Louis is the notorious binge drinking rooster that started the whole Rooster Hooch movement.
Watch Louis in action. He had a rough couple of days, but this little guy is a trooper. http://youtu.be/z6CuMv_Ksgo
So, people frequently ask, “how did you come up with the name Rooster Hooch?” The story is both tragic and hilarious at the same time. The hilarity really didn’t set in until we knew the old guy was going to live and not have any long term nasty side effects, but we can laugh about it now…and frequently do.
Louis and his brother Clark were hatched here in the Fall of 2011. They were raised in the house with us as part of our family until they were about 5 months old. Then they joined the other chickens out in the barn. But the fact is that chickens raised in the house with people take certain things for granted. Things they see every day become a part of their culture. And even after some time outside, like riding a bike, they remember and return to the comfortable patterns they grew up with. They are also more intelligent. Although, you could make the argument that it is really that they are more educated. It’s the classic ignorance versus stupidity debate. But once I get into topics that revolve around the education of chickens, my credibility takes a bit of a nose dive, so for the purpose of this story, we’ll just suffice to say chickens raised indoors tend to be a little smarter.
In the Fall of 2012, Louis took ill and we brought him inside to recover. Shortly thereafter, he had a massive stroke and nearly died of complications. He couldn’t eat on his own, and for weeks had to be fed by syringe. Since he couldn’t swallow, it had to be put far enough down his throat that it went directly into his crop. It was a hell of a procedure. Why would someone go to this much trouble for a bird you ask? Well Louis isn’t just any bird. He is the grandson of Wooster, aka the Godfeather, my original silkie rooster that started this whole chapter of my life more than 15 years ago. I never had children and I don’t see myself starting that now, but Woo, as we called him, was like a son to me. I will save his story for another chapter though. So, for all intents and purposes, Louis is my great grandson.
There was little we could do for Louis except to keep him alive and as comfortable as possible. I would just hold him for endless hours, his near lifeless body pressed against my chest. I won’t lie, there were many times that I resisted the urge to put him out of his misery, and he was miserable. I constantly questioned whether I was keeping him alive for his own good, or if it was for my selfish purposes. But if his story had ended there, then the concept for Rooster Hooch would never have been hatched. Pun completely intended.
So on we went with the ritual feedings. He slept most of the time. He wasn’t able to raise his head from his pillow, but he would occasionally open his eyes for brief periods to let you know he was still with us. You can tell when a bird has had enough. There is a certain look in their eyes. It is a look of quiet desperation and exhaustion. It tells you with no uncertainty that they are asking for your compassion in helping them move on. All I can say is that you know it when you see it. I never saw that look in his eyes.
Weeks went by. Weeks turned into months. Eventually he was able to raise his head again and he would take small bites of a special soft food that I prepared for him. But drinking was still an impossibility. Chicken anatomy differs from our own in that they do not have the muscles inside their throat to chase the water down. They drink by taking some water in their beak and tipping their head back until it runs down their throat. Watch a bird drink sometime, it is an interesting thing to observe. Since Louis couldn’t raise his head on his own, he would have just choked on any water we tried to make him drink, so the syringe feedings continued. After around month 4 of this, he had recovered enough that he could sit up if you propped him up with pillows. But, for whatever reason, he refused to eat anything except white millet, sweet corn and Iceburg lettuce. Not a particularly balanced diet, but it kept him alive and being able to eat without the syringe definitely improved his quality of life. As careful as I was, the syringe did cause irritation to his throat. Now we only had to use it to get him water and his vitamins and since Iceburg lettuce has a basic composition of water, he didn’t even need as much liquid as before. I know some of you are asking yourselves, “how does one know how much water a bird needs to intake?” Good question, because it’s not like they can say to you, “I’m thirsty”. The answer is their droppings. You heard that right, it’s all about the poop. If the poop is too wet, then they are getting too much water. If it is too dry, then they need more water. I never thought I would be so closely acquainted with poop, but there I was.
