The saga of my neighbor Richard McLaurin’s entanglements with chickens is a long one– and bloody. So I won’t go into everything that has happened while he has done battle with his birds, or detail his battles with predatory hawks, coyotes, foxes, and raccoons. Today, all I want to talk about is Richard’s brief experience with raising guinea fowl.
After losing most of his traditional chickens to predators, Richard decided to change course. He is an altogether brilliant and scholarly man, so he subscribed to “Chickens Magazine” to help him research what he’d need to know about raising guinea fowl. “Chickens Magazine” is apparently a popular rag among cluck-fanciers. After he felt he’d learned enough about guineas—which was undoubtedly more than anyone else in the neighborhood knew —he zeroed in on a brood of hens from a man in Kentucky who had advertised them for sale.
That should have set off some alarm bells, because people around here generally think of “Kentucky” as a strange and distant place, something akin to Mongolia or Saskatchewan. But Richard was not deterred. He called the unknown Kentuckian and haggled a while, and the man finally suggested they meet in the parking lot outside the Franklin Home Depot to make the exchange.
I’m not sure what price they agreed upon, or how many hens Richard agreed to buy, but the deal must have been sweet enough to lure the man out of his Kentucky lair all the way across the state line.
Afterward, Richard said he didn’t remember much about the Kentuckian except that he was driving an old flat-bed truck stacked high with wire coops, and only had a couple of teeth. Ah, Kentucky.
But the guineas were good birds. All except for one. He was very sick and listless. Richard dug into his acquired veterinarian lore and tried everything he knew to save him. But after a time, Richard realized the hen was dying, and he decided he should have mercy on the poor girl and put her down. In addition to being brilliant, you see, Richard is a very kind-hearted man.
And because he is so kind-hearted, Richard couldn’t decide how to administer the coup de grace to the bird. He couldn’t bring himself to wring her neck like the old farmers did, and he has never been the kind of person to deliberately shoot a weak and innocent creature– that brought back too many memories of Tommy Kirk shooting Old Yeller.
Then Richard had an idea. A few weeks earlier, my wife Anne had given him a supply of phenylbutazone to help care for his aging horse Flirt. “Bute,” as it’s called among horse people, is a powerful pain reliever and sedating agent which Richard had been using to help Flirt’s aches and pains.
But Richard remembered one occasion when he had accidentally mixed too much Bute in Flirt’s feed and almost knocked him off his feet. Aha!, Richard thought, maybe a heavy dose of the stuff could painlessly finish off the sick chicken. He thought about it for a while, and then mixed a lot of Bute in with some chicken feed and fed the poor girl what he thought would be a lethal dose. Then he went in and went to bed.
The next morning, he stuck his head into the coop, expecting to pick up the dead carcass of the bird. But Richard had to leap back as the bird whirled around, squawked, and tried to attack him. That guinea girl was fit as a fiddle, Richard said, and high as a kite. Anne and I went over later and were treated to Richard’s re-enactment of how the hen had rushed at him with her neck stretched out and her glaring pop eyes wide open, and tried to peck him to death. It was hilarious, but Richard said it was rather frightening at the time.
So all ended well. The revived bird clucked her way around the pen after that like nothing had happened. Everyone made the requisite remarks about the bird’s new Bute addiction, and we made sure the vet heard about it.
But about a week later, the resurrected bird wandered away from the coop and was carried off by a lurking coyote. We haven’t noticed a Bute-addled coyote since that time, but you just never know …