Thursday, November 24, 2011

Chasing Sparrows

Tonight has been a bit of a downer for me. It is probably part of the whole depression I have been feeling about our living situation. Rather than focus on the negative and the feelings of frustration and sadness I have been experiencing tonight, I thought I would tell you about our rooster instead. It will be worth it, I promise.

If you have been reading along, you will remember that this spring we picked up a whole flock of baby roosters. We originally intended to keep 5 of them; two Americauna and two Barred Rocks for breeding to our hens. Five was a lofty number, and we knew we would eventually narrow it down to hopefully the best rooster or two. The remainder we planned to butcher once they got to a decent size or started crowing, whichever came first. As they grew from adorable little fuzzballs into feathered ruffians we watched for signs of impending maturity. At some point we realized that we had WAY too many birds, and some of the roosters were just going to have to go. We ended giving away about half of our "free" roosters before we figured out the butchering aspect ourselves. It was a bit of a disappointment, but I still think it was the best decision at the time.

Then the fateful day finally arrived. Late one afternoon, a faint and squawky "cock-a-doodle-do." Oh crap. Apparently one of the Barred Rock boys felt he was getting to be a big boy. Then another one. And another. At first, I was holding out hope that there was one creative rooster feeling his oats, but no. We suddenly had THREE of them trying out their voices! After a few weeks of hearing their chorus turn from adolescent to full-throated rooster, we ended up permanently silencing the majority of the roosters. As it turned out, two of the "pullets" (young hens) we bought in the spring ended up being roosters as well. Ah well! It sometimes happens that way since sexing a day-old chicken is an art in and of itself. After a few months of watching the boys interacting with our hens (and the turkeys, they share the space), we ended up with a final three roosters. All Americaunas.

We didn't intend to end up with these specific guys, it just sort of happened that way. One would escape my husbands eye when he would go to catch several of the boys on a butchering day. Another would hide with the hens (chicken!!). The third kept flying into the goat pen and hiding out there - he seemed to prefer their company to the other birds. Yet the remaining three were awfully pretty, so we were more hesitant to let them go. We actually intended to butcher two of them during one of our butchering days, as one was a bully and somewhat aggressive. No way am I going to have a 8 pound bird be aggressive towards my family!! Plus, he was starting to beat up on the hens. He HAD to go. His buddy had to go too, since we decided that three roosters was easily three too many. I think it was the noise that was really getting to us at the time. We are staying on half an acre or so, and we worried the neighbors were getting cranky with the early morning wake-up calls. The bully had an especially loud an resounding call that annoyed.

Somewhere along the way, after the final three escaped the axe(sounds like your typical reality show, doesn't it?), we decided to find new homes for at least two of them. I tried selling them. I tried giving them away for free. I swear, I had 15 different people ask about them, and even drive out here to pick them up only to get lost or blow me off entirely. I was getting massively frustrated, and Greg was threatening to butcher two of them if they didn't have a new home soon. The bully chicken, while beautiful, was getting to be too aggressive. How do you get the point across to a bird that they are NOT the boss? We happened upon an unusual solution. When all our birds are young, and at least once a year thereafter, we trim their flight feathers. It doesn't hurt them, and it keeps the birds from flying too far off the ground. This can be a huge concern, as we lost a turkey to a neighbor dog earlier this year when it flew into a neighbors yard. I don't want to lose any more of our birds because they flew into a yard that wasn't safe. So, we trimmed a few of his long tail feathers (he was a little unhappy, but not hurt), and then several of his cape feathers (he was *really, really* cranky about those!!), and then tossed him in with the goats' rooster. What better way to demote a rooster than to remove the feathers that marked him as a male?! Chicken psychology as it were. Since the bully had been picking on the smaller rooster who liked the goat pen better, we simply left him to live with the goats so he wouldn't be beat up so much. We thought the change of pace and seclusion from the hens might be helpful for the bullys attitude. Plus, he (the bully) would be easier to catch without all the other hens and turkeys around.

Apparently our little goat-loving rooster became more territorial about the goat pen; As soon as the bully rooster landed in the goat pen(sans his male-determined plumage), the picked-upon rooster chased him around and pecked at the bully until there was submission. I don't think it was the path the bully rooster would have preferred, but it did calm his behavior down somewhat. Chicken politics, fascinating to watch! The day after the bully was moved to the goat pen, I was finally able to adopt out the two roosters. Since the guy living with the goats was generally peaceable, quiet, and liked hanging out with the caprines, we decided he could stay with them and help keep their pen bug-free. The remaining two boys went to their new home, which was a comedy of errors in and of itself. I hope that poor woman didn't have two cranky roosters flying in her little car when they drove to another state. It was obvious she had never held a live chicken before! So we were finally down to one rooster, who prefers to live with the goats.

It is a funny arrangement he seems to have. He talks to the hens, and a few of them hang out by the communal fence to show off for him. He runs around the yard when the goats are out during the day, and hops over the fence at night to sleep in his pen with his dairy goats. He *could* easily fly into the pen with the hens, but he hasn't yet. I fully expect to discover him in there one morning. And he is apparently rather territorial about his pen. When we were milking this morning, I saw him running around after some little sparrows. A small flock of them was hopping around the goats pen looking for leftovers, and apparently the rooster wanted to protect what was his! It was hilarious watching him running and chasing the tiny birds, from one end to the other, as they swooped in to capture what they could. It looked like they split into two smaller flocks, and our poor ruffled rooster was left chasing one and then the other out of his pen. I guess he has finally found his home.

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