Now that Louis was able to sit up, he lost his station on the couch. He was moved into a bassinet lined with various sized and shaped pillows so that it was both comfortable and practical for feeding him. His bowl of shredded lettuce and seeds would be placed on the pillow in front of him and he was propped up on and between pillows so that he could begin to try to use his legs again without falling side to side. Twice a day I took him out of his bassinet and held him on my lap while I worked his legs and his wings to make sure he maintained as much range of motion as possible. It also gave me a chance to clean him up if needed and check for pressure sores. He was not a big fan of this practice, but seemed to accept it as part of the process, albeit a little grudgingly. I believe it was at this stage that he learned his signature growl to express his discontentment. A growl which he continues to use to this day, whenever he sees me heading anywhere with a syringe in my hand.
Eventually Louis learned to stand among his pillows. One at a time, over a series of weeks, we removed a pillow at a time until the only one that was left was the one he received his daily meals on. He learned to push himself up against the side of the bassinette and take a step or two. Then he would fall down exhausted. But, never-the-less, it was progress and we encouraged and loved him. When we first saw him do this, I’ll be honest, we got our hopes up of him being able to walk again. We thought it might be right around the corner. But after several weeks went by, we resigned ourselves that his bassinette might be his lot in life. Still, we were committed to making his life as comfortable as possible. We worried that he must be lonely for contact from his own kind.
I think Finch must have sensed this about him. She is a tiny little Serama hen that lived in the house with us as a pet. She scarcely weighed a pound. One day, after spending several long hours looking for the perfect spot to deposit her precious egg, she discovered that Louis’ Bassinette was a cozy sheltered spot. She moved in. It was so perfect, in fact, that she stayed there to brood and only left once a day to get her drink of water which was Ohhh Sooo inconveniently located outside of the penthouse. She always acted put out, but you can clearly understand why we didn’t give Louis anything that contained water because of his still extreme un-coordinated state. So, she suffered in silence about this imposition, although frequently it wasn’t silent at all. After a week or so, we would find Finch and Louis cuddled together. He had never seemed happier. He had finally found the component that I could not provide him.
It wasn’t long until Finch discovered something that would forever change nesting as she knew it. Louis is a full size Frizzled rooster. This means that he is 3-4 times the size of little finch and all of his feathers curl up and back. He essentially looks like he walked through a wind storm backwards wearing way too much mousse. To top it off his Grandfather Woo was a Silkie, so his feathers are not just curly. They are incredibly soft and have a luxurious downy layer at the base…I bet you can see where this is going. One day while innocently going about my housework, I walked by the bassinette on my way to dust in the next room and found Finch on Louis’ back all nested in. She looked up at me with a guilty look as if to say…”What? No one else was using it.”
Two months passed this way and it became obvious that her original purpose in brooding had blossomed into a full blown love affair. She had no egg, she never did, but that is story of it’s own, one for another day. She simply wanted to stay with her companion and this was where he was. We would occasionally take Louis out of this bed and put him on the floor to see if he would try to walk. Finch would always fly out and run around him frantically as if to say, “Follow me, I know some fun things to get into that will drive mom crazy.” She impatiently waited, but he never followed. With what appeared to be a sigh, she would walk back over to him and sidle up to him on the carpet and sit with him until we put him back in the bassinette. She would then jump in and cozy a little nest spot in his feathers and return to the business of hatching the imaginary egg.
Eventually Finch tired of the isolation, even if it was self imposed confinement. She still spent a lot of time with Louis, but she would spend a certain amount of time up exploring the house during the day looking for some poor unsuspecting bug that escaped the cold outside, only to find its fate at her hand…er…umm, I guess I mean wing. Still she returned to Louis every night. However, this change in the system prompted a very exciting adaptation in Louis’ behavior. Now, instead of just standing up against the side of the bassinette, he would use his legs to push himself up so that he could peer over the edge as if to say, “I’m keeping my eye on you little missy.” It wasn’t long until the fear started to surface in me that if he pushed just a little too hard, he might go out over the edge, plummet to the ground and almost certainly get hurt. So, I folded the legs of the bassinette and lowered it to the floor. As it turned out, it’s a really good thing I did. It wasn’t 2 days until he launched himself out on the floor and stood up. He promptly fell down, but it was a real milestone in his recovery.
