Lucky is one of the two chicken chicks that were hatched this spring along with the turkey poults (which is what baby turkeys are called) by the turkey moms, Eleanor and June (My Two Moms). Lucky and his sister chicken were raised side by side with their turkey sisters and brothers by their turkey moms, and it went pretty well, although it’s an experiment that I don’t think I will repeat. Our adult turkeys have slept outside for a couple of years, not only in the summer, but all through the fall and winter, through rain, snow, and freezing temperatures and they have always been fine. Turkeys are tough and resilient, which is one of the reasons that I have fallen in love with these amazing birds. Back in 2015 when we first got turkeys, I tried my darndest to train them to sleep inside a coop, but when they got to be about three months old they absolutely refused to sleep in the coop and would panic if I tried to lock them in. So we built them a six foot high outdoor roost and that has been where they’ve slept ever since, including the new generations of turkeys hatched in 2016 and in 2017. That was all fine and good until we had young chickens that thought they were turkeys. 🙂 I had thought that when it came time for the proverbial getting kicked out of the nest, the chickens would no longer be welcomed onto the roost with the turkeys and they would figure out that they should go into the coop at night along with the adult chickens that also live in the turkey yard. But as I should have learned by now, no matter how well you think you know them, 99% of the time it is impossible to predict chicken and turkey behavior .
The turkey moms decided that it was time to leave the coop where they had hatched and raised their little ones and go back to sleeping on the high roost when the young turkeys and chickens were about a month old. They all managed to fly up onto the high roost, including Lucky and his sister chicken which came as kind of a surprise to me since chickens are not quite as skilled flyers as turkeys. The turkey poults and Lucky and his sister chicken would settle onto the roost at night, jockeying for the best position under mommas wings, and Lucky and his sister managed to hold their own. Okay I thought, this is going to work out okay.
But one night tragedy struck. I came home late one evening to discover that a predator had gotten past the electric fence and into the turkey yard and killed one of Spaceship Turkey Momma’s chicks, who was lying dead on the ground below the roost. I found Lucky hiding in the grass at the far side of the pasture. I picked him up and put him back on the roost, thankful that he was safe. A month later, tragedy struck again. I came down to the turkey yard in the morning for breakfast rounds, and I found Lucky’s sister chicken dead in the far corner of the yard, decapitated. One by one something was picking off the smallest members of the mixed chicken and turkey family. I think it was a larger member of the weasel family based on the security video footage and the method of killing. I checked the electric fence, made some improvements to how tightly it was strung and fastened to the ground, but still the predator kept coming back. The third time it came back it went after Lucky. By this time I had begun making sure my window was always open at night. At 3:00 am I was awakened by sounds in the turkey yard. I ran outside with my flashlight and found Lucky hiding underneath the coop. I did a thorough search of the turkey yard and did not see any predators. I went back in the house and reviewed the video footage. Although the video was pretty dark, I could clearly see Lucky turn his head to look over his shoulder, as if he heard something, and then seconds later I saw a dark form launch itself from an adjacent structure directly at Lucky on the roost and then both went tumbling to the ground. I replayed the next ten minutes of the video, and at times you can see the dark shape of the predator and the reflection of its eyes as it stalked Lucky through the chicken yard. At one point Lucky appears to almost tiptoe across the front porch of the coop, and then moments later the predator comes into the frame, looking for Lucky. Minutes later, I appear in the video, and I think when I came down to the turkey yard, I may have frightened the predator away. I kept a close eye on Lucky for the next few days. He had no obvious injuries, still I was worried that he may have sustained some puncture wounds from the attack that I couldn’t see and that may get infected. But a few weeks later, he was as healthy as ever. I decided to name him Lucky.
