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Hannah was a Henry

Scott Paulsen
| Saturday, Aug. 2, 2008

There is a scene in the movie "Rocky" in which the boxer's trainer, Mick, tosses the Italian Stallion into a fenced yard with a couple of chickens and commands the punch-drunk pugilist to fetch.

I used to think it was funny.

I used to think a lot of things were funny before we decided to move to a 100-acre farm in rural Washington County. After spending one recent afternoon chasing a flock of Rhode Island Reds up and down the Pennsylvania countryside, pale and wheezing, I no longer think Rocky's punishment is funny.

It's damned near depressing, actually.

Hard not to cry.

Allow me to explain something about chickens. One of the many new facts we've had to commit to memory is that when young, hens and roosters look incredibly similar -- nearly indistinguishable, as it turns out, to the naked city boy eye.

That would be me.

We bought our flock (a six-pack, actually) at the Eighty Four Livestock Auction. If you've never been, plan to make a day of it. There are far, far too many sights at the weekly auction of fruits, vegetables, livestock and rusty bicycles to be in a hurry.

"When will the chickens be auctioned?" I asked someone in a hat (when in doubt, ask someone in a hat). Hat Guy grunted something and pointed to some Budweiser boxes, down near the auction pit. Scribbled on the outside of each box was the word "Pullet." A pullet is a female chicken, a hen yet to mature.

Think of Hannah Montana.

After looking in six of the boxes and finding a suitable, healthy-looking Hannah in each, we clutched our numbered auction card and waited. Soon enough, a man in a hat asked if anyone wanted to give him a dollar for a pullet.

I did.

Six times.

Two or three weeks later, one of the Hannahs mysteriously turned into a Henry. He announced the change with a perfect Kellogg's Corn Flakes good morning Cock-a-Doodle Doo.

At 3:15.

A.M.

I called the nearest certified used rooster dealer (listed in the yellow pages) and asked whether he'd be interested in a trade-in. "What would you like in return?" he asked. "Sleep," I answered.

We live in Western Pennsylvania, which means our chicken coop, horse barn, painting studio, greenhouse and corn are each perched atop big hills. In the hour and fifteen minutes it took for me to separate the five hens from the rooster, I ran up and down the chicken coop hill 7,382 times.

And then the real fun began.

Covered with chicken poop and feathers, soaking wet and panting, I finally cornered Henry. On the drive to Henry's new home, I caught a glimpse of myself in the rear-view mirror. I was covered with chicken poop and feathers, soaking wet and panting -- real YouTube fodder.

A man in a hat was leaving the certified used rooster dealer as I pulled up. He was covered in feathers and beet red.

We waved to each other knowingly.

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