By KAREN L. KIRSCH
STOW, Ohio — Daniel Ryan of Stow, Ohio, is not your average guy on the street. The former horticulturist at Hale Farm and Village in Bath sometimes found himself called upon to harness and drive the farm’s team of Belgian draft horses and even the oxen.
Little did Ryan guess how handy those teamster skills would prove to be when after 10 years his position at the living history museum was eliminated.
Ryan didn’t become a teamster in the conventional sense. Instead, he hitched Richard, his pet rooster, to a cart with a hen passenger and took his unique act on the road.
The musician/storyteller with a carriage-driving chicken finds audiences for his act crosses generational barriers.
Ryan, who sports a long beard and dreadlocks, says it was love at first sight when he saw the Mille Fleur Bantam at a livestock auction and bid an outrageous $7.20 for the speckled little fowl.
“Chickens were selling for less than a dollar, but I didn’t care…I was going home with Richard,” Ryan said.
That was 10 years ago. Soon after taking Richard to work (eating bugs) in the farm gardens, he discovered that visitors enjoyed the friendly rooster.
“He helped a lot of people overcome their fear of chickens,” claimed Ryan.
He fashioned a harness and leash so Richard could safely be walked around the farm, then worked on verbal commands.
“I trained him through positive reinforcement, he explained. “When Richard went to the right, I’d say ‘Gee, Richard.’ When I picked him up I’d say ‘Whoa.'”
The bird was a quick study. His commands now include: gee, haw, whoa, step up and easy (just in case he gets going too fast).
Richard’s “bride” Mildred is seven years old.
“They even had a wedding at the farm,” laughed Ryan as he hitches the rooster to a sleigh which appears to be a Christmas relic retrofitted with rough-terrain wheels for year-round use. “I’d really like to have a nice little cart, but I haven’t found anything.”
The tiny hemp traces attach to a breast collar concealed by luxurious plumage. Richard clucks softly as Mildred takes her place in the sleigh.
“They’re never more than six inches apart. She likes to sit in the cart and he likes to give his bride a ride,” said Ryan.
Even with her cataract-clouded eyes Mildred looks regal.
“Step up,” said Ryan. Richard leans into the collar and away they go until he says, “Whoa, Richard.”
Billed as educational entertainment, they perform everywhere from nursery schools to nursing homes. Ryan plays mandolin and flute and sings between stories.
“His world is huge. Richard gets in places that would never allow me in. He’s even infiltrated high society country clubs,” Ryan said.
As the duo approaches retirement age, Ryan hopes to pick up some young chicks, but Richard and Mildred will be a tough act to follow.
The OSU Master Gardener has a new job, so he’s limiting their engagements until autumn.
For more information, call Ryan at 330-686-6222.