Roosty the Rooster
Reading Time: 4 minutes
By Mark M. Hall
On our mini-farm, we place a high value on our layers. For many years, we have enjoyed an efficient production of fresh, tasty eggs. However, this vast appreciation was not always extended to the occasional rooster. In fact, I consistently avoided roosters for a long period of time. There never was, nor would there ever be, a need for them … or so I thought.
My general lack of appreciation for roosters began when I was a child. Generally, my dad only kept a few hens on the farm, but one summer, several disorderly Leghorn roosters were brought into the mix. Like an angry mob, they charged me daily as I collected the eggs. I was quite certain that the majority of their spare time was spent sharpening their spurs. Meetings were likely held each morning, just before feeding time, to brainstorm new sinister ways to attack me. Eventually, I learned to carry a big stick, which I never needed to swing. They clearly did not like the look of it and begrudgingly avoided me ever after. Still, I was relieved when Dad finally sent them packing. “Good riddance,” I thought, my outlook on roosters forever tainted.
Many years later, I started a small layer flock of my own, but I could never avoid roosters thereafter, it seemed. In fact, nearly every time I ordered pullets from a hatchery, one turned out to be a cockerel. It was the same story each spring. With great joy and satisfaction, I watched my new brood of pullets grow. Then, after a few weeks, I warily noticed that one was beginning to look slightly different from its mates. It appeared to be a bit larger and was developing a redder comb. Though disappointed, I raised the little guy to adulthood before ultimately shipping him elsewhere.
However, I was finally persuaded to keep a rooster, one spring, in spite of my reservations. Not surprisingly, that year’s batch included yet another cockerel. A Delaware, he was white with black tips on his tail and his hackles, and my young daughters absolutely adored him. One day, they informed me that his name is Roosty and begged me to keep him. “Okay,” I relented after some deep thought on the subject. “We will keep him one year for breeding purposes, but then he has got to go. I surely don’t want him to mix with the layers. Roosters can be very distracting.”
Roosty quickly grew into an exceptionally strong rooster with a broad body firmly situated on long, chunky legs. His huge, sharp claws were like grappling hooks and a sharp, powerful beak he used like a dagger. He once made a successful break-out with nothing more than his own brute force. It was a frigid winter evening with temperatures dipping far below zero degrees F. He was toughing it out in his own little bachelor hutch until I decided to move him somewhere warm for the night. Grabbing a wooden transport crate, I somehow managed to get him inside and hefted him down to the cellar. In the morning, I returned and found that the side of my crate was busted into pieces. The muscle-head was proudly strutting around nearby with head back and chest expanded as though he owned the place.
In addition to his physical strength, Roosty’s bravery was remarkable, as well. The following summer, a raccoon had often slipped into a small penned area that Roosty was sharing with a hen. With each visit, the intruder ate some of their feed and occasionally stole a fertilized egg. One night, the young rooster had apparently reached the end of his tolerance of the masked bandit’s thievery and decided to take care of business. Heroically, he fought off the raccoon, suffering only a laceration to his comb. I was impressed, but I still planned to send him away at the end of the year.
Roosty was not particularly fond of those living arrangements. For hours at a time, he stood at his fence, watching the layers forage extensively. He paid absolutely no attention to the hen matched up with him, and it was quite upsetting to her. One day she displayed a particular degree of determination to get his attention when she squeezed between Roosty and the fence. With measured side steps, she shuffled directly in front of him, but he continued to ignore her, looking right over her head. Next, she stretched her head upward as high as she could and gently pecked him on the neck. Still preoccupied, Roosty tilted his head to the side in order to see around her. Hilariously, she shadowed this movement and pecked him again. With growing irritation, he craned his neck farther to the side and continued to look past her. This comical episode continued for several more rounds, and to my surprise, neither one fell over!
Finally, the events of one late-summer evening changed Roosty’s fortunes forever, though under the grimmest of circumstances. The demoralized raccoon returned, his eye on more than feed and eggs. Wisely avoiding Roosty this time, he sneaked into the yard and made off with one of the layers. Fleeing unharmed, he left behind a long trail of white fluffy feathers, as well as a gnawing realization in me that a freed Roosty could have prevented this from happening.
I assumed that the emboldened creature would return, so I made a tactical decision. Finally granting Roosty’s wish, I moved him out of his small confines to be with the layers, and he immediately got down to business. Whenever he detected predators lurking about, he moved the flock to safety. The layers seemed to admire him and followed right along wherever he went. Like an Army Special Forces commander behind enemy lines, he issued commands akin to, “Go! Go! Go!” With heads down and wings tightly tucked, a dozen pairs of chicken legs sliced through a jungle of tall grass toward a predetermined secure location. Roosty watched the layers dash quickly up the ramp and into the coop, while he stood guard duty outside.
Captain Roosty went on to proudly protect and serve for the rest of his days. With his toughness, his bravery, and his keen intellect, he defended the layers far better than any other method I could have concocted. The pesky raccoon’s days of mischief were ended, and no other predator dared begin. Finally, after decades of taking no account of roosters, I finally learned the value of one.
Originally published in the October/November issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.