All was well until Lucky reached five months old. I was growing quite fond of him, and he had begun coming up to me for treats and sitting next to me when I would have lap time with Pumpkin Pie. Up until this time he had spent his days without incident living among the turkeys. He ate with them, grazed in the grass with them, slept with them, and seemed to think he was one of them. He had no interest in the adult female chickens in the yard. Then one day Lucky began to court the turkey hens. At first I wasn’t sure, did I really see that? Yup, I did. I noticed when I was in the turkey yard that he would approach a turkey hen, and do the sidestepping rooster courtship dance, wing dropped to the ground as he danced toward the turkey hen. Unfortunately for Lucky, the turkey hens did not appreciate his advances, and they let him know in no uncertain terms. Turkey hens tend to be much more assertive than chickens when it comes to romance. When chickens are not in the mood, they will usually run, then when the rooster catches them, they will squat and let him have his way. Not so with the turkeys, if they are not in the mood, they will peck or chase the tom away. This is what began happening with Lucky. The ladies began to grow dissatisfied with his courting, and it was not uncommon for me to see Lucky being confronted or chased by a group of several turkey hens. Eventually the young tom turkey that Lucky grew up with and Lucky began to fight. At first it was just a bit of facing off and chasing about the pasture, and I hoped they would settle the pecking order and one would back down and accept the dominance of the other. But after a couple of weeks, the face offs and chasing had turned into spectacular leaps into the air, wings and feet outstretched as they confronted each other with greater aggression. It was at this time that I knew it was time for Lucky to go. I put an ad on Craigslist, hoping for the best, but knowing it could take some time as roosters are a dime a dozen at this time of year, many sadly headed for the table if they could not be rehomed. Lucky was such a handsome fellow, and he really was a good boy, we just didn’t have the right accommodations for him, and I hoped he could find a flock of his own. The morning after I posted my ad, I had an email from a woman looking for a rooster for her flock. She had emailed five people with ads on Craigslist, and when I called her that morning she asked which rooster are you calling about? I said the red and white rooster, and she said oh good, that’s my favorite one! She lived an hour and a half away from me, but as fate would have it, I already had a trip planned that day to do some field work about 10 minutes from where she lived. So I packed up Lucky, and by lunchtime I had delivered Lucky to his new home where he would free range over 6 acres as the king of the flock. Lucky truly lived up to his name that day, and while I was sad to see him go, I couldn’t be happier with how things worked out for my Lucky boy.
We’ve had a good run of everyone getting along fairly well here at the farm, but as the old saying goes, nothing good lasts forever. Now that spring is here, love is in the air, along with the hormones that go along with it which always seems to bring out the bad behavior in the boys. The first offender was Ringo the turkey, who has started challenging and attacking my husband Sean, every time he goes into the lower pasture. Of course he’s only going into the pasture to take care of some chore to make things nicer for the turkeys and chickens, but that doesn’t matter to Ringo. Ringo will chase after Sean, walk around him in circles looking for any potential weakness, and vigorously peck anything he can get his beak on. At well over 20 pounds, a tom turkey is nothing to mess around with, they can inflict serious injury if you don’t pay attention. Although being attacked by a turkey is no laughing matter, there is a slightly humorous aspect to the situation which is that all the while the tom turkey is in attack mode, he makes a sound that is referred to as the “fighting purr”. It is a high pitched purr-like call, and the first few times we heard it we thought it was kind of sweet and endearing. I still can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that such a cute sound is not a happy turkey call, but an aggressive turkey call. So now when we hear the fighting purr, we know it will soon be followed by Ringo charging at Sean, who then opens the gate, Ringo charges out in attack mode, and then Sean quickly walks into the pasture while leaving Ringo stranded outside. When the chore in the pasture is done, Sean opens the gate, Ringo charges back in, and Sean walks back out. Problem solved.
The other case of boys behaving badly is not such an easy fix. Ramon, our alpha rooster, has been coexisting with his son Brown Rooster, since last fall. A couple of weeks ago I noticed some occasional sparring between the two, and Ramon started chasing Brown Rooster around the pasture a bit. Then last week I noticed that instead of going into his own small coop at night with his ladies Henny, Penny, and Lil’ Miss, Ramon was spending the night in the big coop with Brown Rooster and Brown’s ladies. For a few nights I went into Brown’s coop, removed Ramon, and closed the automatic chicken door so Ramon couldn’t get back in. After doing this for a few nights with no change in Ramon’s behavior, I soon realized that my attempts at problem solving were not going to have any effect. I decided that the boys would have to work it out for themselves. The sparring and chasing has been gradually escalating, with Ramon maintaining his status as the dominant rooster until this morning when the tide had noticeably turned in Brown Rooster’s favor. Brown Rooster must have gotten tired of taking Ramon’s guff, and he decided not to take it anymore. This morning when I went down to feed everyone, I found Ramon with a blooded comb and an attitude adjustment. Instead of strutting proudly around the pasture, he was hiding underneath the coop. When I called to him to come out, which I did not expect to actually work, to my surprise he came out rather dejectedly as if he was seeking some sympathy. I held him for a minute and inspected him for injuries. When I put him down, he ran right over to the other coop which he quickly crawled under. A few moments later, Brown Rooster ran after him and also crawled under the coop. I called Ramon, and again he came over to me and out from under the coop. By this time I could see what was going on. Brown Rooster, at three years old, had knocked Ramon who is four years old, down a peg in the pecking order. On the one hand it was Karma coming back around on Ramon, who had done the same thing to his coop mate Reuben a year and a half ago. But on the other hand, the rooster pecking order is more vicious than the hen pecking order, and I didn’t want Brown Rooster doing serious injury to Ramon. Aside from the Reuben incident, which you can’t really blame him for, Ramon has been a very good rooster. He is an attentive guard and good provider for his ladies. He is also gentle with the ladies, and I want him to sire some offspring for us this summer.
