From childhood, I’d had a dream of living on a farm, in the country, and not be a city-child though truth-be-told, the farm I always dreamt about had no evidence of manure and always had very clean snowy white sheep and black and white cows, horses and chickens. So when I actually did move to the country, the first thing I did was to order a dozen layers, Isa Reds, they were. I built a hen house (with a one-handed carpenter, the other held a bottle of beer in it). In the end, the siding got put on inside out (me) but the house was soon ready for my 12 week old hens. I finally felt like a farmer. I put out a little painted sign that said “University Women’s Club” because these hens were hard-working women. However, when my aunt came to visit and saw the sign, her feather were ruffled, seems she was one of the founding members of the Club in Toronto. I had chickens for fourteen years, plus two roosters over that period of time. I always kept Isa Reds as they were good layers, and I bred Silkies and had Cochins as well. And in the midst of the lot, I was given a rooster, whom I named Clarence, for some reason, and a hen, Mabel. Clarence fell in love with Henny Penny, my Isa Red but he slept next to Mabel every night high up on the roost of old quilting frames given to me years ago. Clarence and Mabel were either Barred Rocks or Dominiques, I was never quite sure. Clarence was over-sexed and an awful pest to the Isa Reds. One day, about a year or so after Clarence came to live with us, I found him outside in the chicken run one morning, leaning against the side of the hen house. By then, I’d learned that a sick chicken in the morning is usually a dead chicken by noon so I called the chap down the road who had given me Clarence and told him Clarence was sick. He rushed up with his wife’s baby thermometer, inserted it in Clarence’s bottom and declared that Clarence had a temperature. Since I didn’t want to loose Clarence I suggested we take him to my vet, Dr. Penny Rowland. When we arrived at the clinic, Penny looked at me, then at Clarence and declared quite firmly that she was a small animal vet not an avian vet though she did agree to ‘look’ at Clarence. The high temperature confirmed, she gave him a shot of antibiotics and sent me home with a bottle of liquid antibiotics in an eye dropper bottle, plus a bill, made out to Clarence Proudfoot for $34.
Back in the hen house, trying to hold a heavy squirming rooster, pulling down his wattles and trying to open his beak to medicate him with the eye dropper at the same time was awkward. The first two days I managed to give Clarence his medication by eye-dropper but on the third day Clarence shook his head, disconnecting the eye dropper and he swallowed it. Panicked, I tucked Clarence under my arm and raced back to the vet clinic only to find that Dr. Rowland would not be in for another half hour. Clarence, perhaps sensing the gravity of the situation, sat very quietly on my lap, surrounded by dogs and cats and not pooping, which I appreciated. When Penny walked into the clinic, she took one look at Clarence and me, and suppressing a rather large grin, said in a rather loud voice, “now what!” After a lecture on the fact that if she opened Clarence up to remove the eye-dropper, it would cost me at least $150 and that I could buy a chicken at the grocery store for far less. Frozen. I decided she was right. Clarence would have to take his chances. He was given another shot of antibiotics, this time no charge for I suspected the story of Clarence and his owner was going to make the rounds of the vet clinic as their entertainment for the day, so I took Clarence back home and knew his days were numbered. I separated him from his flock and made him a comfortable nest for his last days on earth and every night at bedtime, because I’d mastered the eye dropper technique by then, Clarence was given an eyedropper full of Crown Royal. I like to think that Clarence may have died happier than some roosters. After fourteen years and shoveling chicken poop through deep snow in winter, I sent them up the road to a farmer. I miss them still. There is something about chickens settling down at night, it’s very soothing to sit and listen to them clucking and making quiet noises as they settled down on the roost. I often think too that when city people move to the country and get animals, they manage to provide great entertainment for local farmers.