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Thomas Takes the Spotlight

“We change hens like we change socks,” I mentioned to Abbie about 4 hens ago. Since Lorraine, we’ve had Medina, Julia, Ivory, Victoria, and more. But now we’ve broken the gender barrier, taking in our first rooster.

Bringing a rooster into the house would seem to be a very noisy proposition. Want to wake up at 4am? Want to continue waking up throughout the day? They don’t crow only in the morning, you know.

Well, unfortunately for Thomas, it’s been very quiet. He’s fighting a respiratory problem, and his crow was reduced to a very tiny peep. If I were to translate him into a cartoon, you would see this: A jet black rooster, with a deeply rubicund comb and generously masculine waddle, puffs up his chest, flexes his wing muscles, arches his neck, and gives it all he’s got. Overdub a cat’s squeaky toy.

Not easily dissuaded, Thomas gives it another go. And another. Whether out of habit, compulsion, optimism, or just nature, he is not one to give up.

Thomas, Rock'n'Roll Rooster.
Thomas, Rock’n’Roll Rooster. (Photo courtesy of Jill Meyers.)

Thomas—with 40 other chickens–came to CAS a refugee from a Kansas City meth lab. Meth labs give off very distinct odors, so operators create an olfactory camouflage by keeping animals on the premises. Put that together: The only way to cover up the chemical smell is to create an even larger animal smell. You can easily deduce that Thomas—and any other animal—was poorly cared for. They only wanted him for his feces, and that never makes for a good relationship. As compensation, he received food and all the vapors he could handle.

He’s been at the sanctuary about a year now, and in addition to clean air, food, and water, he’s had daily treatments for his chronic bumblefoot. Now, with this respiratory problem, he’s scored a room in the big house up the hill with two very sympathetic and doting humans.

He’s always been a real gent, and as a houseguest he’s pretty near perfect. He keeps his pen clean, doesn’t fly all over the place, never sullies the furniture. He’s been such a good visitor that I kept him near the kitchen when I taught a class on sauces this past weekend.

It was hard to keep everyone’s attention during class. Thomas is strikingly handsome—the cartoon caricature above isn’t far off—and supremely graceful. Even with his feet bandaged and his laborious breathing, he still moves about in stately confidence. There was more than one sympathetic sigh in the room when I told the class that he wasn’t cooing like a dove. He was simply trying to breathe.

Things improved, however, and within a few days he surprised me with the most remarkable sequence of crowing. I cheered, of course, for it was a great and welcome sound. Loud and proud, and a long time coming.

But it wasn’t just the volume that caught my enthusiasm. It was the pitch and the timing, delivered in precise call-and-response fashion. The call: The opening 5 notes of Led Zeppelin’s “Since I’ve Been Loving You.” His response: A crow that matched it almost note for note. Each time the riff was played in the song, he responded in kind.

But it didn’t stop there. Next up in my playlist was “Sleepless Night,” from the Kinks’ 1977 album “Sleepwalker.” It opens with a 13-note sequence from an electric piano. I would be exaggerating if I said that Thomas matched it. But it is no stretch at all to say that his crow complimented it in a very musical fashion. All artistic critique aside, the fact remains that he crowed! The crowd went wild!

I played the opening riffs again, to see what he would do, and to listen once more for their semblance to a rooster’s crowing. The similarity is there, but it took Thomas’ responses to make me hear it. It’s not at all like the overt squawk of Link Wray’s “Run Chicken Run.” Thomas, it appears, has more sophisticated taste, appreciating subtlety. Or at the very least, higher production values. (In Link Wray’s defense, it is worth noting that he often recorded his songs in a converted chicken coop.)

So rock on, Thomas. Thanks for the music appreciation lesson, and for the display of grace under stress. Who would have guessed that such a rock’n’roll spirit was hiding beneath all those Liberace feathers?

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