Nightly, Louis and Finch still shared the honeymoon suite. During the day I would help him out onto the floor and let him exercise for short periods of time. It was still several weeks until he could take a step on his own, but through the natural progression, he did. He even learned to walk again, or at least a reasonable facsimile there of. He still to this day travels around the house with his distinctive “scrape…thump” gate. But as I’m sure you can already see, this miracle brought with it, its own set of challenges. How does one keep a bored rooster out of things he isn’t supposed to be into? If you remember, he grew up in the house, so he had no fear of anything. Well, except for the vacuum cleaner, that he still screams at like a little girl and runs from. All of my house plants had to be elevated to the point that he could not reach them to denude them of their leaves. Area rugs had to be added strategically because hardwood floors are slippery to an uncoordinated rooster…don’t ya know. He was at times such a holy terror that we started calling him Booger, because he was such a little booger head.
Now, just over a year after his stroke, he can jump up on the couch, which is where he has chosen for his nightly roost. Unfortunately, as he moves around in his sleep, he frequently falls off the couch, but at least I know when I go to bed that he is settled someplace safe. However, on one fateful night I failed to remember my responsibility to tuck my boy in and therefore he never made it to his couch. It is a memory that will haunt me for the rest of my days. But to be honest, it happened in no small part because of the glasses of homemade wine I had consumed during the evening.
We don’t always bottle our wine when it is ready to drink, we will frequently prime a siphon, draw what we want into a large carafe and then tuck the running end of the siphon up into the top of the tube. Once the running end is higher than the base of the siphon, it stops running. In order to get it to run again, you simply remove the end, lower it and the wine again begins to flow. For convenience sake, we keep the carboys of wine in the first floor bathroom. Sometimes it turns out to be a little too convenient, but I will get to that. That evening we drank our fill and were feeling no pain when we retired for the evening.
My husband gets up at 5:00 to go to work. He is usually showered, shaved and downstairs by 5:20 to get his coffee and pack his lunch. On this particular morning there was no coffee creamer in the kitchen refrigerator. I always keep a few spares in the fridge in the basement, so he headed down to get one. He grabbed a creamer and upon closing the fridge door, he noticed that the basement had flooded. He went to investigate the source of the water and realized it wasn’t water at all. When he saw it was dripping from the ceiling, he knew it must have originated from the first floor bathroom and knew from the smell that it was peach wine. He tore up the stairs and threw on the light to find Booger lying on the floor in the remainder of the wine that had not run through the floor boards. Some time in the middle of the night, he had gone in the bathroom, pulled the end out of the top of the siphon and emptied three and a half gallons of wine onto the bathroom floor. He appeared to be dead, but when my husband touched him, he moved. So, he tore up the next flight of stair, burst through our bedroom door and screams at me, “GET UP!, GET UP!, IT’S LOUIS, GET UP!”
I grabbed a robe and followed him to the bathroom to the same scene described above. I scooped Louis up in my arms and his head flopped to the side. I said choking back the tears, “I’m sorry honey, he’s dead.” He said, “No, it can’t be, he moved when I touched him.” I started to say again, “I’m sorry…” But before I could finish my sentence I felt the little lifeless body I held in my hands take a breath. He was only breathing sporadically and his body temperature was so low from laying in the cold wine that all of his body functions were slowed. I felt his crop. It was full of liquid. Clearly, whether it was intentional or not, he ingested a fair amount of wine. I pulled him close to me and held him against my body. I took him in and sat on the couch.
By this time, Justin was up and came upstairs from his room to see what the commotion was. I asked them to get me towels so that I could start to dry him off. That, and my robe was saturated, so I needed to try to get some of it off of me. We decided that he had just drank too much of it and passed out, but was lying in it because the wine made the already slippery hardwood floor completely un-navigable. I held him up, shook him and said, “Are you okay?” He opened his eyes briefly, but quickly closed them as his head again flopped to the side. I continued to hold him. I figured that in an hour or so, he would sober up and be fine.