So what do I do with Brown Rooster? For now he is having a time-out in a separate pen inside the lower pasture, while Ramon regains his confidence and struts around the pasture with the ladies. This may temporarily take Brown Rooster back down a notch, but probably not. I will most likely end up moving Brown Rooster and a few of his girls back to the upper pasture. Our old biddies, Raquel, Rhoda, and Rosie, who are now six years old, will be none too excited to have to live with a rooster again. But Brown Rooster can watch over them and keep an eye out for aerial predators now that we have taken down the net that used to be over the upper pasture. It’s likely that moving Brown Rooster to the upper pasture will bring with it another set of problems. I can easily see Brown Rooster trying to attack and peck Reuben, my special needs rooster, through the fencing of his enclosure. Reuben has been singing his musical crow these last few weeks again, which I take to mean that he is feeling well and enjoying life as much as he can given the cards that he’s been dealt. I don’t want Reuben’s quality of life to be reduced, and I’m sure I will need to make some adjustments to Reuben’s enclosure if I move Brown Rooster to the other side of Reuben’s fence. It can be a lot of work at times, but if I wasn’t trouble-shooting rooster relationships I’d be trying to fix something else. After all, there is certainly never a dull moment at the farm!
Reuben has been my special needs rooster for quite some time now. I’ve long had a soft spot for Reuben (aka Rooster Cogburn). He was the first rooster that we raised from a chick after getting the farm, so I knew we would be able to keep him, and I envisioned him as the alpha rooster and main protector of the flock for many years to come. But that was not in the cards for poor Reuben, and it wasn’t long before he was unseated from his throne (The Trouble with Roosters). Now Reuben has his own little rooster house, and he lives in his own enclosure, separate from all of the other chickens. This is mostly for his own safety, but also for the health of the other chickens too. Chickens can be merciless when it comes to picking on weak or sick chickens, and I definitely don’t want anyone injuring Reuben as he’s already got enough problems to deal with. Despite his recovery last spring (Reuben’s Recovery), his mysterious leg condition returned several months ago, and he is back to hobbling around on bent legs and curled toes. At times he breaths heavily, and it sounds like he has a respiratory condition of some sort. I’ve done a lot of research into respiratory ailments, and they can be caused by many different kinds of bacteria, can be hard to diagnose, let alone cure, and are easily transmissible to other chickens in the flock, which is another reason to keep him separated from everyone else. I have tried a couple of antibiotics to cure his respiratory symptoms, without success. I have not taken him to the vet, because the fact of the matter is that every sick chicken I’ve taken to the vet (and there have been many – Ruby, Sweet Pea, Coco Puff, and Ramona) has ended up dying of whatever ailed them. Sadly, the majority of the time the vet does not know what is wrong. The vet typically prescribes an antibiotic which sometimes brings a slight improvement for a few days, but in my experience the chicken eventually dies of whatever is ailing it.
I have been treating Reuben at home to the best of my ability. There are days when I visit Reuben to make sure he has had enough to eat and drink for the day, and he seems alert and energetic and he gets around his small pasture fairly well, pressing himself up against the fence to watch the ladies grazing on the other side of the fence. Then there are days when he fluffs himself up and sleeps a lot, which are signs that perhaps he’s not feeling so well after all. Lately I’ve been thinking perhaps it’s time to let him go. I have tried several treatments for his legs, I’ll spare you the details lest you think I’m more of a crazy chicken lady than you probably do already! I have one more treatment that I want to try to see if it will improve his leg condition, but if that doesn’t work I am thinking about taking him to the vet to have him euthanized. There are several viruses and neurological conditions that could be the cause of his leg condition, but again, these are hard to diagnose and typically have no known treatment. In hindsight, I realize that Reuben’s leg condition started as a young rooster. One of my favorite pictures of Reuben and Twitchy is the one that I have on the label of my egg cartons. Twitchy (the hen) is standing on a stump, while Reuben is sitting down beside her. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, but now after having had roosters for four years, I know that it is very unusual for a rooster to not be standing on guard, watching attentively over his ladies. Due to the length of time that Reuben has had this condition, I think it is probably a degenerative condition that will continue to worsen with time. As any pet owner knows, the decision regarding when to euthanize an aging and ailing pet is a difficult one. On the one hand, I’d like to have more time with Reuben, and he seems to still be having a good life on his good days like today when it’s sunny and warm and he is out napping in the grass. But if I’m honest with myself, I know that he can no longer do the majority of things that a rooster likes to do, and maybe it is time to let him go.
