I mentioned yesterday that I find it hard to cull extra roosters that come my way. ‘Cull’ means to ‘kill’. Or in official language ‘to selectively slaughter animals’. Years back I offered to help some neighbours down the road with their farm chores. They were a young couple with four children and a barnyard full of chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, sheep, pigs, cattle and a huge workhorse named May. My original plan was to fill our freezer with locally grown meat … I was too much a ‘softy’ to stick with the plan! Once I bottle fed a goat – there was NO considering that a meat. When I helped the ewes with their lambs … notta there too. Then there was a little calf needing bottle feeding … goodbye roast beef. And then I brought some chickens home … goodbye Swiss Chalet.
This summer I let Audrey hatch six chicks. Three hens … three roosters. Hmmm… When I integrated the new hens into the Orpington flock I kept the roosters in the coop they grew up in. I fixed them up with a pop door that opened onto the paddock. And then gradually let them out into the main group – usually early in the morning – or in the evening just as the other group was heading to the larger coop (aka ‘The Palace’). At this stage they are only four months old. Come the spring … their hormones will kick in … and then all heck will break loose.
I have chatted with other people who have kept three roosters in a flock. We already have Paddy. He is an excellent rooster. Recently a home opened up for Rocky – one of our young roos (‘rooz’). So now there is Charlie and Norman. Perhaps …? They might stand a chance with Paddy if he gets this time when they are young to establish his role at the top of the hierarchy.
During the day they seek out the three hens they grew up with and together they wander the woods and the paddocks. Then at dusk the hens head into the ‘Palace’ and Norman and Charlie huddle together in the dark on the fence beside the door of their original coop. I have to toss them through the pop door each night. They do NOT feel safe in there on their own. But they know Paddy will beat the crap out of them should they show up in HIS coop.
Tonight I waited until it got dark … and let the flock settle into the Palace. Some of the girls noticed their usual roosts at the far end were now blocked off. It was comical to watch them peering through the door … and looking left and right … trying to figure out what this new wall was about.
Then I went and scooped up Charlie and Norman and carried them into their new digs. They’ll spend the day in there tomorrow – getting used to feeling safe in that end of the coop.
I also scooped up Inky and Isabelle and Isa (who was already cuddled up to the boys when I took this shot). There is a pop door in this end of the Palace so they’ll all be able to come and go that way. I’m not sure if I’ll keep the hens in tomorrow too …
When I left them Charlie and Norman were pressed up against the window screen. This is how they slept in their other coop too … I’ll be happy when the day arrives that I find them relaxed on a perch. I think they’ve learned to sleep like this because they were always on guard.
I’m going to work at integrating them slowly into this sleeping arrangement. I imagine for many nights yet I will find them perched outside their old coop. I’ll carry them around to their Palace ‘apartment’ and then add in their girlfriends. I will be much happier with them in this warmer location with the sounds of other chickens all around them. If it needs to operate as two coops – each with its own entrance – that’s possible too. I expect they will have their arguments come the spring. Hopefully with eighteen hens they and Paddy could develop their own ‘mini-flocks’.
A few years ago I had four roosters that I attempted to keep in their own run. They were my first roosters. I had raised them from chicks. My first flock had five roosters and two hens! THAT didn’t work! I chose the gentlest rooster and put him with the two hens – my buddy Goldie. Then I built a run in the woods and a HUGE coop and covered run to give the roosters a home. They were gorgeous – and funny – and friendly… until they hit the one year mark.
Then they became a territorial attack posse! They didn’t attack me – but anyone else was fair game. Even when Edie went out the FRONT DOOR – on the far side of the house – out of sight! – they’d hear her and slip under the gate and attack her before she could even get to the mailbox. There was also the time one of them chased her right through the front door into the living room. The day they circled our granddaughters … was their Waterloo. I was aghast at having to have them killed … for a stew pot … someone else’s … not ours.
So here is the dilemma. Even if I don’t raise my own chicks … and instead buy hens periodically to replace our hens as they age out of their egg laying years … I’m still part of the system that tosses roosters aside. For every hen or two that gets raised there is at least one rooster that didn’t get the chance. I really am not ready to say sayonara to eggs … but I sure can see why one would.
For me every one of the animals I meet – whether in our paddocks or barns – or in the woods – or on other farms – is a person. A sentient fellow creature that has as much right as I do to live this life. Every day I see conversations going on in our flerd. It might be Rosie offering MayMay a boost to the ash tree – or Chewy hollering at Paddy for leaving her behind – or Dottie trotting along pressed against my leg so her sister won’t butt her on the way to the hay barn. It is the Blue Jay bobbing at me in the tree asking for a peanut. I ache for the raccoons I see hit on the side of the road. I even feel a fondness for the beautiful brown rat that lives under the duck house. It is both my strength … and my Achilles heel!
So … yes … I am going to try to give Charlie and Norman a chance to live out their lives in our flerd. And my next focus will be on Claude and Dale – aka the Rouen drakes. But that’s a story for another day.