big way – to the extent that no Rainbow or Country Faire chicken shall ever pass her lips again and that flesh of any description should be as haram as possible. All the while, from Tugela Mouth, to Greytown, to Kranskop, to Kuilsrivier … and finally to Hopefield … she was undergoing the transformation into a fully fledged Chicken Whisperer.
Now here we are in the middle of the hottest summer in living memory (according to the locals whose pronouncements probably can’t be trusted anyway). And we are overcome by Heidi’s chickens. Wherever one looks, there is a fowl of some description. The atmosphere is rent by the crowing of assorted roosters trying to outdo each other. Dust clouds and squawks signal the completion of yet another split-second coupling of male and female.
It begins in the small hours of the morning and goes on until late into the evening. Even a visit to the bathroom in the middle of the night is fraught with chicken. Let me explain: the Chicken Whisperer’s latest and most precious poultry acquisition was breeding pair of Dutch Bantams, affectionately and informally known as Zeer Kleine Kipjes.
Being much smaller than the other farm yard birds they were confined to the back yard where they would be safe from aggressive roosters. Much to Heidi’s joy, the little hen soon started laying and when she had sufficient eggs, she proceeded to sit on the nest. This sitting period takes 21 days exactly my wife informed me.
For the rooster Zeer Kleine Kipje this is an intolerable time. He no longer has a mate and the term ‘crestfallen’ cannot be more apt than in this instance. The little fellow decided to climb through the bathroom window and bed down for the night close to human company because his missus didn’t want anything to do with him. During a midnight visit to the bathroom I splashed some cold water on my face to cool down. I had not switched the light on and reached for a small white towel that was spread over the side of the console. When I wiped my face I experienced a feathery sensation that was followed by an indignant squawk as the Dutch Bantam woke up.
‘Good God,’ I thought to myself as I stumbled back to bed. ‘There is no escape.’
Indeed there is very little escape. One chicken gang of Lohmann Reds is intent on taking over the house. They loiter on the front verandah perching on the cross-member of a big dining room table, messing away merrily as only chickens can.
As the sun rises in the sky and the day becomes hotter, the Reds creep ever closer to open doors. Suddenly they are in the relative coolness of the house and they cluck around assertively, marking off their territory. This group is protected by a large white rooster, who is really just a common broiler bird that has gotten lucky. He escaped the pot and now has his own flock which he defends aggressively. I was trying to shoo his ladies out of my office with a feather duster and he engaged with the duster with alarming alacrity and remarkable vigour.
There’s another gang down near the goat sheds. They are Potchefstroom Koekoeke, apparently a South African breed similar to the North American Plymouth Rocks, but bred for local conditions and much envied over the fence by workers on the adjoining fields. It’s only a matter of time before Potchefstroom Rooster clashes with Broiler Rooster because territory acquisition seems to be rather high on the fowl agenda.
I look at all these birds strutting around and scratching with disturbing intensity and determination. I recall those Umvoti chickens descending on a slaughter site with cannibalistic glee, pecking at and tearing the remains of their brethren. While brushing my teeth before going to bed, I observe Zeer Klein Kipje, head tucked in; sound asleep alongside the wash basin. I think of all the chicken shit lying on the verandah. I wonder if this is not something like an Invasion of Body Snatchers. Is this how it’s all going to end? Not with a bang, not even a whimper – just a loud squawk?
Then I cast my gaze to the Chicken Whisperer, stumping around with her wheel barrow and food containers. She doesn’t give a fig that there’s chicken crap on her sandals.
I remember her unpacking a box full of past-their-useful-laying-point hens, rejected from a battery egg farm, featherless creatures who resembled survivors from a chicken’s equivalent of Auschwitz. Those same old hens now have feathers and are happy (if somewhat senior) members of Broiler Rooster’s flock.
Last week the Chicken Whisperer came into the house with dewy eyes: ‘I could not have got a better birthday present from my chickens. Ugly Chicken has just sat down on her eggs for the first time – right in front of me. In three weeks she will have chicks.’
So for those of you out there who have expressed the desire to come and visit us here in Hopefield – you have been warned. You might just fall through a rabbit hole into a fantasy world where things are very different. There’s no Queen of Hearts reigning here. But there is an exceptionally feisty Chicken Whisperer who rules with her own brand of quirky logic. And you will get fresh eggs for breakfast.