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On the farm, being pathetic is a lifesaver

April 25, 2011

Darwin was wrong. Sometimes it’s “survival of the most pathetic.”

At least it was for one of our roosters who, against all odds, is still limping around the farm, even though he long ago should have been grist for a predator or a Crock-Pot, one of the two.

Last summer, we had a nursery full of baby chicks that were just starting to get their feathers when disaster struck. As you might recall, it was very dry, and a family of minks that generally finds plenty to eat out in the wild was forced to broaden its culinary horizons.

In two nights, they had wiped out many of the chicks, but one that got away was a Welsummer rooster, the kind whose stylized visage can be seen on any box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes.

He didn’t get away entirely; he was wounded by the minks, and as he grew, he developed a considerable hump in his back and walks with a hitch. Naturally, we named him Igor.

So when it came time to “harvest” the roosters last fall, we were as ruthless as the minks. All of them had to go, especially since they spent their days fighting each other, terrorizing the hens and making such a racket I was afraid the neighbors would call the cops.

We called up a farmer friend of ours to see if she could help that particular week, but she said she was getting married in three days. That sounded a little suspicious to me; who gets married on a Friday? But she was free a couple of weeks later, so we prepared for the big day.

We gathered up all the roosters and put them in a pen, but one was so violent that he about killed two of his brethren before I grabbed him and stuck the bird under a wooden apple crate, weighed down by a concrete garden statue of St. Francis of Assisi. Beth seemed to think there was something cosmically wrong with that, but I was on a mission.

She let it pass, but did insist on one thing: Igor had to stay. Said something about him being protected under the RDA — Roosters with Disabilities Act.

So Igor remains with us to this day, poor soul. He tries to fulfill his roosterly duties, but it is a work in progress. Chickens mate, then the rooster chases down a hen and jumps on her back, grabbing her neck with his beak.

This is problematic for Igor. First, he can’t run very fast. Hens running away from him invariably will have to stop and wait for him to catch up. He arrives, eventually, panting and wheezing, at which point he tries to mount his target. But his balance is poor, and more often than not he falls off before accomplishing much.

The hens are fairly understanding. At least as far as chickens go, I guess. They try to hold still, but even with that, Igor will go pitching and yawing all about, as if he were riding a mechanical bull. And just when he gains some equilibrium, Stink will come running up and clock him broadside.

Igor doesn’t know it, but with each misadventure of his, the safer he gets. We feel as if he needs us. And some of the slummier hens apparently think the same thing, since they will follow him around in a little hen harem that would make any male proud.

This was Darwin’s error. It might be survival of the fittest up to a point. But somewhere along the line, a creature becomes so unfit that others take pity.

Don’t knock it. This system has pretty much worked for me for 50 years.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant at www.herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable’s WCL-TV Channel 30 at 6:30 p.m. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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