Our two tom turkeys have been getting along well with Ramon the rooster and his ladies for several months now, but I think Ramon is a little jealous of all of the attention the turkeys have been getting. Ramon has always been very calm and friendly toward us, comes running over to us for treats and is easy to pick up, but I guess I haven’t been giving him enough attention lately. A couple of times in the last week or so he has jumped up on my shoulder when I’ve been bent over tending to chores in his pasture. The first time he jumped up on my shoulder he let out a big cock-a-doodle-doo right next to my ear, which I am pretty sure is his way of announcing to everyone else that he, Ramon, is in fact the king of the chicken/turkey yard. So I thought it was time to give Ramon a bit of recognition for being such a good rooster.
We have had four roosters at the farm for quite a while now, and while I love them all for their beauty and their interesting behaviors, Ramon is probably the best rooster. Ramon is very vigilant and protective of his three ladies, and while he certainly expects a bit of romance now and then as payment for his services, he never chases the ladies about the pasture or harasses them like I have seen Brown Rooster do with his ladies. Of course, Ramon wasn’t always so well behaved around the ladies, and there was a time in his younger days that he was a bit overly amorous. Thankfully he has grown out of that stage and has matured into a very well behaved rooster. We will most likely use him to sire some chicks next spring.
Reuben (aka Rooster Cogburn) is our special needs rooster and still suffers from some sort of mystery condition which causes his legs to be weak and stiff and not work very well. He lives in a separate pen to make sure he gets enough to eat and drink and doesn’t get bullied by anyone. I visit him daily, and give him some lap time and hand feeding every day or two. I let a few of the oldest girls into Reuben’s pen once a day, which he seems to enjoy since he gets to be close to the ladies, and which the ladies also enjoy since they get a break from Brown Rooster. Brown Rooster is our youngest rooster, and at 2-1/2 years old he is still a bit frisky. Despite having close to two dozen ladies to call his own, there are still several looking a bit feather-bare on their backs due to a bit too much rooster love. The older hens generally give Brown Rooster a wide berth, while the younger golden comet hens still haven’t figured out that there are strings attached when he calls them over for a tasty treat he has supposedly found in the pasture. Brown Rooster is not quite as calm around people as Ramon and Reuben are, and often times will run off in a panic making a loud alarm call if I do something as unexpected as go into the chicken yard wearing a different color pair of pants than my standard blue jeans.
Lil’ Red Rooster is almost as good of a flock protector as Ramon, and Lil’ Red watches over his little harem very attentively most of the time. It’s clear that he is very fond of Millie, our little gray silkie banty hen, and he usually stays very close to her side when I let her out to free range with him. He’s not quite as attached to Salt-n-Pepa yet, but hopefully that will come with time. There are times however, when I’ve gone out to check on Lil’ Red and his ladies and he will have gotten bored supervising his girls and is up by the main chicken yard staring longingly at the full size hens, leaving Millie, Salt-n-Pepa to fend for themselves. The majority of the time the roosters are good boys, and as well as watching over the ladies they are a pleasure to have around the farm so we will always have a few in the flock.
Reuben (aka Rooster Cogburn) is my favorite of our four roosters. As a chick, he was a few weeks older than our other roosters, and he was the first to mature. I thought for sure he would be the alpha rooster of the flock, and for a short time he was, but he gradually lost his standing and now he’s become somewhat of an underdog. Which is why he is my favorite and has been getting special treatment for the last five months, because after all, who doesn’t root for the underdog? Last fall was when the Trouble with Roosters began. Reuben had developed some sort of trouble with his legs and was having difficulty walking, which is when his roommate, Ramon, began antagonizing Reuben. I separated them, and due to Reuben’s disability I put him in his own private enclosure since I certainly couldn’t put him back in with the ladies that were guarded by Brown Rooster. A month after Reuben was moved into his own quarters, there was a security breach, and Brown Rooster got in and attacked Reuben. Reuben had a large patch of feathers pecked off his head, and for the next several days he didn’t look very good and did not move around much. For the next few weeks I honestly wasn’t sure what Reuben’s fate would be.
