Day 170 of 365
When we decided to get a rooster for our flock, we did not take the decision lightly. There are pros and cons to roosters, but in our efforts to be self-sustaining, we decided we wanted to try a rooster. We special ordered a Rhode Island Red rooster. I hand raised him and followed every bit of instruction I could find about raising a good rooster. I found out later that most of this information on the internet about raising a good rooster was incorrect, and our little Rhode Island Red rooster turned out to be pretty much a monster when it came to the hens. He was great with me, but he terrorized the hens. I kept reading that this was “normal.” I asked questions in forums, and people said it was “normal” rooster behavior. I had my doubts, but I was fairly new to chickens and doubted myself.
Then, in a batch of baby chicks we ordered online, we got a free “surprise” chicken. A couple of months into raising that group of chicks, I heard a crow. What would we do with two roosters? But, since our Rhode Island Red was a holy terror, I wondered if this new little guy might be better.
I moved the little guy into the garage where my favorite chicken in the world, Poe, often hung out, and I asked her to raise him. She did a great job. She pecked him on the head so much that I questioned her methods, but she helped raise a good boy. I have also learned that genetics help A LOT, but being raised by a strong female also helps the boys be a little better behaved.
We named him “Rooster” by default, I suppose, and Rooster loved Poe. He stayed with Poe until he was big enough to move into the coop. He was always shy around us, but when we moved him into the main flock, we saw fairly quickly that he was great with the hens. He danced to woo them and seemed to be far less aggressive than our Rhode Island Red rooster.
Then, there was one day the neighbor called to say a fox was in her garden, which was right next to our chicken area. I thanked her and ran outside to try to save my chickens, only to find that Rooster was at the gate to the run, calling to all of the girls. He had every one of those hens lined up (they were literally in a line) and headed to the coop to safety. When the last one was headed to the coop, he followed them in. He had organized a plan, and everyone was just fine!
I knew we had lucked into the best rooster, but it wasn’t until the Rhode Island Red rooster nearly killed our sweet girl, Broody Hen, that he went to the pot and Rooster became the full-time head of the flock.
Over the years, he has still never been comfortable with me touching him. He’s very proud, and we learned a few years in that he’s an organizer and a thinker—but not a fighter.
The first time we had a hawk attack, I ran out to find it killing one of our hens, Lucy II. It was devastating. I scooped Lucy II up and looked around to try to find Rooster. I found him. He had called for as many girls as he could and was holding them in the shrubs, but I guess the attack surprised him. He stared for nearly an hour at the place where the attack had happened. I could see the devastation on his face.
When he finally got all of the girls to the coop later, he would not let them out again for nearly two weeks. I didn’t know how obvious a chicken’s sadness could be until I saw Rooster. He was depressed for the longest time. I could see he thought he had failed his flock, and it had broken his little heart—and his spirit. I worried for a bit that he might not snap out of his depression, but he finally did.
He is still not a fighter, but he’s very, very good at alerting us to danger. And I am now smart enough to know what his calls mean and when I need to come running in a hurry. Just last summer, he screamed like I had not heard in years, so I dropped everything and ran just in time to see two hens fighting off a hawk. Rooster seemed so relieved that everyone was okay.
I have two particularly powerful stories to tell about Rooster that will help you get a sense of who he is. Because he’s so proud and doesn’t like my touch, I would never give him health inspections like I did the girls. I figured if the girls were overall healthy and mite free, Rooster was as well. But one summer, I saw him being really tired and droopy. I had been really busy rehabilitating a duck I had inherited and didn’t notice Rooster until he was in pretty rough shape. I realized I was going to have to make him uncomfortable and give him a full health check. He was getting older, and I thought we may lose him.
I went to the coop that night with a flashlight, and I didn’t have to inspect very much before I saw the problem. My sweet Rooster had mites!
I was a little nervous about doing this because he’s a big boy, a Welsummer, and his spurs are big too, but I scooped him up and took him to the guest bathroom for a bath and mite treatment. On top of the humiliation of a bath, because I couldn’t stand the thought of those mite eggs being stuck in his feathers, I spent more than an hour picking out eggs of poor Roster’s feathers while he stood on the towel after his bath. He just stood there and let me do my work—forever.
When I had gotten as much as I thought I was going to be able to get for that night, I told Rooster I was so sorry, that I would make sure he never had mites again. And I am not kidding even just a little bit, this happened:
I was in the floor with him. We were both a wet mess. He turned around to look at me and then came up to me and leaned his body into mine. There, in the bathroom floor, he leaned his head on my shoulder and held it there the longest time. I gently put my arm around him and realized this was one of those profound moments of my life. My sweet but stand-offish Rooster was giving me a hug.
If I wasn’t in love with him before, I surely was after that. When I told my neighbor about it, she said I might need to be careful about telling people that story, that people might think I was crazy. Here I am now, with full confidence, telling you this story. I have seen so much more since then, and I can, without hesitation, say that chickens can give you a hug in a special moment. The bonds we share are real, and they are highly intelligent animals, some especially so.
That was the sweetest story about my Rooster, but I have an amazing story too.
A couple of summers ago, I had just moved some young chickens out with the main flock. They were still little, so I had to try to feed them their special baby food every chance I got. I was out in the chicken yard one morning, feeding the babies, when Rooster came up, ran them off, and started eating their baby food. In his old age, Rooster has definitely become a foodie.
I shamed him and told him, “These are your babies, Rooster. Shame on you for stealing their baby food.”
He backed away, obviously ashamed of himself, and then I felt terrible for shaming him. I could see I had hurt his feelings. I did not mention this story to my husband, Ron.
Later that afternoon, Ron came into the house and said, “I have to tell you a story about Rooster that you aren’t going to believe.”
Ron said that he was out in the chicken yard, and he saw Rooster near the babies. “I saw the most remarkable thing,” he said. “Rooster picked up a pellet of food in his beak and then leaned over and fed it to a baby chicken!”
I could NOT believe this. I then told Ron my story from earlier in the day, and we realized we, indeed, had a very intelligent and very special rooster on our hands.
In his very old age now, he’s far too grumpy. He used to give all the food to the hens. Now, he takes the food for himself. He doesn’t mate much, but he still tries some. This summer, when we tried to raise some chicks from our own eggs, we had about a 25 percent fertilization rate and an even smaller success rate.
We need a new rooster, but the new rooster has to get along with Rooster and know his place because, no matter what, our Rooster is going to be cared for to the best of my abilities until the day he passes. And when that day comes, I will mourn him with all of my heart.
Rooster is one of the greats.