Coming to peace with Rooster

‘I became sufficiently uncomfortable in his presence to begin slinking around the outskirts of the yard, behavior that took its toll on my well-being’

SAXTONS RIVER — Early in my egg-laying-chicken venture, I was told that roosters were tetchy creatures, often incorrigibly aggressive and valuable to humans only for their reproductive roles - unless you were a fan of cockfights.

Hens, on the other hand, were docile food producers, and their egg-laying activity did not require insemination.

Convinced by those more experienced than I, at first I purchased mature pullets until economic considerations prompted me to switch to newborn chicks, whose gender designation allowed for a margin of error.

That margin of error occasionally manifested itself in an emerging rooster, leaving me with two choices.

In consequence of its reproductive drives, I might have the heartwarming experience of witnessing baby chicks being raised by that rare hen who experienced a genetic throwback to maternal instincts. Or I could deliver such a genetic aberration to a nearby farm as soon as it arrived at a noisy maturity.

Sometimes I simply waited it out with ambivalence, deciding almost randomly whether to keep or banish a young rooster.

* * *

So it happened that the year I decided to purchase leghorn chicks just for variety - I had come to prefer a diversified flock as being more peaceable - it became obvious that one of the six had unusually large feet, an outsized comb, and vocal production that could not be described as a “cluck,” even while it took him awhile, as noted by my young grandson, to master all five syllables of “cock-a-doodle-do.”

While I deliberated over his fate, he seemed to grow at an accelerated pace, and like his leghorn cohorts, demonstrated an intelligence-informed feistiness and aptitude for flight that took that ancient breed over the existing fences of the yard (and sometimes into my tomato garden).

Whether I was secretly impressed by such survival skills amongst the bred-in placidity of most domestic chickens or simply intimidated, I allowed him to continue performing his virile duties, and he soon became a magnificent specimen with a huge crown and impressive tail feathers - a source of pride.

Until one day, when I was cleaning the south-facing windows of the coop to enhance solar gain in the coming autumn, he decided to attack me by hurling his body against the backs of my summer-bared legs, after which his assaults seemed random.

The complaints I shared with the family yielded a sympathetic response, in particular from my grandson and his visiting cousin, who took it upon themselves to “teach him a lesson” by brandishing long sticks with which they occasionally succeeded in striking him, and, for a while, it seemed that the boys were having at least some measure of success.

My response was strictly defensive, striking out only when provoked, but this method seemed futile.

I became sufficiently uncomfortable in his presence to begin slinking around the outskirts of the yard, behavior that took its toll on my well-being.

Meanwhile, in view of my preference for pacifism, even of the timid sort, I prohibited the boys from continuing their force-fed educational campaign.

* * *

This uncomfortable semi-truce continued until one day I had a flash of insight.

As the assaults had all been directed at my backside, maybe not avoiding Rooster - never named, as we had regarded him as a temp for so long - would have a contrary effect. I resolved to take my fate into my hands and made a point of facing him in the course of my feeding and cleaning rounds.

It worked!

Treated with the respect inherent in direct animal confrontations, the rooster became my friend! Rather than avoiding each other, we even sometimes accompanied each other on our rounds, his being a supervision of his wives' welfare.

I began to admire his commitment. He sometimes remained outside after dark to make sure all were safely in the coop and never ate from the scraps I delivered to the communal food bowl, but hovered around the feeding females with a view to maintaining law and order.

Once I had watched as our Rooster intervened in a rare squabble between two hens, stepping between them and banishing one to a distance, thereby restoring peace.

Hens are notoriously hierarchical, the stronger or more mature given to pecking the feeble or newcomers of any size. But when I introduced this year's replacement chicks, by then barely pubescent, they were peacefully integrated into the harem right from the start.

I attributed this phenomenon to the majestic authority of my old pal, the Rooster.

Who even allowed me, this year, in preparation for the oncoming cold weather, to clean the windows of his domain without interruption.

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