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.
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.
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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January 13th, 2012
It was a sad week here at the homestead. It started when my most beloved three-year-old rooster, T. Boone Chickens, developed a serious abscess on his big chicken foot.
I hauled him off to the veterinarian who anesthetized him and examined him more closely. According to the vet, because chickens don’t have significant blood circulation in their feet, it’s difficult for a major foot wound to heal.
“Robin, you need to put T. Boone to sleep,” advised the vet. “He’s not going to get better. In fact, he’s going to get a lot worse. And he is in pain.”
Now, if you haven’t ever had pet chickens, you might find it odd that I was reduced to a puddle of tears at hearing this news. Even some people who have pet chickens might consider the fact that I spent the better part of the afternoon weeping an overreaction.
But I raised T. Boone from the time he was a baby fuzz ball in my palm, which may account for part of why he was so tame.
I bought T. Boone and two other baby chicks from an Amish farmers market. I was assured that all three chicks would grow up to be fine hens. So we called him Olivia—for a while anyway. Two of the three chicks survived and both were roosters. (So much for the chick sexing skills of the guy at the farmers market.)
T. Boone was second rooster around here for a long time. In fact, he was at the bottom of the pecking order and the hens never hesitated to shoo him away or punish him by pecking at him. The big chicken on campus at that time was Johnny Cash.
But when free ranging in the yard, T. Boone still patrolled and protected the hens who disrespected him in the coop.
Two years ago T. Boone, Johnny Cash and the hens were on walkabout, searching for bugs, stretching their legs and enjoying the unseasonably warm February day. I didn’t see what happened, but it appeared that the roosters fought off an attack by one—or possibly two—hawks or eagles. Johnny Cash was carried off and never seen again. There were two huge pools of T. Boone’s white feathers about 200 yards apart. Could T. Boone have been attacked, dropped and attacked again?
When we finally found T. Boone in the woods it was clear that he was gravely injured. He was dazed and couldn’t walk. He let me pick him up to examine him and I found he had huge puncture wounds on both sides of his body under his wings.
I was certain that he wouldn’t live until morning. I didn’t know of any veterinarian at the time who would even euthanize a chicken but I didn’t have the heart (or the nerve) to break his neck—even to put him out of his misery. Neither my husband nor my son would take on the job.
We put him into the coop where he crawled into one of the nest boxes to hide. Well, he thought he was hiding, but as you can see, he didn’t fit. T. Boone was a very big chicken.
Days went by and T. Boone kept hanging on. I gave him water, put salve on his wounds and prepared myself to find him dead every morning I went into the coop to greet the chickens for the day.
Instead of dying, T. Boone crawled out of the nest box and tried to stand! At first he couldn’t hold his head up or walk. He did a lot of standing around. I positioned him near the food and water so he could help himself whenever he was thirsty or hungry. After a month or so, he could stand upright again, but he walked. With a limp.
Nevertheless, he had cheated death—that time.
Without Johnny Cash in the role of leading chicken, T. Boone stepped into the job. Whenever the hens were on walkabout, T. Boone would be standing guard. He knew full well what dangers the hens faced outside the safety of their coop and chicken run. The chickens would hunt and peck for bugs. T. Boone would stand nearby warily eyeing the sky and the woods. Any time there was a sense of danger, T. would begin honking in alarm, sending the hens scrambling under the shrubs and into the trees.
He also fulfilled all of his roosterly duties (if you know what I mean).
Some people have had bad experiences with aggressive or mean roosters. I have seen both sides of the rooster behavior spectrum and T. Boone was definitely one of the kinder, gentler roosters. He always greeted us and would follow me around begging for treats. His favorites were corn, pizza and any kind of baked good—cake, muffins, biscuits, bread. He would even show up at the back door to peer in and beg.
“Is this where you keep the cans of corn?”
I love my hens. But they don’t have the bold personality, the larger-than-life appearance or the endearingly quirky habits that T. Boone had. If you can love a chicken, I loved T. Boone.
Rest in peace, T. Boone. You were a good and brave rooster. I hope you’re in chicken heaven where the sun is shining and where there is an endless supply of corn, pizza and baked goods.
Posted In: Chickens