June 01, 2022

A Tale of Two Roosters

The last year has been a bit of a learning curve for me for multiple reasons, and one thing I learned a lot about is roosters. And one thing I learned about roosters is that they can be quite stressful, but you can also love them anyway.

So, last July, I ordered 20 female chicks from a hatchery. I opted in for a "bonus exotic breed," not knowing that they were almost always roosters. But I figured it woudln't be so bad to have one rooster. What I ended up with was a box of 22 chicks, four of whom ended up being males. Two of them I knew were boys from the moment I got them, so how the hatchery made this mistake, I don't know. I don't know how any of that works. Anyway, a couple of weeks after I got the chicks, my mom went into the hospital where she spent nearly a month and never came home, so I was trying to take care of these chicks while dealing with all of that. I do remember telling my mom that I thought I had three roosters — it was one of the last conversations she and I had — and she said "uh-oh, you better hope not." Oh, how right she was.

My initial plan was to keep them all in the flock, but after a couple of months, it became abundantly clear that four boys with 18 girls wasn't going to work. So, I decided I would build a "bachelor pad" for my two more assertive roosters. Well, that didn't work either because the last thing I had time to do was build something. It took me forever to get those chickens outside in the first place. And one of the two boys I planed to separate actually tried to fight with my dog one day. She's 12 years old. She would never hurt a fly. I'll put up with a lot of things from animals but not that. Luckily, I was able to re-home those guys.

That left me with Rudy and Leppo. Rudy was a giant Cochin who was supposed to be a hen, and the only reason I knew he was a rooster was his size and markings. He didn't crow for a long time and was actually like a big teddy bear. Leppo was a little Hamburg who was super nervous and anxious and a little weird, but he and I bonded early on because he was the first one to figure out how to get out of the brooder.

After I rehomed the other two boys, things were pretty peaceful for about a month. But one day my dad was out with the chickens while I was working, and I heard a horrible noise. He later told me that Leppo had attacked Rudy. Over the next few weeks, it happened a couple of more times. Rudy was five times Leppo's size, but he didn't really fight back. One day, I intervened by removing Leppo from the flock for a short period of time, and when I let him back in, Rudy started attacking him. And when I say "attack," I don't mean anything terrible, just some pushing and shoving and hurt feelings. I would have intervened otherwise.

But it got to the point that I wasn't comfortable having them both with the flock. I actually think they injured one of my hens earlier this year, which led to her death. They also seemed to be in competition for mating — I watched Leppo hop on the same girl nine times in half an hour. So, right after that, I ordered one of those awful little prefab chicken coops, and that became Leppo's new home. He hated it initially, but I didn't know what else to do.

And then Rudy became a bit on the aggressive side with my dad. I've heard terrible stories about mean roosters, and he was nothing like that at all, but my dad walks around with a bamboo walking stick sometimes outside, and Rudy would attack it. I researched how to stop this behavior, and my dad "felt bad for him" and wouldn't do it. That really made me uncomfortale. The last thing I wanted was to have to watch my back every time I'm outside. He was also pretty rough with the girls. He wasn't as wild as Leppo, but he'd stand on their backs for a long time after mating, was ripping their feathers out, and grabbing them by the necks and swinging them around. Rudy made me realize that I am not a rooster person.

After talking it over with some friends and some kind people with more experience, I decided Rudy had to go. I couldn't have him attacking my dad or mistreating my hens. I didn't want him attacking anyone else who visited either. I placed ads online. Spread the word among people I know. Contacted farms and rescues. In the end, I actually found some great options for him. One would have been a better life for him than I ever could have given him for sure. But I couldn't do it. I could not get rid of him. All I could think about was how terrible it would be drive him up to the mountains and abandon him (at this really great place). Would they buy his him favorite sunflower seeds? Would they call him by his name that he knew really well? Would he miss us?

I made a donation to the place that was willing to take him, and thanked them and told them I had decided to keep him. Plus, I know roosters are treated so horribly and abandonded, and these people are so kind to take them in that I didn't want to use up their resouces. If all of these animal rescues and charities can keep unwanted roosters on hand, I could too.

First, that meant that I had to stop being afraid of him. I'll admit it. He scared me a little bit. I don't like animals that make sudden movements (see: frogs). So, while he never really tried to attack me, I decided I was going to show him I was dominant. I started chasing him every day. If he even looked at me funny or crowed in my driection, I'd run after him for 20 minutes with a shovel in hand until we both got tired. I also started squirting him lightly with a water hose when he'd do things I didn't like, like get too close to me, try to fight with Leppo through his cage, or mistreat one of the hens. Some people do terrible things to assert their dominance over a jerk of a rooster, so don't come at me saying any of this sounds cruel. It actually worked. I became less scared of him, and he learened to respect me when I was in his space. I learned a great deal about roosters through all of this.

