The Departure of the Roosters

Until recently I had never had roosters before. I had hens, only hens, and they gave me eggs. That’s all I wanted, that’s all I got. I was happy and the hens were happy. A lot of people ask me: Don’t you need roosters to get eggs from hens? No. You need roosters if you want more little chicks (which I don’t). Hens lay eggs whether there is a rooster around or not. I prefer my eggs unfertilized, thank you.

I had always said I didn’t want roosters. This was because 1. My neighbor had them a few years ago and I could hear their annoying crowing all day long, all the way from his coop, which is way farther than a stone’s throw from my house. It’s at least ten stones. 2. I don’t want a major chicken operation. All I want are eggs. Hens clucking softly works for me as a background noise. They are a bit of entertainment too. Watching chickens go to town on mealy worms makes me smile. Oh boy, mealy worms!

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But all that time when I didn’t have roosters I wondered if I would change my mind if I actually had them. Would they somehow endear themselves to me? With this latest batch of 33 chicks, I had the chance to find out. (33, I know I’m crazy, you don’t have to remind me.)

It’s very hard to tell males from females when chicks first hatch. Hardly anyone can do it. You take your chances, and you don’t even really know for sure until you hear their crowing, which happens at about three months. Five of my birds started crowing a month or so ago. Three brahma roosters were “relocated,” one found his way back, leaving him plus two little (but loud) d’uccle roosters. Or so I thought.

It turns out there are other reasons not to want roosters. The crowing is, yes, every bit as obnoxious as I remembered. But roosters are also, shall we say, virile? Additionally, they want what they want regardless of how the hens feel about it. A rooster picks one pretty girl, chases her around the enclosure while she squawks like mad, and soon manages to have his way. It’s fast, and it’s the way of the world, but it riles up the hens. Understandably. I prefer a calmer flock.

Finally, someone answered my craigslist ad. God bless Pablo. Imagine that a person would drive more than an hour to come get a brahma rooster. He said he would come Saturday morning. Great!

First the Roundup. Let’s just say chickens don’t like to be captured. Perhaps there is a trick to this, but we are amateurs. The blurriness of the bird in this photo makes it clear that he is moving very fast to get away from Sandy. The job is harder than it looks.

20180714_082303.jpgPerseverance paid off, as it usually does. The brahma big boy was actually easier to nab. Look at the size of him!

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Before too long, three roosters were corralled and placed in the coop that they have been avoiding. The sliding egg door came in very handy.

 

Trapped! Oh, I mean ready for pick-up. Pablo, where are you?

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The roosters calmed down after they realized that the chase was over. So did we. Did I mention how happy I am that Pablo wants them?

What does he want them for? I had no idea, and I admit I didn’t care. You may recall the three general purposes for a rooster: dinner, lawn ornament and the fertilization of eggs. There is another and it is awful to think about: cockfighting. That people could get pleasure from this confounds me. If I let myself, I could even get angry about it, but I know you can’t stop all the evil in the world. Still, I didn’t want that to be my roosters’ fate. The only clue I got from Pablo as to his intentions was that he said he was coming with cages.

He also said he was coming in the morning and would let me know what time. In my world, the morning ends at noon. No Pablo by noon. No word from Pablo. Roosters were content in the coop, cluelessly awaiting their fate, but I was worried.

I breathed a great big sigh of relief when he drove in at about 230pm. His yellow truck did have cages in the bed – turned out he and his wife Andrea and their little boy had been to a chicken auction and already had some chickens in those cages. Pablo took one look at my brahma and said, “Whoa.” Yes, I know. He’s a big boy.

I breathed my second big sigh of relief when he told me he planned to use the roosters for stud. Andrea said she wondered if there were different strains of brahmas, big and small, because the brahma hens they had in the back of the truck were smaller than my brahma hens, and gigantic Mr. Brahma dwarfed them all. Thankfully size didn’t matter (you can save your size jokes). A brahma is a brahma after all and God bless Pablo for wanting mine.

The joyful transfer (joyful because I am soooo joyful that they are leaving) from my coop to their cages started with me getting into the coop with the roosters. What I will do to get rid of these birds!

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I was enough of a presence to make the birds run toward the door (make for the door! make for the door!) which Sandy blocked. He then got hold of them as they tried to get past. He turned them calmly around and handed them to Pablo.

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The last rooster put up more of a fuss than the others, but this little fellow had no more choice than the others had had.

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Pablo and Andrea and their son posed for me …

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… just before that glorious moment when the third rooster joined the other two in Pablo’s cage.

20180714_144148.jpgHappy smiles. Everyone is happy. All the humans anyway. No one is happier than I am!

A long time ago, a woman I knew said, “I don’t believe a thing will happen until it’s all over and I can speak about it in the past tense.”

Thus my moment of greatest joy: watching Pablo’s truck drive away with my roosters in the back, off to their new studly life. It’s over! The roosters are gone!

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Off they go! Bye-bye, roosters! Good riddance! Yay!!!!!

Until Sunday morning. Say it isn’t so!

It is true. We missed one. I heard the incriminating crow early, before dawn, fainter and weaker than the d’uccles had been. How did we miss him?! Possibly the other roosters had drowned him out or intimidated him. With them gone, he was free to let loose. All right, it wasn’t so bad. Maybe I could get used to a little crowing…

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But the rascal sealed his fate when he couldn’t help it and had to fast-chase a squawking hen around. Her racket got my attention while Sandy and I were moving plants in the late morning sun. I marched in there, caught him pronto (you are out of here, buddy!) and put him in the woods outside the enclosure. He soon walked back, curious to find himself on the other side of the fence from his beloved girls. Back and forth he walked along the outside of the enclosure. There must be a way back in…

I didn’t care. The image of him chasing an unwilling female meant I had no mercy at that point and would have relocated him to the bottom of the hill to be a fox’s lunch if I had not been so busy with the plants. But Sandy couldn’t stand it. He has a soft spot and hated to see this half silkie, half black copper maran become a snack. This rooster, despite his less-than-charming face,  has rather interesting features like blue ears and iridescent tail feathers. Sandy cornered him pretty easily and put him in the coop, away from the girls, awaiting a new life somewhere else.

Pablo, oh Pablo! Want another rooster?

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…