Venus -Adonis Venus



Venus-Adonis Venus                                      


Every spring José and I say the same to one another:

“I think we should try for more hens.”

And every spring we try, and more often than not we end up with more roosters.

It’s not that we dislike roosters. Actually, one of our favorites—hen or rooster—was Tucker. We name all our birds, and our roosters are named after operas, operatic singers, and composers. Our first roosters were Pavarotti and Bocelli, and over the years we’ve had Rossini, Caruso, Ezio, and Monteverdi, amongst others. Tucker was given the name of one of the most famous American-born tenors, Richard Tucker. Every day, when I would approach the coops with treats, Tucker would come running and I would feed him by hand before all the others.

But in general, roosters can be aggressive and, when it comes to their hens, very protective, to the point of fighting off the other roosters. I won’t mention their crooning—and here, they aren’t anything like their namesakes. I actually enjoy it. But, too many roosters for a given number of hens and there’s trouble in the coop, —and it wears out the hens.

So, when José says to me—or I say to José— “I think we should try for more hens”, it’s a serious decision, and by now, neither of us takes it lightly.

We have one tiny hen, Picollina, who only wants to nest, even in the winter. Since I collect all the eggs every afternoon, she’s only given the opportunity to sit on them when José and I decide we want more hens. Picollina can become frustrated, but her frustration only lasts a day, until she lays another egg and sits on it, but I take it from under her in the afternoon. When José and I decide— “I think we should try for more hens”—I leave the egg and we place eggs from other hens under Picollina, to speed up the process to get her started nesting. When she’s accumulated a few eggs, Picollina continues to sit—for three weeks—only getting out of her nest to eat and drink, and at the end of twenty-one days the chicks.                                                               

How do we know the eggs are fertilized? We don’t, but when you have an active rooster—and what roosters aren’t sexually active? —you can be relatively assured that at least most of the eggs will hatch.

At the time of my writing, we had one rooster, Puccini. Since most of our hens—like Picollina—are small, it’s fortunate—both for the hens as well as for us—that Puccini is a small

rooster, as far as roosters go. He was the product of Whoopi and Corelli, a couple of years back. When I give treats and clean the stalls, I watch. Based on my observations, José and I could be quite certain that most of the eggs we place under Picollina will have been fertilized.

Waiting for the chicks to hatch can be stressful—for José and for me. I add the expected hatching date in the calendar of my iPhone, and I check every day—like any expectant father. We’re constantly watching Picollina, to be sure she’s on the nest most of the time, and when she’s not, that she’s eating and not shooting the breeze with her fellow hens. We also place her in a nest—with the eggs—high off the ground, so that none of the other hens—who might have jealous feelings—won’t disturb the nest and destroy the eggs at times when Picollina is eating. After the chicks are hatched, we place Picollina and her chicks in the maternity cage, on the floor of one of the coops, in a fenced-in area—for privacy and protection. As the chicks mature, they are given more freedom and eventually are allowed to roam under the protection and watchful eyes of Picollina.

This time, three of the eggs under Picollina hatched; a fourth must not have been fertilized and was discarded. All three chicks appeared to be normal. They followed Picollina to the bowl of crumbles and to the water container, like miniature robots. It was two weeks after they hatched that we noticed that one had a slight limp. It might have been stepped on by one of the other chicks or by Picollina. As the days passed, the chick seemed to be dragging one of its legs.

“This is not normal,” José told me. José had attended veterinary school in Cuba before escaping to this country—via a few other countries—and knew quite a lot about poultry. One of our friends, Claudia, ran a small animal sanctuary near our property, in which she rescued deformed and injured farm animals.

“Claudia gave me the name of a vet she says understands and can treat deformities,” José said. He took a photo of our chick and sent it to Claudia’s vet. Then he called him and instructed José on how to bandage the dragging leg to the normal leg, thus forcing the deformed leg to conform to the healthy leg.

“He told me our chick has a slipped tendon.”

“And what you’re doing will correct this?” I asked.

