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Sunday, January 13, 2008

The Great 2008 Rooster Roundup

NOTE: All the chickens in these photos are alive and well.

Into every chicken owner's life comes a time when one must face facts, protect the flock, and well, take charge of the rooster gangs.

Last summer I brought home a dozen fertilized eggs from another farmer. I wanted to add to our small Bantie flock, but I also wanted to introduce the green egg laying Arancauna. Our original 7 bantie hens got right to the task of setting on the eggs and 20+ weeks later, we had chicks. And of course, 4 of the 7 that lived wereroosters.

I naively played head games with myself, saying boldly to Martyn, "Everyone is getting along just fine, it will be good to have a variety of roosters around to protect the ladies while they free range..." SIlence from the mate.

Weeks later, when the polite boy roosters became real man roosters, things changed. At 6 months, the 'boys' had formed three groups. Group one was Old Papa [our original Bantie rooster] and one of the new, young roosters who I call Crow. These guys were perfect gentlemen to each other, and the ladies. Group 2 consisted of 2 roosters that weren't that bad individually, but together could be like two raptors around the cats and hens. And then there was Group 1, comprised of one rooster who I named Bad Ass. This rooster ruled the hen house, ruled the cat food area, ruled the barnyard of donkeys. He was as far up on the pecking order as he could be. He was the schoolyard bully and he just didn't give a hoot what hen he hurt. He even kept Frankie kept at bay, and nobody kept Frankie at bay.

Bad Ass sealed his fate quicker than he might have, when he pecked a hole in the neck of one of the little bantie hens. I doctored her up, and for 2 days she seemed ok, eating, etc. But one night she simply vanished. I of course to this day blame Bad Ass, as I think maybe the hen was weakened, and perhaps an owl got her or...who knows. No trace was found of her. I immediately confronted the evil doer, "That's it, Bad Ass, you pick on my hens, you're out of here." He was unimpressed.

So, I began frantically reading to try and learn to kill a chicken. While I had no qualms about harvesting Bad Ass, I wanted to do it properly, and poured over books and web sites trying to find the best way. Within a couple weeks, Bad Ass had again been pecking hard on little Inky, another Bantie. These Leghorn crosses were so much bigger than the Banties, and it was a near death experience every time he went at them. That was it. I snapped.

I caught Bad Ass, and the Group 2 posse, and put them in secure barn stall. I would find someone to come help me do the deed properly, but for now, they were safe, plenty to eat, plenty to drink, and my hens were safe. The next morning, a creature raced behind me as I went to the barn. It was Bad Ass, rushing to get to the cat food area, as he knew my morning feeding routine. I swear I heard him taunting me as he raced by. Be darned if that rooster and flown up about 15 + feet and found a tiny escape route, leaving the Group 2 posse in the dust.

So I secured his escape route, and once again caught him. But within an hour, he had escaped again. Bad Ass was just getting badder.

"OK, Bad Ass, do what you want, sleep outside for all I care. You're on your own." Fortunately, two of our good farm friends [actually three, they brought their adorable new baby, a real charming fellow] came over in the next days to help us with the proper chicken slaughter. We couldn't have had better teachers. Of course, the night before the act, I couldn't for the life of me catch the 3 roosters. All the advice of going to the chickens at night in their roost is fine- for most roosters- but Bad Ass was an escaped con, an expert at protecting himself. He had a million places to flee in the big old barn. I gave up after an hour.

Finally the next morning, D Day, and I somehow casually got the three marked roosters in the hen house, and caught them all. They had a few hours before the deed, so they were calm and collected, as was I. I thanked them all for their sacrifice, even Bad Ass. One never takes the slaughter event lightly.

That night, we ate Bad Ass. I did not have one moment of regret. Or guilt. He lived 6 months in sun, in charge of the barnyard. He died quickly and was treated more humanely than he treated others. And the next day, we had 4 eggs, a sure sign the hens were happy to have the posse gone. Old Papa and Crow both remain gentleman. I'm glad, as Crow [shown here] is just so beautiful. And Old Papa will always have a home here.


Kim said...

Life on a farm can be harsh, and you did well to protect your flock... and boy do I love Chicken... and eggs! I love your blog, I am a farmowner wanna-be and so enjoy living on one vicariously when I read your blog daily. Kim G

salmonpoetry said...

i think that you have to have experienced it to fully appreciate the rooster thing. out of 12 banties i have raised, 10 turned out to be roosters (a cruel trick of fate since I am trained as a geneticist; what ever happened to that 50-50 thing?). as a vegetarian, eating them was out of the question, and i was able to happily rehome all but one, an araucana who went to the sad fate of the hermiston auction yard (i don't know for sure that his eventual fate was sad, but the conditions at the auction yard were indeed sad).

despite his eventual end at the dinner table (probably a better fate than the auction yard) the story of bad ass was hilarious, and so true to rooster personality.
i currently have a female polish chicken (i still wonder, sometimes) who has become more and more aggressive, luckily just to me and not her coopmates. i am trying to keep her tamed but perhaps it is that mop of feathers that confuses her and makes her think i am prey, or predator, that must be attacked. previously i had added two standard aruacanas to my flock (sick of self-sexing the banties and really wanting those blue and green eggs) and they grew up happily together until they decided one day to attack and kill iris, one of my silkies. luckily i was able to extract iris from the drainpipe she had imbedded herself in when they came after her, and rehome them (double yolker araucanas are easy to find a new home for). now i am convinced that my very small yard works best with only 3 bantam hens in residence.

Katherine Dunn/Apifera Farm said...

Poor Iris, I feel her pain. Isn't it funny how a chicken about to be cuaght will rush to a corner and stick his head way down, like he becomes invisible, he thinks! Of course in the wild of ddays gone, sticking your headd down probably worked at times. I'd love to see you chickens - I'll ccheck you blog - I love the chickens, they are so comical. The conversations and different cooings are so interesting. You did pretty well to place so many roosters. Out in the country, we have a joke greeting - 'Want a rooster?' Thanks for writing - both of you.


Julie said...

Life with your roosters sounds a bit like life with 4 boys and their countless friends who congregate here. Definitely a pecking order here.

It is nice to see you promote Jon Katz's book. He's from my neck of the woods.

Maggie Sumner said...

Sounds like Bad Ass definitely got what he deserved.

I don't have a farm but a little flock of pets, one dog, two cats and I have an occasional problem. Though the cats love eat other, I think the male cat loves the dog more. Occasionally the cat/dog twosome will gang up on our smallest cat. At least once a day, they chase her into the basement (which is usually dark and chilly). They get time-outs when I catch them doing this (especially the dog since she's more trainable). Luckily though, they don't injure one another and most of the time they get along fine. I just feel bad for the poor grey cat hanging out in the cold, dark basement!

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Thank you for reading! The farm and my art/writing keep me hopping, so might not respond immediately. Thank you for understanding. ~Katherine & Apifera ~