Friday, December 16, 2011

Rooster Games

Well, the time has arrived! The jousting, the hopping, the dancing. No, I’m not talking about the Reindeer Games of “Rudolph” fame. I’m talking about the dominance games between our adolescent roosters!
            As the sheep settle down for their “long winter’s nap”, easily adapting to hand-fed corn & bales of hay, sleeping is the furthest thing from our young roosters’ minds! Instead, they’re jousting, clawing, & “beaking” each other mercilessly, because “chicken coop” season has arrived!!

 They all look so innocent when they’re babies, and we certainly never set out to have more than seven roosters! The problem is, chicks are notoriously hard to “sex”, so many baby “pullets” (e.g., hens) actually turn out to be roosters! Chicken “equipment” is all on the INSIDE, so there’s no easy way to “flip & check” like you can with a rabbit or dog. Like it or not, mistakes are made, even by the most experienced “chicken sexers”. Unfortunately, this means that several of our “pullets” have begun crowing in the past few weeks!

We THOUGHT we had just three roosters: our beautiful Salmon Faverolles rooster named Magnum, and two young Brahma cockerels (juvenile roosters). Life was good. Then, surprise, surprise! Suddenly we began to see hackle feathers & saddle feathers growing around the necks & right above the tails of some of our juvenile “pullets”, which are sure signs of a rooster! Egad! Our “pullets” were actually cockerels! JUST what we needed!

Salmon Faverolles Rooster ["Magnum"]

Too many roosters do not a peaceful henhouse make! The plain truth is, “chicken romance” is rather unpleasant for the hen, & too many roosters in the henhouse can wreak real havoc! Since we’d like to keep our hens happy, so that they continue laying eggs in the winter, it’s up to us to keep “rooster randiness” to a minimum.

Until now, Magnum has ruled the henhouse fairly gently, the hens have all been happy, and no other bird challenged him. Our Brahma cockerels are of a breed known for its large size and gentleness, so we didn’t fear for Magnum’s safety. We thought we had done a good job selecting hens & roosters. Until last month, when the “camouflaged cockerels” started crowing, with each one trying to outdo the next!

 Then we realized that three of the cockerels were growing alarmingly large. One rooster in particular is HUGE, & we now see that he is actually one of the fighting breeds. A fighting rooster in a henhouse is REALLY not good! Mature roosters of the fighting breeds grow long, curved, vicious SPIKES on the insides of their legs, and they use those spikes to stab & gouge each other. This enormous rooster is going to grow huge spikes, & this will be a terrible risk to Magnum & the other roosters! It was at this point that we began to consider turning some of these young roosters into Christmas dinners.

Fighting roosters (not ours!)
I’ve seen my share of aggressive roosters. There are some roosters who try to “bluff” their way out of a situation by flaring their hackles & fluffing up & trying to “walk tall”, but they deflate like a party balloon when challenged. Grasping them around the neck with my hand stops their bad behavior right away & reminds them of their place in the world. Brahmas are like that.

Polish Rooster (like Rusty)
One of the most beautiful & aggressive roosters I’ve ever owned was Rusty, an enormous Golden Polish (crested) rooster. He was just plain MEAN! He was so large that he had to live in a medium-sized dog kennel, because no other cage was large enough. He was also highly aggressive. I wanted to keep him for breeding, but he grew so aggressive that I couldn’t. He seriously wanted to KILL me. After he attacked me for the umpteenth time, putting a 4-inch gash down the side of my hand, Rusty went to the “processing center”. He was too much of a risk. You just don’t mess with truly aggressive roosters. It isn’t worth the risk to you, the other chickens, or other livestock.
Unfortunately, in our current situation, we were too late for one of our gentle Brahma cockerels, who we found dead last week. We were heartbroken, since we had searched far & wide for our Brahma pullets & cockerels. That was the final straw -- we had reached the end of our patience. Time for the problem roosters to “go jungle"!

 In the past, some of our roosters and hens have escaped from the henhouse and evaded capture. Although it is safer for them to stay in the henhouse, some of them have adapted quite well to “life on the outside”. Others were never heard from again, since chickens aren’t as bright as the local foxes, cats, and hawks that have removed them from the gene pool. We began to use the phrase “going jungle” for this “striking out into the great unknown” behavior. Over time, we’ve established the policy that disruptive roosters must “go jungle” if they’re unsettling the henhouse too much or getting too aggressive. In our current case, we have now removed two roosters from the henhouse. There is a third rooster who is also growing “too big for his boots” & may be moved outside. This isn’t an easy decision to make, knowing that these roosters must survive a Michigan winter. But the welfare of our other chickens is a higher priority.

Keeping livestock is always a balancing act, & it isn’t just with the chickens. Five of our ewes are beating up on our sixth ewe, OB. Our job is to intervene in this situation as humanely as possible, while still making it clear to the other sheep that bullying OB is not acceptable. So, when the sheep are grained, I hand-feed OB with extra corn. If another sheep shoves OB, I smack the other ewe on her hindquarter with my livestock whip. It startles, rather than stings, & reminds her that I want her to stop her current behavior.

Every day is different here at Waggin’TailsStation, but it’s still one of the best places on earth to be. Wishing you all a great day!

[our thanks to for the great pix!] 

No comments:

Post a Comment