Two hours went by with no change. Two hours became 4 hours and I decided that I needed to get some dry cloths and get the wine washed off me. So I set him down in a wadded up old comforter in the corner of the bathroom and quickly showered and found a dry robe. I thought it might be a good idea to clean him up a little to I turned the shower back on and held him under the stream of water. He let out a scream and started to spasm. It is at this point that I should probably mention that when birds die, they frequently experience what is called a death spasm. We’ve all heard the term, but I have been witness to the phenomenon on far too many occasions. I knew exactly what was happening. I again held him securely to my body and tried to calm him.
After a few minutes, I checked his breathing and he was in fact still hanging on. But now, more than ever, I was resolute that I would not put him down again. That left getting dressed out of the equation. Robe clad, I returned to our spot on the couch and turned on the TV to try to derail the out of control train of thought that was building steam in my head. “What if he dies?”, “Why didn’t I remove the siphon?”, “I’m such a bad mother!”, “I’ll never drink again!” Well I knew even as that thought raced through my mind that if he survived this, the first thing I was going to need was a drink!
We were now 5 hours into this ordeal and the color was starting to drain from his face. Even laying against my bare chest wasn’t enough to keep his body temperature from its slow continual decline. I felt that I was going to have to face the inevitable reality that he wasn’t going to come out of this alive. I tried to keep my attention on the television, but my focus shifted. He wasn’t breathing. I held my breath for a minute to see if I could see any movement in his little body. With a deep sigh, I heard the word “Nooo” escape my lips. As the air entered my lungs and my chest heaved, so did his! I watched closely and realized that he was only breathing when I did. I don’t know if the motion of my body some how subconsciously triggered his body to breathe, or if it was the change in pressure as my chest rose against his body that force the movement of air in his little body. It didn’t matter! I somehow knew that I was keeping him alive. It was then I resolved to hold him until my sweet little man drew his last breath. I was sure it wouldn’t be long.
My husband always calls me when he takes his lunch and generally that is every day at Noon. As I answered the call, I already knew the first thing he was going to say. “How is Booger?” I didn’t know if I should tell him the truth or if I had the energy to try to put a good spin on the fact that he was still alive. Before I could even process those thoughts, I heard myself blurting out, “He’s dying.” Tim of course inquired with understandable and immeasurable disbelief at my statement, “Are you sure?” When Tim left for work, we all thought by this time he would be up and running around. I assured him that I had done everything in my power, but that he was fading and I was helpless to do anything to save him. There was no doubt in my mind that then end was near. We discussed the inevitable list of things we could have done differently to have prevented the accident, but in the end we had to agree that it truly was a freak accident that no one could have foreseen. At the end of his lunch time, I put the phone on speaker so that Tim could express his goodbyes and we ended the call with cracking voices and heavy hearts.
But this isn’t the end of the story, it wouldn’t be a good drinking story if the protagonist dies in the end would it? Well, after hours on the couch, I needed to pee. So I took myself and my rooster and clumsily used the bathroom. I started back to the couch with my unconscious little man. Half way through the kitchen, I feel his body start to jerk. “This is it”, I said to myself, “This is the end. Brace yourself”. I made it to the couch and perched on the end and held him tight. He shook harder. I held tighter. Then in a grand miracle, he lifted his head and opened his eyes. He looked at me as if to say, “Hey Mom, not so tight.” I instantly started to cry. I never thought I would see those eyes open again. I placed him on the floor next to his food and he began to eat. The tears came harder and the disbelief grew with each moment I watched him. The heaviness in my heart was replaced with a love that only a mother can understand. He ate for a few minutes but refused to take any water…can you blame him after almost drowning? He stopped for a minute and looked up at me with glassy eyes as if to say, “Ohhh momma, I can see noise.” Clearly he had a monster hang over.
Then the realization hit me. My crazy ass rooster had gotten so drunk that he was unconscious for seven and a half hours. He had ingested so much wine that he had passed out on the bathroom floor. Take a minute for that to sink in.
We now have a saying in our house, when we see someone that is past the point of acceptable inebriation, we say, “He’s not just drunk, he’s Booger Drunk!”