The only way Reuben could walk seemed to be with the aid of a vigorous flapping of his wings and a large dose of willpower by which he was able to propel himself forward a few feet at a time. I was not sure what the cause of his disability was, so I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about treating it. He did not have any apparent external injury to his feet or legs, so I suspected it was either a genetic condition, a virus, or a nutritional deficiency. I couldn’t do anything about the first two potential causes, so I hoped it was a nutritional deficiency that I could correct. It was possible that since Ramon had been bullying Reuben, he may have also been preventing Reuben from getting enough to eat. I began putting a powdered vitamin supplement in Reuben’s water, and I hoped for the best. There was one period in the winter where I realized he had a terrible case of mites. He wasn’t able to groom himself very well, and he never took dust baths anymore, and the mites had definitely taken advantage of his condition. We gave him a bath in flea and tick shampoo and set him by the wood stove to dry out. Since the weather had turned cold, I convinced my husband to let him stay inside for a while, and he spent about a week in the living room. He wasn’t getting around much, it was all he could do to get into his pet carrier at night and hobble out in the morning for breakfast.
Eventually Reuben had to move back outside. Most mornings he would stay in his house until I came out to give everyone their breakfast. I would sit down in front of Reuben’s door, he would manage to stand up, and then I would help him out of his house, put him on my lap and hold his feeder and waterer up to him so he could have breakfast. Then he would flap his way a few feet over to the table that he would spend the rest of the day sitting under. Often times when he sat down, one of his legs would be stretched out behind him, and he looked like he was doing the splits. It certainly didn’t look comfortable, and I began to wonder if we should euthanize him. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, and I still sensed a will to live in Reuben in the way he would stand up every morning when I came out to give him his breakfast.
About a month ago, Reuben started getting around a bit better. He no longer just sat under his table all day, and I would occasionally see him standing up or moving to different areas of his enclosure to sit in the grass in the sun. One night a couple of weeks ago when I came out to close up the main coop for the night, Reuben was waiting by the door of his enclosure. It seemed like he had noticed the ladies were going into their coop for the night, and he wanted to be let out of his enclosure so he could go into the coop too. Brown Rooster was already inside the coop, so I opened Reuben’s door to see what he would do. Sure enough, he hobbled slowly over to the main coop and began walking up the ramp to the door. I couldn’t let him go inside or Brown Rooster would attack him, so I scooped Reuben up at the last minute and returned him to his enclosure. This incident gave me hope, and I took it to mean that Reuben was feeling better and was ready for company. Another recent change in Reuben’s behavior is that he has begun crowing again. It had probably been three months since I had heard Reuben crow until a couple of weeks ago when he began belting out his melodious crow. His crow is my favorite of all of our rooster’s crows. The last week or so I have been letting a few of the ladies into Reuben’s enclosure during the day, and it’s easy to see that he loves these visits. He watches the ladies with great interest, stands up tall and proud and walks around a bit, crows repeatedly, and generally struts his stuff. He even tried to mate with Rhoda, but alas she was too quick for him and ran away just in time! It is great to see Reuben’s condition improving as the weeks go by. I’m not sure if he will recover his leg function 100 percent, but he definitely seems to be enjoying himself these days. I have no doubt that it was worth the effort to nurse him back to health, and hearing his crow ring out across the yard brings a smile to my face every time.
As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, we had some Trouble with Roosters. Ramon was being aggressive towards Reuben, and I decided to separate them. Reuben got moved up to the main chicken yard, and that left Ramon all by himself in the bachelor pad coop. I didn’t want to leave Ramon alone for too long and take the chance that he would become aggressive towards us or to his future replacement coop mates. I already had a short list of chicken breeds that I hoped to add to our flock one day, and here was my chance. I wanted to get chickens that were old enough that I could put right in with Ramon, but I didn’t want chickens that were past their egg laying prime either. At the top of my list were the breeds of chickens known for laying chocolate brown eggs, and of these I was really hoping to find some cuckoo marans or black copper marans. I looked on Craigslist every day to see if anyone was looking to rehome a few chickens of the breeds that I was interested in. After a few weeks of patiently searching Craigslist, I finally found someone with three black copper marans pullets that were 11 weeks old. They were a little younger than I wanted, but I decided to go take a look at them.
