Sunday, July 23, 2017

Renegade Rooster

I never gave him a name because I don't name my chickens.  They are not pets, although I love going into the hen house at night and listening to their idle chatter about the day.  Chickens make soothing sounds. They purr, hum and yodel softly when they are happy, and at the end of the day, when they are tucked together in a feathered mountain on the roost, they create a joyful soft chorus.

It was my habit to wait until about dark, then grab my egg bucket and trek through the softening light out to the coop.  The girls and their two roosters were always inside and, for the first month or so after we got him, rooster #1 watched me balefully from the roost and crowed to let the girls know I had entered the premises.

As he grew, so did his testosterone.  Rooster #1 soon became BRIC (Big Rooster In Charge).  He chased rooster #2 away any time that #2 bowed and danced and fluffed in front of a hen.  I admired the way he crowed the hens over whenever I brought out a bucket of choice tidbits.  He never ate until the hens had a chance to make first pick.

BRIC challenged any intruders and he soon had my two rambunctious rabbit beagles cowed and respectful in his presence.  Luke, who always nosed his way into the flock to share in the feast when I dumped a bucket of scraps, stopped going out to the chicken house with me.  BRIC strutted, crowed and lunged any time one of the dogs breached the buffer zone.

I admired his bravado.  No eagle or hawk or fox or racoon would be able to hurt my hens.  BRIC was on patrol.

Then, BRIC started challenging me.  At first it was all sound and fury, but then one day he lunged at me.  I started carrying a stick when I went out to see the hens and had to use it more than once to enforce my own buffer zone.   When a neighbor called to ask if her grandchildren could come gather eggs, I had to regretfully decline. BRIC was not trustworthy.

Then, one evening, BRIC jumped off the roost when I walked through the hen house door.  As I gathered eggs, he glared and paced between me and the door.  When I was ready to leave, I had to toss a handful of feed into a far corner to distract him.

I started carrying my club into the hen house.  After I tapped him with it a few times, he learned to exit through the small door, which I closed behind him.  He wasn't allowed to come back in until I was done.

While I gathered eggs, BRIC stood outside on the chicken ramp, crowing his anger, and when I opened the little door to let him back in, he often chased me out the big door.

One morning last month,  I went to the hen yard and opened the gate so the girls and boys could roam for the day.  When I turned to walk back to the farmhouse, I felt something heavy hit my thigh and then dig in.  It was BRIC.  He had launched himself, flipped his dagger sharp spurs skyward and stuck them in my thigh.

I ran screaming back to the house, and the next day had to make a trip to the doctor for a tetanus shot. Still, I reasoned, BRIC did such a good job protecting the flock, that it would be a shame to kill him. So, I let him be.

But, the joy of hens and the soft quiet music of egg picking was replaced by terror.  I hated going to the chicken house and BRIC knew it.  He gloated and crowed whenever I came near.  It didn't matter that I often came bearing treats.  He had identified the enemy and it was me.

Last week, I decided that he was just too risky to have around anymore, so I had Joe dispatch him to the great chicken heaven in the sky.  I felt terrible about it.  Although we kill and eat chickens, killing one because he was mean, seemed wrong.

I felt terrible until the next night, when I went out to the hen house and the girls were singing their soft songs about their day and I could gather eggs without a club in my hand and I could walk, not run to the door.

I'm sorry BRIC couldn't continue to defend his hens, but after examining their backs, I suspect they are glad he's gone as well.  Many bear scars from his overzealous love-making.  Rooster #2 is just beginning to realize that BRIC is gone.  He crows in the morning now and dances and struts for the hens, but so far seems happy to keep his distance from me.

I hope it stays that way.

Anyone out there with chickens ever have anything similar happen? I'd love to know that I'm not alone.