My first flock of chickens was one day old when I picked up my order at a local all-purpose hardware store. I’d ordered “straight run” –thinking I would have some hens for eggs, some young roosters for meat and one fine rooster to perpetuate the flock.
The plan worked out fairly well. Several of those hens are still laying eggs now—seven years later. The young roosters—and the ratio turned out to be 50/50—have long ago made their way into soups and fricassee. The one fine rooster—we named him Gregory Peck, because he truly was movie star handsome—watched over the ladies with determination and performed his duties with enthusiasm.
Too much enthusiasm, actually. Before long, the hens had no feathers on their backs and were in danger of having their skin sliced. We purchased “hen saddles”—and that didn’t work at all. I know, many people have good luck with these. Our girls either huddled sadly in the corner, not daring to move—or tried jumping out of the little cloth back guards. Imagine, if you will, wearing a straight jacket and trying to jump out of it. Didn’t work.
So, we gave up our plan for raising more chicks and sent Gregory to live on a farm. Really. As far as I know, he’s still living on a farm with his own harem and chasing the mailman. It was a sad day for us, though, because Gregory was a very fine rooster.
Since then, we’ve ordered pullets only or purchased fertile eggs for our broody hens from neighboring farmers. The young hens we add to the laying flock and the young roosters are named “Stew” and end up as…well, stew.
Last year, our broody Buff Orpington hatched 5 Copper Maran eggs. Three of those chicks were roosters. I sent two of them to a fairly local market sale, and kept one. Percival. And no, I’m not sure why—maybe I had missed the early morning (late morning/half the night/all day) crowing? Maybe I thought, once again, we’d add to the laying flock with our own rooster? Maybe I believed the Meyer hatchery blurb that said Black Copper Marans are “calm, quiet and gentle”.
Percival did start out calm and gentle (not so quiet). He let us pick him up and admire his beautiful iridescent feathers, and he did watch over the ladies—and actually seemed a bit intimidated by some of the older girls that had been ruling the roost.
Percy took a tumble. His leg was injured and he could not stand. I brought him into the house, confined him to a cardboard box in the mudroom, and hoped his leg would heal. The weather turned cold; Percival stayed in the box in the mudroom all winter. At first he crowed when the phone rang, when the furnace came on and whenever he felt the need. By spring, he was crowing only when someone didn’t knock on the mudroom door before entering, or when his litter needed changing. His leg never did heal correctly, but Percival was able to hop around quite ably, and since our grandchildren had made a bit of a pet of him, we sent him back to the chicken coop in the spring.
Three weeks after he moved back into the coop, Percival began terrorizing the hens and any visitors. These days, the grandchildren don’t go into the coop. I don’t turn my back on him either, especially if I hear him growling. Percy may be disabled, but he can still hop up and down like any healthy rooster; when he fluffs his feathers and drops his wings, the ladies know to scatter. He doesn’t have spurs, but he has a wicked beak attack.
Now, this doesn’t make Percival (nor Gregory Peck) a bad rooster. In fact, they are doing what roosters do—protect their flocks and mate with the hens. I know I don’t NEED a rooster. I don’t need more chicks this year, I don’t send the flock out foraging so they would need a rooster for protection, and we all know we don’t need a rooster to have eggs.
This is a story without an ending. How would you finish the tale? Would you keep the handsome, disabled rooster? Would you, gulp, send him to the freezer? Would you send him home with a farmer and not ask? Would you continue to wear heavy jeans and high boots when you head out to the chicken coop?
Would you remind me not to keep a rooster the next time there are chicks on the farm?