FORT KENT, Maine — There are two signs that hang on the chicken coops here at Rusty Metal Farm.
One, acquired during a period of heightened tensions between two rival New Brunswick chicken processors, states “Mettez fin a la crise du poulet” (“Put an end to the chicken crisis”).
The other, a hand-painted work of art by my friend and local artist Sue Roy, is of a gorgeous rooster on a yellow caution diamond and reads “No Boys Aloud,” in reference to my longstanding refusal to allow noisy roosters in the Rusty Metal Chicken mix.
Now, thanks to the introduction of seven new members to the flock, I am in violation of both.
And it’s not like I really needed new chickens. The 15 gals that have been around the past several years are healthy. Of course, some of the older gals are showing their age — who among us is not? — and egg production has dropped a bit.
But “need” is such a strong word, and after writing a story this past spring on heritage breed chickens and learning about one in particular, Golden Campines, I was smitten.
Maybe part of it was that I have a soft spot for the underdog — or, in this case, the underchicken.
Campines originated in Belgium, one of two breeds sharing a common history and feathered ancestor. The other breed is the Braekel.
According to several online chicken resources, the Braekel chicken is native to the rich clay soil of the Flanders region of Belgium where, apparently, the land is fertile and the living easy.
The Campine branch of the family, on the other hand, is from the rougher, less fertile Kempen district of Belgium.
As such, they had to be tough little birds and evolved into expert foragers, able to live off what the land did provide.
Not that they let their humble start hold them back.
It is said that Julius Caesar, after invading Belgium, was so taken with the Campines that he took some back to Rome with him.
Fast forward a few centuries, and the Campines are still around, though considered endangered with fewer than 1,000 registered breeding pairs in the country.
In Maine, retired professor John Twomey and his partner Leigh Norcott, raise Campines on their Montville farmstead and were more than happy to share their knowledge and some chicks with me.
Apparently, chicken lovers of a feather do flock together, and in May I drove 500 miles, round trip, to pick up my heritage breed starter set — seven adorable, fuzzy peeping baby Campines.
Right off I knew I was taking a chance: Campine gender can’t be determined until they are 4 or 5 weeks old, so of the seven there was no way to know the hen to rooster ratio.
Let me just say, there are now “boys” on Rusty Metal Farm.
Four Golden Campine males, to be exact.
And they are the funniest little things. Their gender first announced itself with small combs growing atop their heads. Soon after, they began their first attempts at crowing.
It was adorable and sounded very much like a squeaky gate hinge.
Now into August, they are crowing with a bit more authority, but it’s still pretty hard to take them seriously.
Meanwhile, the established Rusty Metal Hen flock is less than impressed with these Chicken-Little-come-latelies.
Because I have two coops, I’ve been able to keep the two groups separated, but there is clearly a “crise du poulet” in the making.
Every day around 4 p.m. I let all the chickens out to free range around the yard.
The Campines travel in a tight little mob; where you see one, you will see all seven.
The senior gals tend to split up and wander farther afield, but not before letting the youngsters know who is boss.
The other day, for example, one of my oldest chickens — a rather cranky and bossy Araucana, which lays one egg every three months or so — went stomping over to the group of Campines and stared them down until they scuttled back inside their coop.
On another occasion, three or four of the older chickens ganged up on the Campines to chase them away from some particularly tasty bugs or vegetation they found.
It leaves me to wonder, how big a risk are the old girls taking?
Remember, these are the chickens of Caesar — or, as I like to think of them, “Gladiator chickens.”
Given time, will the Campines revert to historical form and come out in a phalanx formation, wearing helmets, breastplates and carrying spears?
Will they somehow pull the Rusty Metal sled dogs into the fray by harnessing them and staging chariot races around the farm?
Will I look out one day to see the original chickens cornering the brave little Campines who are all, in turn, swearing, “I am Spartacus!”?
The Campines also can do something most other chickens can’t (and Caesar himself could not) do: They can fly. So there is the possibility of aerial Campine campaigns.
Whatever chicken chaos is coming, the signs are there.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.