Our rooster was the stuff of legends. He witnessed and survived nearly a dozen different attacks on our flock. Bobcats, skunks, raccoons – no one could get the best of this rooster. He would strut around the yard showing off his spurs, he would eat the first (and the last) of the scratch grains, he would have hens lying around his feet waiting to serve his every whim. He lived the life of kings, he was a king. Well, that is, until he died.
My grandparents had a flock of hens and a rooster when I was young. I remember when a stray dog kept digging its way into the coop and stealing away hens at night. Their rooster eventually took to roosting on top of the coop at night and the dog stopped his nightly raids. When the winter came, the rooster continued to sleep on top of his coop until one night, he froze to death. Since then, roosters have always seemed chivalrous to me – not our rooster, though. Our rooster was beautiful, gorgeous in fact, and with beauty comes vanity.
I can see how it happened in my head: the bobcat/skunk/raccoon would work its way into the coop and our rooster, who is perched and preening his deep blue feathers, starts scrambling for the highest point in the coop shoving hens between himself and the predator. Only after the dust and feathers have settled will he hop down amongst the carnage and call mournfully for those missing from his brood. Slowly they disappear in twos and threes until at last, he is alone.
What are we going to do? We are absolutely stunned that in almost a dozen attacks, we’ve lost twenty-five hens and are left with one, useless rooster. Not only have we not figured out how to keep the predators at bay, but now we no longer have fresh eggs to offer up to our neighbors as an apology for having a rooster who thinks the sun rises at 3:30 in the morning.
For the first few weeks, we stick to all of our normal tricks and rules for keeping the coop closed up safe and tight from predators. We call all of our friends and try to find the rooster a new home. ‘It’s fall and we don’t want to start new chicks until spring, we have no use for a rooster,’ we tell them. Nobody wants him, they laugh at us – they don’t even wait until we’ve turned to walk away, they laugh directly in our faces. Time for plan B: we stop closing up the coop. The rooster mopes around the yard, an easy target for a hungry predator, but none come. We give to you this rooster, oh mighty predators, as a peace offering. We are sorry that we took shots at you and trapped and killed some of your family members. So please, take this rooster as a gift from us to you… Nothing.
My husband then suggests that we kill the rooster and eat him. I start thinking to myself; perhaps he would look better as a meal than he does as a moping lawn ornament. I start looking for a good coq a vin recipe when I realize three things: 1. This rooster has been living way too long to taste even remotely good. 2. I have no desire to attempt to slit this rooster’s throat, three words: four inch spurs. 3. My husband once took three shots to kill a raccoon…that was the size of a medium dog…and was confined to a trap. Point being, there was no way we could kill this moving target of a rooster on the first try. I know he is suffering from loneliness, but that is nothing compared to suffering from several bullet holes which would only eventually kill him.
I keep thinking back to my grandparent’s rooster, about how he stayed perched atop the coop as it grew colder and colder until one night he simply fell asleep and did not wake the next morning. That’s it! We will leave the rooster’s fate to mother nature. It will get colder and colder until one day we will wake at 3:30 in the morning and think it odd that the rooster wasn’t crowing. Then we would go outside to find him in a peaceful little pile on the ground. Truthfully, there were many mornings that I awoke thinking I had not heard him crow. But even on those mornings I had to break the ice from his water so he could drink from it.
Several times I wondered if maybe we should just put him out of his misery even if it would cause a moment of suffering. But soon the weather began to warm and it was time to order our new chicks. They arrived in the mail on Valentine’s Day and we placed them in a temporary home under a heat lamp. At this point, we were confident that the rooster would make it into spring and thus be rewarded with a new brood of hens, which he now deserved.
About three days before the new chicks were ready to be put outside, my brother-in-law and his girlfriend were visiting. As we were watching the sun set, we noticed the rooster in the side yard. I started telling them about his life of tragedy when Dulcie (our dog) started playing with the rooster. She would nip at his tail feathers and run off, over and over again until she finally took his entire back end in her mouth. We all shouted through the window at her and she ran off, leaving the rooster in a lump on the ground. It hadn’t looked as though Dulcie was being aggressive, but the rooster was not moving. Assuming we had witnessed the end of his life, my husband went outside to move the body. As he leaned over to pick up the rooster by his leg, the rooster immediately sprang back to life and ran across the yard. We were all in hysterics over the rooster who played opossum and how it had made a grown man jump three feet in the air.
At last it was time to put the new hens outside, time for the rooster to get his reward for surviving a long, cold, lonely winter. But where was he? We looked and looked until at last we spotted him, headless, in the front pasture. We will never truly know what happened to him, but evidence suggests some larger bird of prey swooped in and beheaded him on his day of glory. As we place the new chickens in their coop, one of them lifts its tail feathers and crows. Well, what do you know, the single gray, white and red chicken is a rooster. He’s a very striking, beautiful rooster in fact…and we all know what that means.
Jennifer Welch lives and writes in the Arkansas River Valley and is currently NOT interested in any free roosters. You are welcome to send your thoughts, inquiries, and suggestions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org