“What IS that?”
The little Tribes peered into the chicken brooder with wide eyes.
Amid our sea of 26 chicks was one odd little fellow. His body was a yellow pouf, and he sported a tuft of yellow feathers on his head. But his neck was bare.
He looked like a pink toothpick about to break under the weight of his oversized, wobbly head.
Surely, this was one sick chick. After all, the newly hatched birds had been shipped to us from the Midwest. He could have contracted countless diseases along the way.
But my husband was quick to recognize that the bare neck was a characteristic of a particular breed – a Transylvanian Naked Neck, nicknamed Turkens.
After learning that genetics – not a fatal disease – was to blame, we named him Norbert.
And he’s been the surprise star of the chicken coop ever since.
Our 9-year-old decided “Turdactyl” might be a more appropriate nickname because the little guy more closely resembled a pterodactyl/turkey combo than the chicken/turkey mix.
As it turns out, Norbert was a “mystery chick,” sent to us as a gift with purchase from the hatchery. We had ordered 25 chicks – 10 laying hens and 15 broilers – a total that apparently earned us a free bird. At first I was convinced this was no “gift,” but simply a way for the hatchery to get rid of its ugliest birds, the ones no one wanted.
Some believe a Turken is half turkey and half chicken, but in fact, it’s simply a chicken with a turkey-like neck. The birds also have fewer feathers on their bodies and therefore are more resistant to heat, which encourages better meat and egg production.
According to Murray McMurray Hatchery in Iowa, the origin of the breed is uncertain, but the name came from more recent development in Eastern Europe.
As we stared at our “prize” we weren’t sure what to do with him. We really didn’t plan on having a rooster, much less one with no feathers, but we couldn’t cast him out.
So he stayed, and as he grew, Norbert won over the entire family.
My husband and I started posting pictures of him on Instagram and Facebook, mainly for our own amusement, but we’ve been surprised by the reaction and interest of friends and family.
Obviously, everyone comments on his looks. But they also seek regular updates. At least every couple of weeks someone will ask about the bird and request that I post a new photo. He has groupies in California, Oklahoma, Arkansas and even England. Of course, Texas family and friends are the base of his fan club.
Comments range from, “That is one ugly chicken!” to “He needs a little scarf or something to keep his nekkid neck warm.”
“I didn’t think he could get uglier. I was wrong,” posted one friend.
“When are the Norbert Fan Club T-shirts coming out?” asked another.
Some friends are even asking to come visit him. They want a chance to get to know the real rooster behind the online images.
While most are fascinated by his startling appearance, we’ve come to realize he has the biggest personality of all the chickens, and he’s actually much sweeter than his photos would suggest.
The kids adore him, and he’s attentive to all who enter the coop. It’s his turf, and he has his hands, or talons, full with all those hens. But he keeps things under control.
Without fail, he’s first to the mealworm treats, but he always shares with the ladies.
Norbert is finding his grown-up voice and is currently perfecting his crow. He even responds when you talk to him and is curious about whatever chores are being done. I had no idea that chickens, and roosters in particular, could be so companionable. But we’ve made a new friend.
I thought Norbert’s story might evolve into that of the ugly duckling, but that doesn’t seem to be on the horizon. He will probably always be unsightly, but it adds to his character. And he carries himself like the most noble of roosters.
The arrival of Norbert has taught us to enjoy the adventure, no matter how small, and embrace the unexpected.
After all, life’s like a box of chicks: You never know what you’re going to get.
Kristen Tribe is editor of the Wise County Messenger.