It’s been almost four years since I first got chickens. I’ve learned much since then, many lessons that only come with experience. Just like with most anything in life, there’s ups and downs – which I found out first hand!
I wanted chickens forever, so when I got them, I was overjoyed. I’ll never forget that first egg and the excitement when we found it in the nest. My first chickens were a flock of four; given to me by a neighbor in November 2013. I didn’t want a rooster, but seeing as I am often like the grown-up, female version of Charlie Brown…I got a
rock rooster. One of my little pullets suddenly started crowing one day, much to my startled surprise.
Spot was my rooster. The first time I heard him crow, I jumped, as they were still inside, little mini-chickens- pullets still growing, waiting to go outside into the big world. I was in the hallway of my basement when I heard this strange high pitched noise coming from the garage. Spot was trying his best to puff his chest and crow, his young voice breaking like a teenage boy.
He didn’t stay tiny for long, and eventually Spot the Rooster (named for the little spot on his tail as a chick, which became a black feather) grew as large as a huge tom turkey, with spurs to match.
For a long while, all was good. Blissful, even. My blogs the past few years are filled with happy memories and beautiful photographs of my little flock. My hens grew into large, fluffy chickens, laying delicious eggs everyday. When you have a small flock, you notice individual personalities among your chickens. For instance, “Peep” was my daredevil chicken, forever on the highest perch. “Nugget” was my snuggler, always wanting to be held.
Spot, the rooster, grew GIANT and beautiful. He had cream and white feathers, peppered with little black spots and a large plume of white tail feathers with one black one that shined purple in the sun. He became very protective of his girls, even doing a special crow- a distress call, whenever a sneaky fox or hungry hawk entered the yard. He knew I’d come out and chase off any potential predators. It was a balanced, happy flock.
Then things gradually began to change. I could no longer go near the flock without the rooster charging (he’d puff up, looking like the velociraptor in Jurassic Park)! We couldn’t let the flock out of the run to graze, for fear the rooster would come at us or the dogs. He was so beautiful, and was “just doing a rooster’s job of protecting the hens”, I’d reason. Adding more hens didn’t alleviate the problem, as some advised to do for a “bored” rooster. He’d abuse them all. Unfortunately, we humans were no longer the “alphas”, the rooster was. His knife-like spurs became very long, sharp talons, that could do serious damage. We couldn’t let anyone watch our flock to go on vacation, because we couldn’t risk Spot’s aggression. He’d let me hand feed him through the fence, but woe to me if I tried to go in.
This spring, we got the chickens a new, big Amish coop and made the run bigger. They were happy at first, with exception of the rooster. Eventually, he no longer alerted me of predators, and began “flogging” the girls whenever we were outside. My flock was healthy, with no disease or issues, yet my girls were getting torn up mercilessly by the rooster. It escalated, to the point that he’d dart out of the dark coop to attack when we’d go to close the coop at night. I was going to end up with no hens and just one, mean but beautiful rooster. My hens were stressed, and so was I. I couldn’t get eggs from the egg box without him trying to charge through the coop to peck my eyes out. The last straw was when he killed a hen right before our eyes. He was picking off the girls, one by one! We were done, he had to go. Still, my heart was breaking – I’d raised him from a three-day old hatchling.
Many told me to put Spot in the stew pot. Now for you “real farmers”, I know farm animals are not necessarily pets. My father fussed at me for naming my chickens, and for not culling the flock and getting new chickens each spring. First off, I’m a farmgirl, in the suburbs, and not a farmer on a farm. While I clean the coop, check for disease, and fuss over my girls, I’m not raising meat chickens. It’s not the 1920’s. I don’t have to butcher chickens if I don’t want to. My girls are welcome to live out their beyond-egg-laying days in peace. (I still eat chicken, just not my chickens).
In the end, we spoke with a farmer who owns a local feed store, where they take in roosters. Spot might be able to live his days out on the farmer’s large, open farm, with farmhands who are better equipped to handle a rooster of his size and disposition. If he gets culled, I never have to know.
It took both my husband and I to get him out of the coop and into the travel cage. My husband was wide eyed when I grabbed Spot and settled him in the cage. Hey, I am a farmgirl! The two hens left immediately looked relieved.
We dropped the rooster off, and purchased six new, healthy and strong pullets.
I did have tears as we pulled away. I loved Spot’s crowing, and the noises he made when he wasn’t being aggressive. I miss hearing my neighbor’s rooster crowing back and forth with mine, like a conversation. I miss the days when he and the girls would all lay in the sun in a pile, sharing a dirt bath. As my best friend said, “You miss what might have been.” He got mean, and there was just no changing him. My aunt had a pet bantam rooster she loved. He got older, and did the same thing to her bantam hens. Some roosters are nice, others get mean with age, no matter what you do.
“It’s the mistake you always made, Doc, trying to love a wild thing…You mustn’t give your heart to a wild thing. The more you do, the stronger they get…” -Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
The new hens are 21 weeks old – three Leghorns and three Rhode Island Red crosses. In the car on the way home, they all huddled together, sweet little clucking coming from the back. The feed store agreed that we’d probably have no issues adding the two girls we had left with the six new ones , since our two were so timid. They were right. We didn’t have to do what we did the year before, keeping them separate. It was like they were a flock all along. They even all settled in together the first night in the coop, cuddling up,”new” and “old” together.
The flock is happy. We have balance again. The poor little hen that was last hurt by the rooster is better. I treated her abrasions, and the others don’t peck at her. We’re able to go in the coop, enjoy our hens again, spoiling the flock rotten! They are bringing us joy again.
I love rooster decor, like the little luster ware, ceramic vintage one I found recently at an antique store. I’ll never have a real rooster again!
Until Next Time…Farmgirl Hugs, Nicole