Bzzzz January 12th, 2015

The story I’m about to tell may make you think differently about me. I feel differently about myself.

It started this past spring. To fill out my coop I ordered six female chicks from My Pet Chicken—two Appenzeller Spitzhaubens and four Polish chicks.

If you’ve never ordered chicks before, you may be surprised to learn that you can order a wide variety of chick breeds online and have them delivered right to your local post office for pickup. Aside from breed and quantity, you have two options in ordering. You can order straight run chicks, which means you take your chances with sex and will probably get a mix of male and female chicks. You can also pay a little bit extra and order sexed chicks, so that you get females.

Anyway, I digress, but this is important background, as you’ll see.

The chicks arrived and thrived. It wasn’t long, however, before I began to suspect that one of the chicks was never going to grow up to be an egg-laying hen. That was an unplanned rooster.

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Little Man

Roosterly behavior begins quite early. Male chicks no bigger than a grapefruit will begin challenging other chicks with shoves and chest thumps. By the time they reach the size of a small cabbage, they are trumpeting their magnificence to the world, beginning with hoarse, strangled sounding vocalizations. Their general attitude of arrogance and entitlement grows until they begin trying to figure out the whole barnyard sex thing.

I generally wait to see how chickens look and act before naming them because I think the name should describe the chicken. So, for example, my pretty, round white Wyandotte is named Pearl. The creamy, caramel and chocolate Polish hen is named Twix. (You know, the candy bar?) The two Appenzeller Spitzhaubens seem to be tethered together as they cruise around the yard. They are Thelma and Louise.

And the rooster? Well, I named him Little Man because he reminds me of some diminutive men I have known who over-compensate for what they lack in stature with outsized attitudes.

When it comes to roosters, I like to think I have an open mind. I’ll give a rooster a chance to prove himself and pull his weight around the coop. My husband, on the other hand, has decided that all roosters are little sadists just waiting to rape, pillage and eventually come after me with their spurs when I am not looking. He began talking about the final solution.

“Give it some time,” I told him. T. Boone Chickens and Johnny Cash were were roosters and two of the finest chickens I have ever met—not overly rough with the hens and standing tall and alert to the sky while the hens were head-down pecking and scratching on walkabout.

On the other hand, Ricky Ricardo was a particularly wicked rooster. Good riddance to that bad boy.

What is it about nasty roosters that they tend to pick on one hen, in particular? Ricky Ricardo had it out for Tina Turner and Little Man hated Dorothy with a passion.

Poor Dorothy could never rest and could hardly eat. Little Man was always chasing her, mounting her, pecking at her and generally making her life miserable. She had lost a considerable number of feathers from his attacks. She had become nervous and twitchy.

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I felt so sad for Dorothy. She is not a particularly pretty hen. She has a kind of undistinguished brown and white coat and the kind of facial feathers that resemble a fake Halloween beard. But Dorothy has spunk, I tell you. She is always the first hen to see when I am walking toward the coop with leftover pizza in my hands. Dorothy lives for pizza. She is also the hen who would most like to see the world. Chickens never stray far from their coop when on walkabout, but Dorothy always walks up the hilly driveway as far as she dares to go. I often imagine she is thinking, “I wonder what’s over that mountain. I will go there someday and see for myself!”

Sadly, I eventually came around to Harry’s way of thinking. Little Man had no place in our coop.

Now, getting rid of a rooster is a problem. You can’t hope they’ll run away from home because they never leave the yard. And you can’t give away a rooster. I have seen many ads on Craig’s List for free roosters and no one seems to be taking those ads down. People will go to some lengths to re-home a rooster. I once saw a huge roadside sign that said “FREE ROOSTER!” (Aside: I shared the photo on Twitter and one quick-witted follower fired back, “Who is Rooster and why is he incarcerated?”)

I decided to consult with my very experienced and skilled chicken-keeping neighbor V. V is a no nonsense person. She is not overly sentimental about what needs to be done with bad roosters and has become skilled at the task. If I needed to get rid of Little Man, I could do it myself or she would help. She described to me the method she researched and found most effective—a broom handle over the back of the neck and a quick snatch of the head backward.

I did what I normally do in these types of uncomfortable situations. I procrastinated. I kept thinking that the situation would resolve itself. Maybe one of the people I had asked would miraculously decide to take Little Man into their coop. Maybe Little Man would get religion and become a kinder, gentler Little Man. Maybe the Circle of Life would claim him early through disease, injury or stalking predator.

Hope did not prove to be an effective strategy. Day after day Little Man continued to torment Dorothy.

Finally, one afternoon Little Man pushed Dorothy—and me—just a little too far. I decided that was his final day.

I took the first step. I went into the house and had a glass of wine. Liquid courage.

I took some deep breaths. I put on my Little Man killing gloves and marched out into the yard with my broom. I could almost hear doomsday music playing in my head. I cornered that little tyrant in the coop. He was vocalizing and fighting like, well, I was trying to kill him.

I wasted no time. I took mean Little Man outside. “Okay, you. I’ve had enough of you!” I flattened nasty Little Man on the ground. “You do NOT, repeat do NOT mess with my hens.” (I was really working up a head of steam now.) I put the broom handle over horrid Little Man’s head. “This will teach you a lesson!” I yanked his despicable Little Man head back with a forceful jerk. He went completely limp.

“That’s it,” I thought looking down at my gloved hands. “I have killed with my own hands. Premeditated.”

