A Volunteer Rooster and a Missed Opportunity

For weeks I have been lamenting that the lucky chickens of my flock – the ones that have an incredible, new, well appointed coop – have refused to venture inside in any way on their own. Ladies and gentlemen, I have said to this group (among them, unfortunately, are two roosters and one silkie whose gender is questionable).  Ladies and gentlemen, I said to them when it poured a few days ago: I know it took a long time, I know you were stuck underneath the coop for weeks when it was not yet ready, I appreciate your patience. But you are welcome to go in now!

This crew – the silkies, black copper marans, d’uccles and mixes — prefers the great outdoors. Even in the rain, even at night. At least they no longer huddle right next to the fence where a sneaky raccoon could bite another one’s head half off. Instead they gather about dead center in the run, looking like they drew straws to see who would get the safer, warmer middle and who would have to be on the outside edge of the huddle (perhaps that white one on the right is kind of a loner anyway?). Tonight the moon is rising and the stars are out and once again, together they sleep en masse, not under the coop, not in the coop, but instead, camping!

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Apparently I have the stargazing sort of chickens. It’s summertime. It’s warm. It’s all good. I’ll let it go. For now.

For the record, this other set of chickens, the ones in the old coop, and all chickens I’ve had for seven years, go in their coop at night, stand on their roosting poles, and stay there till morning. Whether (and how) they actually sleep I cannot say, and one could debate whether or not they need their beauty sleep. These hens do not look like they are sleeping but maybe they were disturbed by someone who came along with a flash camera…

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Old Gray, standing behind, has clearly lost her position of dominance.

The only time we have had chickens in the new coop – night or day — is when we cornered them, grabbed them and put them in there. So imagine my surprise when I walked toward them (and it’s a dry day, no less) and saw a volunteer standing inside. I was so excited to see this, I ran up to take a picture.

This is my first picture, before I got up close. Look! Look! A chicken in the coop!

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I was so excited to see this chicken in the coop, so hopeful that the other chickens would take note of the example and come in as well, so fixated on getting good pictures, that I failed to see, failed to hear (even when he crowed! even when I tried to capture that crow on a video!) that this is a rooster!

Utterly failed to register!

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Yes, this is a rooster. He walked around the inside, slowly, as if he were checking it out to give a report to the others. He walked around on the wire flooring, did not seem bothered by it. He looked for food to eat (hey, maybe I should put food in there!). He climbed the very cool ladder to the roosting pole.

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He hopped up on the roosting pole and I got a picture from the outside.

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This is a rooster! How did I miss that?! This is one of the impossible-to catch d’uccle roosters that has to go away anyway, has to be (as the brahma roosters were) “relocated” to some remote place where nature can and will take its course.

I missed my chance! I had him in a small, confined space (still clean and not disgusting to enter). I could have rid myself of one more crower. (They don’t do themselves any favors starting in with the crowing at 530 in the morning!)

But no. This rooster’s bravery eclipsed all other thoughts I might have had. He came into the coop first, came in voluntarily, did the grand tour and finally posed his silly self in the frame of the egg door before hopping out.

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His bravery saved him (for today anyway)! We’ll see what tomorrow brings…

What To Do With the Roosters!

Chickens fit in my world because they are definitely unboring. For one thing, they are entertaining. They start with being funny looking. This is a young silkie.

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To add to the entertainment, they walk like aliens, sleep standing up, eek out pathetic noises, scratch incessantly to find worms and bugs, and compete hilariously with their coop-mates for every last scrap you throw in there. My carrot peel! No, mine!

Chickens are messy. They poop often and indiscriminately, kick their bedding all around, and redistribute food to all corners of their area. They don’t care if they are wet (yesterday’s ridiculous birds in the rain being a prime example) and they peck you randomly if you hang around in their run, as if your pants leg might have something good to eat on it.

And chickens give you eggs! I know some people don’t like eggs, but most people do, and there are a thousand ways to make them and make otherwise unmakeable dishes with them. For example, macaroni pie – a great thing to do with leftover pasta. Sometimes I make a little extra pasta just to have leftovers, just so I can make macaroni pie. Isn’t language a funny thing? Pasta and macaroni are the same thing. But I make pasta for dinner and macaroni pie with the leftovers of the same thing!

