Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Remembering Red Jungle Fowl

During my senior year at college, I had the opportunity to work for one of my professors in the Biology Department as a research assistant.
My prof, Dr Z, was studying the morphological characteristics of Red Jungle Fowl and how they related to mating behavior.
Red Jungle Fowl are the precursors to modern day chickens and are found wild in South East Asia, where the chicken was first domesticated. They are virtually indistinguishable from regular chickens as far as I could remember; possibly the roosters were more colorful, but very similar in every other aspect.
So, what we were measuring was the size of the birds, the size and color of the combs and wattles, brightness of plumage and eyes as indicators of the bird's general health, and to see if the healthier, brighter birds would attract more females.
On the flip side, we also introduced parasites to some of the males to see if this had an adverse affect on their physical appearance and if this too had an affect on their desirability to females. We would also draw blood and get red blood cell counts of our roosters, another indicator of health.
For a Bio major who was into zoology as much as I, this was all fascinating stuff. I was involved in all aspects of this research, and I thought it would look great on my resume. I was part of a group of four or five students who help out taking these measurements, and taking care of the animals.
We kept the birds off-campus in the Agricultural Operations "allotment" a couple of blocks from school. My school started out as a citrus research station, and there's still a lot of agricultural research done there. At the time, I didn't have a car (I had a motorcycle, but it was inoperable for most of my employment there) so I was allowed to use one of the university's old Suburbans to drive over there and do what I had to do.
The birds were kept in little cages, cubes about four feet on a side, two females or one male per cage. We also had a couple of larger cages with more females in together.
Each cage required feed and water on a daily basis, and we worked on a rota to get it done, sharing the responsibilities out between the students. We also pitched in on the maintenance/repair/building of the cages.
If you have never dealt with chickens, let me assure you that you probably don't want to. The females aren't so bad, but they can still be unpleasant at times.
The roosters, however; well, they're just a little ball of feathers and hate. They hate EVERYTHING. They'll attack ANYTHING. I've never seen so much mean stuffed into such a little package, and when it comes around to mating time, they are exponentially worse.
To put it bluntly, these Red Jungle Fowl roosters were evil little bastards. They still had their spurs, and they'd sharpen them against the wires of their cage, all the while looking at you with an "I'll get you sooner or later, motherfucker" glint in their eye...
When they attacked, they'd fly at you full speed, legs extended and spurs up and towards you. And they were FAST. When you were feeding them, you had to be fast, too. Pop that cage open, drop in the food, close it again. Oh yeah. They had no problem biting the hand that feeds, that's for sure.
A few weeks of this, and I had a rhythm. I knew when to open the cages and give the food before I could get nailed, and I did get hit a couple of times that weren't so bad.
I think that was my downfall right there - I got a little complacent. Sure, I avoided the attacks - who wouldn't - but hey, they're chickens, right?
Well, one day, either my timing was off, or this rooster's was right on the money. He must have been waiting for me. Right as I opened the gate to his cage, he was airborne, ricocheting off the gate like some frikking chicken pinball and right into me, two inch spurs extended, just as I was bending my knee to drop the food.
This little bastard jammed one of his spurs right through the denim of the Levis I was wearing, right through the skin of my knee and right up underneath my kneecap. It was over in an instant - he was gone, leaving nothing but a bloody hole and some torn denim.
To my credit, I believe my scream was quite brief, and not very girly at all. Of course, I was there by myself, so you'll only have my word for that.
I had to take my temper in both hands and hold on very tightly, because if I let go, my prof was going to be down one hyperaggressive rooster. I finished up my chores without killing the little shit, drove home and popped a beer. My knee locked up, and I had a stiff leg for a couple of days, which drew gales of mirth from my friends when I had to explain what happened to me.

And that, dear friends, is how I got my ass kicked by a chicken.


Mushy said...

GReat story...brought back memories of roosters, goats, and sheep that attacked me at my grandmothers! Thanks.

GUYK said...

Hey! There has been more than one red rooster wind up as chicken and dumplings because the sumbitvh had more balls than brains..

DirtCrashr said...

Those nasty little jungle fluff-bunnies are mean bastages, that's where the whole fighting birds thing comes-from. I wonder what lead to domesticated ones losing the spurs - or they didn't?

GUYK said...

They didn't! An old red rosster can hurt you bad if you are not fast enough to wring its neck before it gets you

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Used to get chased by geese on a little lake near our house in Ft. Worth. Much less terrifying than being chased by a horny St. Bernard at the age of 10 when our Pug went into heat. That dude wanted my booty bad.