I drove to a small farm in Birkenfeld, a scenic one hour drive from us. I could tell within a few moments of talking to their owner that she loved her chickens as much as I loved mine, and that they were healthy and had been well cared for. She showed me an egg laid by the last batch of chickens she had hatched from the same mother, and the egg was a beautiful dark speckled brown. The hens had the leg feathering that is characteristic of the french breed standard, which was a good sign that these hens would also lay a dark brown egg. I decided to bring them home. She offered to sell me a rooster of the same breed so that I could raise more black copper marans if I decided to. Although it was tempting, and black copper marans roosters are very handsome, I explained to her that I already had more roosters than I needed and that it was because of my roosters that I was here buying more hens in the first place!
When we got back to the farm, I put the ladies right into Ramon’s coop so that they would learn where their new home was. It’s been well over a year since Ramon was with any ladies, so I was hoping that he would behave himself and be a gentleman – well as much of a gentleman as can be expected from a rooster that is! After a couple of hours I let the girls out to meet Ramon, and it was love at first sight. He set right to work escorting the ladies around the pasture, and they seemed happy to follow his lead. They should start laying eggs in another couple of months, and hopefully they will contribute a nice dark brown egg to our egg basket.
Two of our roosters, Reuben and Ramon, have been living in their own bachelor pad for a year and a half, and they had been doing quite well until a few weeks ago. I visited them nearly every day to check up on them and bring them treats, and they seemed happy and healthy. They didn’t have any ladies, but they had a lush green pasture with plenty of room to roam and bugs to hunt, and it was a pretty good life for a rooster. Reuben has been having some sort of trouble with his legs for quite some time, which causes him to walk very stiff-legged. Over the last few months he has had more and more difficulty walking. Not only are his legs stiff when he walks, but he seems to have trouble balancing at times, and his legs also seem to be getting weaker. He still walks around to eat and drink and peck at the grass a bit, and he always comes over to me for treat time, but usually he just sits and suns himself in the grass. The bachelor pad coop is elevated about 8 inches off the ground, and about a month ago Reuben started to spend hours at a time underneath the coop. It didn’t look too comfortable to me, and I wasn’t sure why he was choosing to spend his days there.
When I went to give the boys their treats a few weeks ago, Reuben was inside the coop and he didn’t come out when I called. I had to coax him out of the coop, and when he came out I could see that his comb looked like it had been injured and had some scabs on it. Ramon is the dominant rooster of the two, and he is always demonstrating that with his body language which involves some intimidating movements and getting really close to Reuben. Reuben has always turned the other cheek to Ramon, and I had never observed any hint of fighting between them. But on this day when Reuben came out of the coop, Ramon was a bit more aggressive toward Reuben, and in one quick motion he lunged at Reuben and pecked at his comb, leaving a little speck of blood. Reuben let out a little yelp and tried to run away on his wobbly legs. I watched the two of them for another minute or two, and it soon became clear that something had changed in their relationship. Reuben was definitely frightened of Ramon. It was sad seeing our once majestic big black rooster debilitated and unable to make a quick escape from his aggressor. I have read that when an alpha rooster starts to age and show signs of weakness that the other roosters in the flock will start picking on him and take him down a few notches in the pecking order. The pecking order can be ruthless, especially for a sick or injured bird. Although Ramon was already the dominant rooster, this change in his behavior toward Reuben had me more than a bit concerned. I had recently lost a hen to just this sort of bullying behavior, and I was not about to let that happen to Reuben.
I scooped Reuben up in my arms and carried him up to the main chicken pasture. It’s at times like this that I am so glad that I spent the time with my roosters to tame them so that I can pick them up without any difficulty whatsoever. We still had the temporary fencing up in the main chicken pasture that we had put up to separate the four teenage roosters a few months ago. I put Reuben in this fenced enclosure, got his food and water set up, and brought up a pet carrier that he could use for a temporary shelter to sleep in at night. I could tell immediately that Reuben was relieved to be separated from Ramon. He walked about his new accommodations a bit, had some food, and began to let out a few cock-a-doodle doos, which I hadn’t heard him do in a while. I imagined that Reuben was telling Ramon that he was back up in the main chicken pasture living the good life and in sight of the lovely ladies again.
