Last week Claude went south, thus ending The Great Rooster Experiment. That experiment began in tragedy last April when three of our six hens were killed by an anonymous predator (I suspect a dog). Among the dead was Shiniqua, my favorite. The code of manliness says you’re not allowed to get misty over a bird but I was depressed for weeks after the loss of that sweet little Rhode Island Red. Even more depressed was Shiniqua’s best friend Tammy, who barely survived the attack with a nasty flesh wound.
Our sad little trio of survivors seemed to get through it all by being
extra nice to one another. It was kind of amazing. Patty, the undisputed
top of the pecking order, who ruled the coop with an iron beak, was
suddenly sweet and sensitive to Tammy, dead last in the rankings. (Okay,
so she did try to cannibalize her a few times back before the flesh
wound had healed but, hey, chickens will be chickens!) Paige, the sullen
middle child and the only one to escape without a scratch, was as dislikable
as ever but at least she’s consistent.
Actually, he wasn’t all that little anymore. He’d gotten big and rooster-like in just a few weeks, with billowing tail feathers and a bright read comb and waddles (those are those beard-like things). Even Mary had to admit he was a handsome bird. But that didn’t make his personality any more appealing. In fact maturity only made Claude less likable. Chickens, like most birds, are naturally shy and therefore not especially cuddly. Unlike a cat, they don’t enjoy being stroked on your lap while you watch TV. But some are more easygoing than others. The Babettes for example don’t mind being picked up, especially if they think there’s some extra scratch in it for them. Claude, on the other hand, was always the alarmist type who would run off the moment you came near him. Then, from a safe distance, he’d fix you with one of his beady little eyes and say, “Cock-a-do-o-o-o!” Very annoying.
But Claude’s most disturbing qualities came out after he became sexually active. Nothing takes the romance out of love-making quite like watching one chicken hump another. It’s just not pretty. This was especially true since the first object of Claude’s affection was poor Mr. Van Allen. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m fairly liberal and open-minded, so I don’t make any value judgements about what two consenting roosters do in the privacy of their coop. But consent had nothing to do with it so far as Mr. Van Allen was concerned. I’ll skip the details and just say the whole thing only deepened my conviction that prison should be avoided at all costs. My distaste wasn’t lessened any either when Claude broadened his targets to include the females of the flock. Nor was he let off the hook when it turned out Mr. Van Allen was a Mrs (seeing him lay an egg was incontrovertible proof that the woman who sold him to me had made a mistake—of course we still call him—I mean her—Mr. Van Allen).
No two ways about it, Claude was an unsavory creep. But, while my wife had reached that conclusion long ago, I still felt compelled to defend the guy. Perhaps, feeling my gender under attack, I felt obliged to go to bat for Claude, even if he was a slimeball. We were guys—it was a matter of principle.
That principle was put to the test when Claude attacked my wife one morning when she was feeding the flock, and then again a week or so later when he did the same to me. It’s not unheard of or even terribly unusual for a rooster to attack his owner at some point. Their little hormone-addled brains are prone to assume at any moment that their manhood is being questioned, their turf infringed upon. You may be the guy who feeds them everyday but at that moment you’re another rooster. And they attack you the way they would another rooster, by flying up at you and trying to stick you with their spurs. It’s a ridiculous mismatch of course (based on weight alone you probably have at least a twenty-to-one advantage). Still, it is a bit unnerving, especially because even after you’ve kicked them or swatted them or otherwise fended off their attack, the idiots usually come back for more. It was that coming back for more that made me realize Claude meant business. And it wasn’t because I’d read that such behavior needs to be nipped in the bud that I wacked Claude a good one and then, when he seemed to be contemplating another go at me, pinned him to the ground with a rake and impressed upon him in the strongest possible terms that he was not the biggest rooster in the coop,I was the biggest rooster in the coop. No, I did that because I was angry. Funny how a little bird can stir up such strong feelings in you. Lots of righteous indignation along the lines of, How dare you, after all I do for you, all the cleaning, all the feeding—I even defend you to my wife and you repay me WITH THIS?!? Of course that’s an awful lot of human logic to be projecting onto a chicken. In all likelihood Claude was simply reacting to something I was wearing (Shoelaces!!! Must defend coop!!!), some bit of stimuli that tripped an ancient genetic switch. Which is probably why I felt a rush of guilt the moment I took the rake off him. Poor Claude was just doing what nature had hard-wired his little brain to do (and I was probably doing back to him what nature had hard-wired my little brain to do).
Until last week. That’s when the little bugger jumped me as I was filling his feeder (talk about gratitude). And since I was wearing shorts this time he managed to draw blood—nothing serious, just a couple of scratches on my calf. But clearly war had been declared: the coop was only big enough for one rooster and now it was to be decided once and for all whether that rooster would be Claude or Paul. Can you guess who won?
The truth is Claude came very close to becoming a chicken pot pie right there on the spot. But then I took a breath, decided to be an adult about the whole thing, fetched the net, and put Claude in one of the travel cages. (If you do decide to butcher one of your chickens, don’t do it in front of the others—I’ve heard they will hold it against you.) I’d followed all the advice the books had offered about dealing with aggressive roosters. Now I decided to heed the words of Gail Damerow, author of Barnyard in Your Backyard: “Occasionally a cock remains mean no matter what you do. Such a rooster is big trouble. Get rid of him.”
This story has a happy ending, more or less. Rather than becoming a pot pie Claude is now living at a neighbor’s down the road. I gave that neighbor, who has about fifty birds, the option of either adding Claude to his flock or adding him to his stewpot. Fortunately for Claude he chose the former. But when we tossed Claude into the yard three roosters nearly twice his size gathered ‘round to give him a big welcome. It looked like Claude’s new life was going to be one endless episode of Scared Straight.
The nice thing about Claude’s new home is it allows me to look in on him from time to time. Judging from the way he avoided one particularly large rooster on a recent visit, I would say Claude is learning he isn’t Number One Rooster in this coop either. I took a certain sadistic satisfaction in that and said to him, “You see, Claude, you had a flock all your own with eleven lovely hens and two humans keeping you cleaned and fed, and what did you do? You threw it all away.” His answer was to fix me with that beady little eye and say, “Cock-a-do!!!” If the reply seems unusually brief it’s because at that moment Number One Rooster appeared and Claude had to hightail it across the yard. Revenge is sweet, even if it is against a stupid bird.
The Wannabe Farmer
A Chicken Murder Mystery