But even though we'd learend to live with each other, Rudy was still super rough on the girls. Some of it was just his immaturity, and some of it was his size. My cousin came over one day and saw him and said, "That's the biggest chicken I've ever seen." He'd never fit in a pre-fab coop like Leppo, so I bought a larger dog kennel for him. It took me a while to get it set up, and then my dad was nice enough to cover it in hardware cloth to keep predators and Leppo out. Once we were done, I moved him to it. He actually seemed to like it. I think Rudy was never meant to be the head of a flock. He seemed overwhelmed all the time, and when we had issues with hawks earlier this year, he would run and hide, but Leppo would try to fight them. Long story a little shorter, Rudy actually seemed to enjoy his bachelorhood. Some roosters are fine being on their own, and some aren't.

We got Rudy moved on a weekend, and by the end of that week, I was prepared to start letting him out for free time. As a matter of fact, that Thursday night, I told my dad I'd let him out the next day for a few hours. Later that night, around midnight, I was watching TV, and I thought I heard something, but between the TV and the air conditioning and all my fans, I coudln't be sure and didn't think anything of it. The next morning, my dad called and told me he'd gone to let the hens out of their house, and Rudy was dead.

I felt awful. Guilty. I immediately figured out how a predactor got into the dog kennel, a place with some give that I had missed. I failed that poor boy. Based on the way we found his body, I was fairly certain it was a raccoon. Later in the week, a neighbor had spotted a raccoon on her porch, and another night, I'd taken my dog out around 1 a.m. and heard one in the woods, which adds to the idea that this is what it was. My dad and I both mourned that poor boy. My dad buried him and cleaned up the mess in the scorching heat since I had to work and was also treating a duck injury. It was a dark day around here.

We decided to let Leppo out with the girls that evening to see how he did. If he was okay, we'd move him back into the big house with them. I feel like they're pretty safe in there unless raccoons know how to use keys. But Leppo was a litle overzealous with the girls, and he actually wanted to go back into his little coop at the end of the day. So, we let him. And we spent a good hour or so trying to make sure nothing could get into it. I drilled doors shut. We stacked cement blocks in front of the doors we couldn't drill. I felt condident he was safe.

After I got over the sadness of losing Rudy, I felt a little better about the situation. Leppo is very sweet. He has never tried to attack any humans. As a matter of fact, if he was out of his pen and I came outside, he'd run across the yard to greet me. He was great at alerting the girls to predators. I often let him out with the ducks, and my drakes would go run him off, but he never tried to fight back. He was good with my dog. If he didn't literally fly and land on a hen or try to mate with them backwards, he would have been perfect. My plan was to slowly reintegrate him with the girls. I was hoping after he got to be a year old and we made it through mating season and chicken puberty, he might calm down a little bit.

But I would never get that chance. A few days ago, about a week and a half after Rudy, I was sound asleep, and my phone rang. It was my dad. Nothing good comes from my dad calling me and waking me up early in the morning. The last time he did it was when Rudy died, and the time before that was when the hospital had called him and told him we needed to get up there with my mom. Well, there was another time when he thought someone had stolen my car, but I'd just parked it in a different place. Anyway, he told me something had gotten Leppo.

We went over every inch of his coop and couldn't figure out how or what did it. We finally decided it had to be a human because whatever else it was would have had to move cement blocks and then move them back. And we're still not 100% sure, but I've decided it must have been a raccoon. The same raccoon probably. You see, they can reach their arms in and do bad things. Leppo hadn't been eaten at like Rudy, but he was decapitated. Raccoons are known to snap a chicken's head off. And since he hadn't been eaten at, it leads me to believe the creature couldn't get into the pen with him. On the back of the coop, there's a built-in nesting box, and Leppo actually slept in it rather than on the roost. I'd drilled the top down with four screws, but it's entirely possible that it was pried up enough for a little raccoon arm to reach in and grab him. That wood is cheap.

I hate it. If I'm being honest, I miss those boys, especially Leppo. I stil don't think I'm a rooster person, and taking care of my girls on their own is so much less stressful. Those boys cost me so much time, money, and anxiety over the last seven or eight months. But I have no regrets. They taught me so much about roosters and nature and farm life and even life in general. If I do ever end up with another one... or two or four, I feel more confident handling the situation. For now, I'm good with just my girls and my ducks though.