It’s been 3 weeks since I separated Reuben from Ramon, and Reuben seems to really be enjoying himself. I bring him breakfast every morning, and he always wobbles over to greet me. Violet’s three chicks are now five months old, and are the lowest chickens in the pecking order, and they have discovered that they can fly over the fence into Reuben’s quarters to share in his breakfast and that they are not subject to the pecking that they get from the ladies when they try to eat breakfast with the rest of the flock. Reuben gets a little company which I think he enjoys. My sweet husband has built Reuben his own little rooster house (which puts us up to bachelor pad #3 now!) and is currently making a few other improvements to Reuben’s area to get it ready for winter. Although I’ve grown attached to all of our roosters, I have a special place in my heart for Reuben. Maybe it’s because he was so cute as a young rooster (Rooster Cogburn), or maybe it’s because of his big soulful black eyes. I’m not sure how much longer Reuben will be with us, but he’s one of the good ones, so I want to give him the best life possible while he is around.
Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while know that an abundance of roosters goes hand in hand with raising chickens. We already have four adult roosters who are permanent residents on the farm, which is at least two more than we really need, so when four of the seven chicks Violet hatched this spring turned out to be roosters we again found ourselves having way too many. Last summer we resorted to the Coq au Vin method of dealing with our excess roosters, and although it was difficult, we were comfortable with our decision. We were prepared to do the same thing this year, but then fate seemed to smile upon our boys and presented me with another option. I was doing field work outside of Banks one day when I met a farmer who had recently begun farming as a second career and was raising pastured chickens. We chatted for a bit, and I soon discovered that he and I shared many of the same opinions regarding raising healthy, happy animals to provide food for our families. I spent the day working along the stream that bordered his property and admiring the beautiful setting and his happy flock of hens.
It wasn’t until a few days later that I began to put two and two together. Our four teenage roosters were four months old, and they were starting to eat a lot. Sean would be on tour this fall, which would mean that we wouldn’t be able to harvest them until late November, and that would mean that Sean would need to build them their own coop where they could keep dry during the rainy months ahead. These were all manageable things, but I started to wonder if there wasn’t a better solution for all of us. I thought back to the farm I had visited a few days before. There were about 100 young hens free ranging on a very large pasture, and I had only seen one rooster. I wondered if the farm couldn’t use a few more roosters to keep watch over the flock. I called the farmer and reintroduced myself to him and told him that I was looking for a home for some fine young roosters that we had been raising organically on our small farm and would he possibly be interested in giving them a home with his larger flock. He said yes he would be happy to buy all four of them, and I made plans to drop them off later that week.
When we arrived at his farm he had a temporary pen set up where the roosters could be gradually introduced to their new flock, as well as the two livestock guardian dogs on the farm. When introducing new chickens to each other it’s important to keep them separated with a barrier that they can see through so they can get used to each other but that also keeps the existing flock from asserting their dominance over the new chickens (chickens can be pretty merciless when enforcing the pecking order!). The livestock guardian dogs would also need some time to learn that these new roosters were now part of their flock and were to be protected along with the ladies. It’s been a several weeks since we brought the boys to their new home, and by now they should be integrated with their new flock and living the good life with many acres to roam free.
I never get tired of watching the antics of Brown Rooster from the back door. When it’s not raining I usually put him outside of the chicken run and let him spend the day free ranging, which has the added benefit of allowing the ladies to have full use of the pasture and secure run without being bothered by their amorous part-time roommate. If I’m sitting at the dining room table eating or working at my computer Brown Rooster will come down for a visit and stare into the house through the back door. Since he began spending so much time hanging out by the back door, I bought him his own food and water dishes for the back porch. It was pretty funny when the cashier at the grocery store asked me if I was buying the dishes for a cat or a dog, and I replied “rooster”. Brown Rooster will make the rounds of the back porch to have a snack, then he’ll go visit Millie and Coco Puff and stand outside their back deck chicken coop doing his rooster courtship dance and crowing his affections to the ladies. Then he’ll go visit the rest of the ladies and roam back and forth around the edge of the ladies fenced pasture. Brown Rooster will cross paths with Lil’ Red Rooster several times during the day since Lil’ Red is also busy patrolling the outskirts of he ladies pasture. Although Lil’ Red is half the size of Brown Rooster, Lil’ Red is a bit territorial and has asserted his dominance over Brown Rooster on more than one occasion. Brown Rooster manages to avoid Lil’ Red for the most part throughout the day, although Lil’ Red has recently discovered Brown Rooster’s food and water dishes and so Lil’ Red has been spending a bit more time on the back deck now. It will be interesting to see what sort of arrangement Brown Rooster and Lil’ Red come to because I don’t think the back deck is big enough for the two of them!
