The Chicken Whisperer, Tales from the Coop
Most evenings, however, we split up the chores and Yeoldfurt takes care of the chickens. He'll put the feed in the buckets for the horses and then head down to the chicken coop while I bring the horses in, fill their water trough, make up their feed for in the morning, feed the barn cats and the dog, water the vegetable garden and then turn the horses back out. In the thirty minutes or say it takes me to do all that, Yeoldfurt is usually just finishing up with the chickens.
His routine goes something like this. As he begins his walk down the hill, he starts 'talking' to the flock. Now we all know that roosters crow and chickens cluck, but chickens make a lot of in-between noises too. Yeoldfurt seems to have mastered quite a bit of their vocabulary. It's very hard to spell chicken talk, but I will try. The sound Yeoldfurt makes when he heads down the hill is an 'r' sound, very low, very quiet, very drawn out, then crescendoing to an abrupt halt ...errrrrrrrRRRRRRR! (long pause) errrrrrrrRRRRRRR! It's very similar to the cooing sound that pigeons make. It's a comfort sound for them, I guess. Anyone who has been around chickens when they're relaxed and not worried, just doing chicken stuff, has probably heard this sound. But he starts talking to them like that on his way down the hill and darned if they don't answer him.
When he steps into the coop, they don't scatter and head for the far corners like they do when I walk in. They keep out from under his feet, but he can walk among them without making them scatter and get upset. Maybe it's the chicken talk he's using, I don't know. If Yeoldfurt is feeling content and complacent, he might reach down and pick up one of the hens from the flock. She squawks a little when he first lifts her up, but he holds her with one hand up to his chest and very gently cups his other hand over her head. Meanwhile, he drops his chin and makes the cooing comfort sound to her. Within seconds, the hen is completely relaxed in Yeoldfurt's hands. Still 'talking' to her, he then sets her up in one of the nest boxes up on the rail. Sometimes, she wants to pop right up and jump down, but Yeoldfurt just keeps cooing and strokes her until she relaxes. The three big bully roosters, however, see another side of Yeoldfurt.
One day while we were sitting out with Hoppy and after he had regained quite a bit of mobility and balance, we decided to see how he would do back with the flock. Yeoldfurt gathered him up and walked into the coop with him. The chickens moved off from Yeoldfurt but not far and not in a panic. Yeoldfurt set Hoppy down in the middle of the coop and just stood with him. The three big roosters moved to the front of the flock and just stared. Hoppy raised himself up and stared back. As much improved as Hoppy was, he was half the size of the three roosters still with the flock. But he did his best to fluff up and look confident. They all just stared at each other for a minute or so and then the three roosters moved toward Hoppy almost in unison. Hoppy stood his ground, surely reassured the fact Yeoldfurt was standing right behind him. Then it got ugly.
The biggest of the three big roosters pecked Hoppy hard right on top of the head. Hoppy squawked, I don't know if it was pain or just surprise or perhaps a little of both. But Yeoldfurt moved like lightning to scoop up our little friend out of harm's way. Startled by Yeoldfurt's swift movements, feathers flew as the big roosters scrambled back to the hens and the whole flock moved as far back as possible. Yeoldfurt stood with Hoppy cradled against his chest, cooing comfort sounds while he made sure there was no blood or obvious injury. Then he handed Hoppy to me outside the coop. I brought Hoppy back to the grassy area by our chairs and sat down to wait for Yeoldfurt to join us, feeling bad for Hoppy that we had put him in that position.
The next thing I knew, I heard a ruckus in the coop. I looked up and saw Yeoldfurt standing with his back to me, but I could tell he was holding something close in his left arm and looking down. Whatever he was holding in his left arm, he was 'spanking' with his right arm ....smack, smack, smack ...in rapid rhthym. The other chickens were in the far corner, looking wide-eyed and on the verge of panic. I said, "What are you doing? Are you spanking that rooster?!" Yeoldfurt didn't slow down or even look around at me. He just said, "Yup" and kept swatting. I said, "How do you know you got the one that pecked Hoppy?" He set that first rooster down, snatched up another rooster, and said, "I'm gonna spank all three!" Knowing the roosters weren't in mortal danger, I laughed. It was that moment when I began formulating the story in my head about the day I caught Yeoldfurt spanking his rooster in the chicken coop.