Farm Life

Big RedOne evening this spring while I was finishing up some yard work I spotted a fox slinking through our pasture. If you don’t keep chickens you might not know that foxes love chickens. When we first got started raising chickens we lost a number to clever foxes, who are in on the secret that chickens are delicious. Our birds are free range, but we keep a dog in part to protect the chickens, and we keep the birds inside a coop in the barn except when it’s full daylight.

As it happened, though, dusk was on the way and I hadn’t yet done anything with the chickens because I’d been trying to finish some work on the fence. The dog was inside because she hadn’t been keeping far enough away from the mower. My wife ran to get the dog and I sprinted to find the chickens, only to discover that our rooster was already rounding them up and herding them into the barn.

Roosters really only have one job, and that’s to watch over the chickens. Most roosters don’t manage even that. They just stand around crowing, constantly, and just as constantly mating with the hens. Big Red, though, actually took pride in his job. In my experience there’s not a whole lot of personality difference between chickens, and I haven’t really formed many attachments with them. Big Red was far and away my favorite. You can’t help but respect someone who’s good at their job, even if he’s a chicken. I saw him herd the chickens several times when stray dogs wandered onto our property.

Big Red's KidsIn addition to being a good watch bird, he was also gentle when my kids wanted to pick him up, and wasn’t stupidly aggressive against humans or the barn cats, another thing you can’t take for granted. He was also a lovely bird.

You notice I’m writing in the past tense, and that’s because something, a fox we think, finally got him. It happened one day while the dog wasn’t outside. A fox must have nabbed him, because there was nothing left but some feathers. (A loose dog wouldn’t have carried off the body — they’d just have killed and gnawed a little and left.) But the chickens had made it safely back to their roosts. I can only assume that he fought off the attack in a brave last stand so his flock could get to safety, for I know darned well that the fox wouldn’t have targeted the largest bird.

Here’s to Big Red, a brave rooster who took pride in his job. We all liked him so well that we allowed one of the hens to brood over a clutch of eggs to see if we can get another from his bloodline with similar characteristics. Five hatched late last week.


2 Comments on “Farm Life

  1. I was raised around chickens and it was a very similar situation that you are describing. It was always more hobby farming and and was a small flock.

    It was so hard to find a good rooster. Especially one that didn’t attack humans on sight. Its always the good ones that get taken out by an animal. Ours (Roy) was eaten by a chickenhawk. We saw it right after it happened. Dad never did find another rooster that was as good as Roy.

    • Sounds like you understand exactly where I’m coming from. We’ve had a number of roosters now and several have been as easy to handle, probably because the kids picked them up all the time when they were chicks. But none was as excellent a guardian. It wasn’t crushing like losing a good dog, who can be a part of the family unit. But it’s still sad.

      Just yesterday one of our dogs chased what might have been a chickenhawk right out of a tree near where the chickens like to come out and shade. I say “might have been” because I wasn’t wearing my glasses at the time so I couldn’t tell for sure what kind of bird of prey it was. Given the location and wingspan, though, I’d guess chickenhawk.

      You ever have any chickens that stood out from the flock? We’ve only had two in recent years. One is just a complete spaz and still runs away from humans whenever I come to feed them. Sometimes she’ll run straight out into the darkness if the door is open at dusk, which is sort of like sprinting into a minefield when the reinforcements arrive with food and water.

      The other is just a little wiser than the average chickens. She will sneak onto the stairs where the cats are fed and very delicately peck the cat food out of the bowls so the bowls don’t fall onto the floor and scatter food everywhere. Occasionally other chickens will come along to try the same trick and scatter the food, every time. She’s also just more observant and cautious in general. But then she’s one of the oldest chickens, so perhaps she has grown wiser.

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