Last weekend we took a big step in our journey toward self-sufficiency at 5R Farm. You may recall from The Rooster Dilemma post that we’ve had a few too many roosters for several months. Our intent was to raise the four youngest roosters until they were 5 or 6 months old and then “harvest” them, or if that term is too subtle, I’ll just go ahead and say it – slaughter them. The roosters were now 6 months old, and I figured it was now or never. They eat a lot, and since we already have 3 other roosters we plan to use for breeding next year, it just did not make sense to keep these guys around any longer. A friend that I took a class from last summer on how to slaughter a chicken had graciously agreed to come out to the farm last weekend and help us out. Although I recalled the basic process from the class, I wanted to make sure it was done as humanely as possible and so I was very relieved to have the guidance of someone who had harvested chickens many times before. The day before the harvest I spent some time with the boys and said my goodbyes. I had decided upon the fate of these roosters several months ago, and I managed to avoid getting too attached to them. It would be easy to say goodbye to Spazzy and Crooked Toe, who were handsome black and white barred rocks but none too friendly. Lil’ Ramon was a little friendlier, but he was no lap rooster like his father. I was going to have the hardest time saying goodbye to Lil’ Reuben, who was anything but little now that he was as big as his dad Rooster Cogburn (aka Reuben), but he was the friendliest of the four new roosters and a very good looking gent.
I’ll try not to get too graphic from here on out, but if you don’t want to read about the details of the harvest you can skip to the last paragraph. For those of you interested in the process of harvesting a chicken, read on. There are several methods for harvesting a chicken, back in our grandparents day the stump and axe method was commonly used. Today however, in the interest of harvesting as humanely as possible, the method that is frequently used on small farms is to slit their throat. A killing cone is commonly used, which is a piece of sheet metal rolled into a cone and attached to a post, into which you place the chicken, and it keeps the bird and their wings from flapping around. The cone we had ordered had not arrived yet, so we had to improvise with a gallon milk jug with the top and bottom cut off and attached to a saw horse, but it worked just fine. Megan arrived around 4:00 in the afternoon and we got to work. We had the four roosters already isolated in the garage in pet carriers. Megan would demonstrate the process on the first rooster, and she asked which one we would start with. I said the big black one, and she commented that he was a beautiful rooster. Indeed he was, but it was his time to go, and I knew he would be the hardest one and I wanted to get the hardest one taken care of first.
She quickly picked the rooster up by his feet, held him upside down for a moment during which he relaxed very quickly, and then placed him upside down in the milk jug. She then talked us through the steps of locating and slitting the jugular using a single swift pass with a very sharp knife and then holding open the rooster’s beak and using the tip of the knife to pierce its brain to ensure a quick death. It was all over in a few moments and really did appear to be a humane process for the rooster. Once the hard part is done, the next steps are the more time consuming process of plucking the chicken and removing the organs. We dunked the chicken in a large pot of hot water which loosens the feathers and began plucking. It took about 10 to 15 minutes to pluck the chicken, and then Megan walked us through the last steps – cutting off the head, feet, and tip of the wings, and removing the organs, being very careful to avoid puncturing the gallbladder.
Then it was on to the second rooster. Sean dispatched of him, we all pitched in to pluck the chicken, and Megan talked me through the evisceration. By this time it was 5:30 and time to say goodbye to Megan. We still had two more roosters to get through, the weather was getting progressively colder, and it was beginning to get dark – it was time to get a move on! Although Sean had told me I didn’t have to do the actual killing if it would be too difficult for me (I’m sure he remembered all too well how traumatized I was after the class I took last year), I wanted to participate fully in the process. It went much better for me this time around, and I breathed a huge sigh of relief once the deed was done.
By the time we were done with all four roosters it was dark and cold, and we were ready to go inside. It had been three hours of hard work, and once we were finished we both felt a huge weight had been lifted. I also felt a sense of satisfaction knowing that these roosters we had raised had led a healthy and happy life up until the very end, were harvested humanely, and would now provide food for the table. I was a bit worried that the meat would be tough since older birds, and roosters in particular, are said to only be good for making soup. I decided to make coq au vin in the crockpot, and it turned out tender and delicious. I also made chicken stock with the necks and feet – it sounds weird I know, but chicken feet supposedly make great stock. The best part of this whole process is that now we can look forward to hatching and raising more chicks next year, knowing that we have the means to deal with the abundance of roosters that are sure to be running around the farm next year!