Anyone familiar with the cult film Napoleon Dynamite likely remembers the question posed by Napoleon himself related to his work on a factory chicken farm (see title above).
I should clarify here that the word talon is technically reserved for predatory birds. Think eagle, owl and hawk. Talons are used for grasping prey and as a defense mechanism. Chicken claws, such as the ones Napoleon feared, are relatively benign and useful for clinging to roosts and scratching in the dirt for grubs. Our chickens have yet to pose a threat. They just don’t seem to have anger in their souls. Or perhaps they behave courteously because we’re their primary source of food and water.
The wily rooster, however, deserves great reverence. His talons can rip flesh from bone, as my husband, Michael, can attest. Rooster talons, or spurs, are separate from the claws. They sprout from the rooster’s legs, much like a dew claw on a canine only much more lethal. To engage the spurs effectively, a rooster seemingly levitates and thrusts the spurs toward the threat—another rooster, a predator or, sometimes, a human. Many backyard chicken farmers trim the spurs for a number of sound reasons: to keep roosters from sparring; to lessen the risk of impalement; to protect the hens (they are grasped by the rooster while mating); and because the spurs continue growing (like fingernails!) and can actually impede the rooster’s swagger.
Our first rooster, Dwight, pictured in the masthead, viewed my husband as a rival. If Michael turned his back , Dwight would actually charge him. It was a stand-off initially comical, until the time Dwight sunk a spur all the way to Michael’s shin bone. After that, Michael kept Dwight at bay with whatever was within reach—a pitchfork, a shovel and, once, a blaze-orange construction cone. They eyed one another warily, neither trusting the other. To meet and keep Dwight’s gaze meant less human vulnerability. Michael harbored no ill will toward the beast. He knew Dwight was just defending his flock and future progeny and also asserting his place in the pecking order.
Dwight continued to defend until the bitter end. He met an untimely death in the jaws of a raccoon one fall day. Scattered feathers suggested a heroic battle. And those tufts of raccoon fur? We’re pretty sure Dwight’s talons were engaged.