How easy for me to get distracted today by subject of food. I had every intention of continuing the coop construction tale. Instead, I’d rather to go on and on about the virtues of eggs in cooking – not because I don’t want to talk about the coop construction but because I am in avoidance/distraction mode altogether, still struggling with the “relocation” of three roosters yesterday.

Okay, allow me to be more precise: Hens give you eggs! And all I wanted in the first place was fresh eggs. So what do you do with the roosters? They don’t give eggs, they make a lot of obnoxious noise, they boss around all the other birds. Ultimately they make more chicks, which I surely don’t need. If my chickens were truly free range, I could maybe see having a rooster as a kind of protector. But I didn’t want them, don’t want them. The problem is that few people can tell male from female when they are a day old, unless the coloring is different, as with the cinnamon queens. Only the females have the chipmunk-like markings.

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With most chicks, you take your chances and it can be months before you can tell. Sure enough, sooner or later, roosters get bigger than the hens and sprout the comb on top of their heads. This is the biggest brahma rooster.

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Hens don’t have that funny red thing, which is funny, but not AS funny as what turkeys have. What is all that hanging stuff for?!

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This pic is from a recent visit to Yoder’s in Madison, Va. Their petting zoo, by the way, is a favorite spot for me to take visitors. They have goats and llamas and peacocks and turkeys! And you can get an ice cream cone in numerous great flavors (mine is always chocolate, but that is another story) packed full, not a cheap portion, for such a good price.  Their Rueben sandwich is also worth the trip.

See, there I go with food again because I don’t want to face the roosters.

I thought I was lucky because up till a few weeks ago, when the chicks were three months old, I had not heard any crowing or noticed any considerable size difference. I admit I probably overlooked the slow emergence of the red combs on the tops of their heads. What do I know about brahmas anyway? Maybe they are different from other breeds and brahma females have this sometimes?

Once they crow, there’s no denying it. That’s a rooster. Oh no, that’s three roosters! Three out of six. Oh, no! Two of the d’uccles are roosters too! Should I be surprised? How likely is it that out of 32 chicks, none should be male? I had been in dreamland thinking I got that lucky.

Why can’t I be like Renee Zellweger in the movie Cold Mountain? She is the strong, afraid-of-nothing Civil War mountain girl “Ruby Thewes” who comes upon Nicole Kidman, proper young lady of greatly reduced circumstances crouching in terror of a “devil rooster.” Ruby picks up the rooster, snaps his neck and says (perfectly!) “Let’s put ‘im in a pot.”

I can’t do it. I was working my way up to finding a YouTube video on how to kill a chicken (knowing I couldn’t do it Ruby’s way), working up the nerve to even watch the video! I posted an ad on craigslist – I would happily give them away, and that would be way cleaner. I asked every person I knew who might possibly want them if they might possibly want them or knew someone who might possibly want them. Those in the know were clear with me that there are three legitimate purposes for roosters: dinner, lawn ornament and fertilizer of eggs. I want none of those. And no one else wanted them. Every day they were still here, I was aware of the passing of time and my own inability to manage this conundrum.

So yesterday morning, after exhausting other options, I decided to let nature take its course, in a manner of speaking. Chickens are historically jungle birds, I was told, and it’s not a great leap from jungle to forest. I have a perfectly good forest all around my house. We have wild turkeys in this forest – surely these he-man roosters can’t have terribly different defenses. (Note the steps of justification.) So confession time: Before I lost my nerve, yes, the three brahma roosters were successfully relocated about a ten minute walk down my nice trail into the forest to the bottom of the hill.

The forest is full of bugs and other delectables (as well as, I know, predators of all kinds) so these guys would have a good life and a truly free range and a better menu than inside their protected run until… until nature took its course (and a lucky predator came along).

You’d think you could do a thing like this and get away with it. Who would find out? I had no thought of sharing this decision with the world, but I simply do not have luck with such things. In the early afternoon, my cottage guests Hillary and Malcolm said they wanted to take a walk. I went into an autopilot description of the nice trail that encircles my property, then remembered the roosters, then said “Oh, but you know it’s probably pretty mucky down there. You might do better to stick to the road.”

Did they stick to the road? No, they did not. Later they said, “Nice trail! But there were these chickens down there, three of them…” and showed me a picture they took!

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Can I say, “Huh! How about that!” and leave it alone? No, I cannot. I have to admit my part in that scene, feeling guiltier than ever.

“Oh, they looked just fine,” they said. “Very happy.”

Happy until…