“According to Claudia’s vet, there’s a 50-50 chance the tendon will slip back.” José tied the two legs together, leaving some room for the chick to stand and walk, if it wanted.           

After a few days, I thought we should take the chick to Claudia’s vet and have him tie the legs together professionally.

“Bring her to your house, put her in a cage, and keep her there for three weeks,” the vet instructed me. “She has a good chance of recovering,” which made me happy. Both José and I were becoming attached to the chick who we named Venus.

We did as the vet instructed and brought Venus to our home. During the following days, she ate enormous amounts of food—layer crumbles, lettuce, and no-salt-added canned corn—and chirped day and night. We would take her out of her cage every evening, and she would rest either on the couch while we watched the news, or on José’s chest while he took his siesta. Having her legs tied together didn’t seem to bother her.

After three weeks, I returned with Venus to the vet, who recommended we continue the treatment for another three weeks. It wasn’t more than three days later that Venus chewed through the tape that bound her legs and stood on the couch on both legs. A quick consultation with the vet told us not to rebind her legs, but to monitor her movements.

“I don’t see how we can return her to the coops,” I said one night when Venus was comfortably watching the news, lying between us on the couch.

“I agree,” said José, “but she’s a chicken, and I don’t think it’s right to have her as a house pet.”

We let it go, as neither of us could make the decision to do what both of us knew we must—eventually. But Venus was pooping all over the house, and, being Cuban, José couldn’t live in a house with some filth, especially chicken poop. My being American, I could.

A couple of weeks—and more pooping—later, José made our decision: Venus must be returned to the coop and join the other hens, the ducks, the guinea fowl, and the pigeons. She appeared to have fully recovered. She walked without a limp, she hopped up onto the couch to watch the news with us, and when we weren’t there, she slept on the couch as we no longer kept her in her cage but allowed her to roam free.

When we brought her to the coop, she was quite timid—for the first week—being chased—not by the other hens, but by the guinea fowl. It was like freshman initiation. I would feed her by hand, like I had in our house, and she ate voraciously. She began to gain more weight and fill out. Her colors were unusual—black, like Picollina, with rust, a little red, and a few white feathers. She stayed mostly by herself, which caused me to suffer. Perhaps that’s why I paid more attention to her than I did to the others.

“You know, I think Venus is a rooster,” José said one day as we were admiring our flock.

“Why do you think that?” I asked, my stomach churning at the thought.

“Look at her tail feathers,” he told me. I looked, but they didn’t look any different from the other hens.

“Venus’ tail feathers are becoming long, and see how they’re beginning to curve? That’s the tail of a rooster,” José told me.

“I don’t see what you see,” I told him. “To me, Venus looks like all the other hens. Venus is a hen.” Secretly, I saw what José saw, but if I willed that Venus’ tail feathers were like all the other hens, well then, Venus was a hen.

Over the ensuing days, I watched Venus, and I observed that, instead of being chased by the other hens, she was chasing them, and her tail feathers were starting to resemble Puccini’s. She continued chasing the other hens, but as she was considerably smaller than they were, they turned around and chased her, until she left them alone.

I was becoming worried. At night, I prayed for her tail feathers to stop growing, and for her to become plump like the other hens. But my prayers weren’t answered, for Venus started to become lean—like Puccini—and her tail feathers continued to grow and arch—like Puccini                     

Then one morning, when I was cleaning the coop, I heard the crowing of a rooster. I looked around for Puccini, but he was outside mounting one of the other hens. The crowing continued, and there she was. Venus was roosting on the gate behind me, crowing.

I had to admit—though I would never say this to José—Venus had decided: she wanted to live her life as a rooster.


Eric Lande

I was born in Montreal, but have lived most of my life in the south of France and in Vermont, where I now live with my partner on a 500-acre farm. Previously, I taught at l’Université d’Ottawa where I served as Vice-Dean of my faculty, and I have owned and managed country inns and free-standing restaurants. My stories have recently appeared in Bewildering Stories, Literally Stories, StoryHouse, The Pine Cove Review, and in 10 by 10.

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