I put down the broom, with Little Man at my feet. I stood up to meditate on what my fury had wrought…and Little Man jumped up and raced into the woods! He wasn’t dead!

Now I not only had a mean rooster, I had a mad mean rooster.

Time to call in the Special Forces. I called my neighbor V. Very calmly she offered to help.

“But I don’t believe in wasting perfectly good chickens. I can bring him home for dinner.”

She didn’t mean as a guest.

She was here within five minutes. I explained the ridiculous results of how I had tried to do the deed.

“That sounds like the first time I butchered a turkey in my basement.”

(Note to self: Do not mess with V.)

By this time Little Man had made it back to his torture Dorothy location.

V headed toward the coop. I noticed she wasn’t wearing gloves, so I offered mine. She took them, but I got the feeling that she was humoring me.

In no time flat V had snatched up that rooster, held him by his feet, slapped him on the ground, put the broom over his neck and sent him to rooster heaven (or hell). The end.

To reinforce her point about waste, I noticed that V had brought her own garbage bag to put Little Man in. Really, she could have just carried him home by his feet. But I suppose the spectacle of her walking down the road swinging a dead rooster by the feet was too much even for V.

So there it is. The story of how I tried to kill Little Man and failed—and then called in a trained professional for the job.

It’s not how I saw myself behaving when I began keeping pet chickens several years ago. I am still sentimental about them. I give them special treats to keep them happy and extra special treats on holidays. I give them names and mourn when a good hen passes. We bury hens that get sick and die.  I have been known to cry over a chicken.

But now I know when to say “enough is enough.” I know when to protect the good chickens from a bad chicken. And now I know how to do it.

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Posted In: Chickens, Nature and Wildlife

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Bzzzz November 30th, 2014

Living here in a fairly rural part of Maryland, I see things that the average suburbanite wouldn’t encounter in a year living in a sanitized and manicured neighborhood.

I can sit in my favorite chair and watch red foxes play fight in the back field. In spring, the tulip trees look like Christmas trees with twinkling fireflies in the night. I have stared in awe to see an eagle fly not 20 feet over where I was walking my little dogs. I was tickled when bluebirds colonized my hugely expensive and unused purple martin gourds. And one memorable day I watched on as turkeys fornicated on my front lawn.

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Live baby bunnies in a nest

On the other hand, I have had to boldly intervene when Tina Turner, a beautiful Polish chicken, was chased down by a hawk who wasn’t at all impressed with my windmill arms and lunatic shrieking. I have stumbled upon dead moles, dead snakes, dead woodchucks and dead baby bunnies, only to return a short time later to haul them off to the woods with a shovel to find that they had disappeared. And one time during an early morning run, my husband encountered a stillborn deer in the middle of our driveway.

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Turkey sex

At 10 in the morning this past Halloween Day a bloody-footed raccoon walked across our front porch just between the door sill and the mat, leaving a pool of blood to one side and dripping blood down the sidewalk before ambling across the lawn and into the woods.

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Bloody raccoon footprints by my front door

You don’t see that every day in the burbs.

Recently I was out for my run when I slammed into a force field of stench. It was just up the driveway from the house where an ominous band of silent black vultures had congregated. The odor was so overpowering I was forced to sprint past holding my nose and mouth breathing. My eyes were watering like a spigot. The smell attached itself to my clothes and followed me up the road.

No small corpse could be causing such an impressive stink. Surely it was something quite large. Maybe an elephant. Or a brontosaurus.

Maybe some animal had taken the next step on the Circle of Life ride.

Then my mind raced. What if it wasn’t a dead animal? What if it was really human remains out there in the woods near my driveway? What should I do?  Should I investigate?

But maybe someone had dumped a dead and putrefying body there and I would stumble across it, accidentally planting my DNA on the corpse and when I called the county sheriff they would come out to investigate and conclude that I bludgeoned and dumped the body of a blogger who had written a mean review about my book and they would take me off to prison and I would be all like Orange is the New Black, let myself go and have to get a gangsta nickname like Ugly Stretch and have an interesting but diverse new group of friends and never put up another jar of jam, although maybe I could get a job in the prison kitchen if I was really nice to the terrifying Russian lady in charge, but really they would probably make me work in the electrical shop as part of my rehabilitation but instead I would get electrocuted and die young because I’m not good at fixing things.

My husband could totally deal with prison better than me.

But he wasn’t home to go look instead of me, so I finally worked up my courage to investigate. I put on my big rubber boots and gloves and tied a pretty scarf around my face bandito-style. Might as well go out in style, right?

I shoed away the black vultures (gosh, they’re scary) and carefully tiptoed into the woods so I wouldn’t disturb any evidence. A couple of feet past the tree line I spied the enormous, bloated dead deer that was causing the stink.

I’m sorry, Bambi, but thank you, Jesus! I am not going to prison! I’m free! I went home to celebrate my freedom with a plate of cookies.

Boy howdy. That stench had staying power. It took four days for nature’s cleanup crew to finish their picnic and for the smell to disperse. In the meantime the driveway to our home looked like a more Mafioso version of The Birds.

Since I’m not going to prison after all I’m enjoying the fresh air of freedom. It feels wonderful not to be behind bars, to savor the quiet and shower all by myself.

Ah, rural living! I think I would be bored living in the suburbs.


Posted In: Nature and Wildlife


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