Despite our best efforts, we have acquired a rooster. Actually, he’s still a cockerel and he’s quite full of himself. The hens are not impressed.
When R and I started looking into keeping chickens, we agreed: “no roosters.” Our electrician gave us the first four chickens, two laying hens and the two surviving pullets from a brood that one of the hens hatched in secret. They settled into their jobs, making eggs, eating leftovers and scratching and fertilizing the ground for next year’s garden. The pullets are still almost feral. When they arrived, they could squeeze through the cattle panels that form their pen. It was a bad day when they panicked yet again and discovered they had grown too big to escape.
I’ve had fish tanks that were more difficult to care for than these chickens. I got to thinking that a couple more birds might be a good idea, to have enough bodies in the coop to generate body heat as it gets colder. Our friend’s sister has raised up some chicks this year and had some to spare. She lives in Escalante, so we brought a cardboard box when we went over for the art festival in September.
Steve and Paige’s coop is much more elaborate than ours, a walk-in structure with a couple dozen birds. R and Steve went in to grab three chooks. Chickens in general do not want to be caught. The chickens flap around, shrieking as the noncombatants outside the coop stand around laughing and offering useless advice. Eventually they grab three birds and put them one after another into the box without any of them escaping as the next bird was shoved in.
We timed it perfectly to drive back from Escalante at dusk so as to avoid the maurading deer on Boulder Mountain and get home just as it got dark. I don’t need to repeat a two hour ride with chickens in a box over a mountain road, with them sliding around in the box and squawking and squabbling each time they bumped into each other. It was dark at the ranch. The rest of the chickens had already roosted for the night. Just like it said in the books, we took the new chickens out of the box, set them on the roost beside the others and they settled down pretty quickly. In theory, when they woke up together in the morning, they would be more accepting of each other.
It worked for the most part. When I let them out in the morning, I got my first good look at the newcomers and no one was bleeding. I tossed them some food in a wide arc to spread out out the foraging as they came out of the coop so the new ones could have some time to adjust to their yard. I didn’t think much more about it until my neighbor came over to bring the flock some scraps and asked why we changed our minds about a rooster.
Paige’s flock was all of the same age, not quite sexually mature. I didn’t occur to me that Paige had cockerels mixed in, because Steve had said he’d given away all but one of his roosters. I didn’t think to tell R to avoid the ones with the spur buds. How would I know my biologist husband who started his career working on the reproductive system would not know how to sex a chicken? And yet, how would he know? I have done all the book learning before we got the chickens, not R. He’s worked with fish, mice, rabbits and other mammals, but never birds. And we come to find out later that Steve is a beginning flockster too. R has been a willing helper, but the chickens have been my project and I was cackling outside Paige’s coop, not wading into the fray myself. .
So now we each know something more about chickens. And it reminded me of that glorious day when I decided to forgive myself for not knowing what I had not yet learned. Maybe other people figure this out in kindergarden; I must have missed that day at school. Living with that kind of self-expectation was crazy-making. I stay out of that kind of thinking for myself, and definitely don’t inflict the “you should have known better” shame onto others. You can only know what you know. If you are living well, life presents opportunities to learn more.
The cockerel is learning to crow this week. He’s also trying to mount the hens, who aren’t taking his abrupt maneouvers well at all. The dominant hens are schooling him pretty hard. Apparently in rooster development the urge to mate precedes the courting behavior instincts. He should start dancing for the girls, spreading his wings and presenting them with treats soon. If he doesn’t learn some manners, R and I are going to read up together about poultry butchering.