Backyard Farm Stories
In the end I was left with an option for which I was not yet prepared. My Master Farm Plan called for eggs the first year and fried chicken sometime down the road, say in a year or two after I’d become enough of a farm gal to do want needed doing. Well, Rooster George pushed the envelope and “down the road” had suddenly become “now.”
I am not a vegetarian although I would like to be and once was many decades ago. But I kept falling off the wagon, seduced by the allure of spare ribs and hot wings, and after thirty years of thinking of myself as a vegetarian who occasionally ate meat, I finally had to admit that I am a carnivore. And it seems to me that if I want to be a real farmer I should stop pretending that the neat and clean, nicely packaged chicken I buy at the store arrived there my magic and be honest enough to do my own killing.
Over the next few weeks I lost a lot of sleep and put off the day as long as I could. But Rooster George was his own worst enemy. His screeching was getting out of hand and on the morning he went off so early that the sky was still black as midnight I knew that my neighbors - who had been very patient up to this point - were not likely to remain so. Delay was no longer an option.
I waited until the eastern sky began to lighten with the first pink blush of sunrise and then I went out and opened the coop door. Rooster George and his girls exploded into the yard in euphoric frenzy, running and flying and pecking and scratching in celebration as they did every morning. It was a bittersweet moment. It warmed my heart to see him so happy. He’d never known a moment of pain or fear unlike the hundreds of millions of his kind who are raised under cruel and appalling conditions and killed without ever seeing the sky. He’d never been hungry or thirsty and though he was not very old, he was older than most chickens get to be.
Rooster George lived free and had a great life. And now I was going to take it from him.
Finally, I took a deep breath and went to him. He had no fear of me and when I picked him up he just relaxed against me which brought pain to my heart and tears to my eyes. I held him. I told him he was a good rooster and that I was sorry. Then I carried him into the garage and gently did what I had to do. It was the hardest thing I have ever done.
This is how and when I became an honest carnivore although, ironically, a carnivore who no longer eats chicken for after Rooster George I never ate chicken again – not from the store, not at a restaurant and not from my backyard. At least not until one day a year and a half later when one of my hens went ‘transgender’ on me.
But that’s a whole other story…..
The Saga of Rooster George
Sure enough, there was. Two months later my spunky hen-chick turned into a rooster. Apparently, the guy at the feed store in charge of checking my chicks’ bums for boy parts was not up to the job although to be fair sexing chickens is not easy. I mean, have you ever looked at the bottom of a bird? They all look exactly the same. I have no idea where the boy birds hide their equipment. A system of pulleys? Elastic retractors?
At any rate, I was now faced with a dilemma for roosters are illegal in the city because they shriek loudly at four in the morning and unwanted because nothing of value comes out their back ends. I was advised to return him to the feed store – I had paid for hens which are more expensive than roosters so economically he had not lived up to his part of the bargain - but I was loath to do so for I knew what would become of him if I did.
Besides, biting aside, I really liked and admired Rooster George. He strutted and preened and was every inch the King of the Roost. Each morning he would choose one of his ladies to hang with and they’d wander around and peck at the ground together and nap side-by-side. The next day he’d choose someone else and I guess chickens have a different rule book than we do for all of the hens seemed perfectly okay with this arrangement.
And talk about attitude! One day when Rooster George was no more that a tiny tyke he went all alpha on Farm Dog Jesse and traumatized the poor dog to such an extent that he subsequently froze in fright whenever Rooster George was around. I felt bad for Farm Dog Jesse, of course, and tried not to laugh too long or too loudly.
It was a horrible noise that sheared through my dreams like a band saw and sat me straight up in my bed. It sounded nothing at all like a proper cockadoodle-doo and thus I learned that roosters – at least of the Barred Rock variety - do not come out of the box knowing how to properly crow. They must practice and, from that moment on, from dawn until dusk, practice is what Rooster George did. The racket was dreadful and the neighbors began asking me who I was killing in my back yard. Clearly the ‘mute rooster’ theory was out the window and the time of reckoning at hand.
At that point, my options were few:
My chicken friends told me that they would be glad to have him for dinner but I did not want him handled by strangers who would frighten him and cut off his head with an ax.
I could sell him on Craig’s list but what if someone bought him for cock fights? (The Vietnamese man who trimmed my trees wanted him for just such a purpose). Or what if he ended up locked in a cage? Rooster George loved to fly and he valued his freedom more than anything else in the world. How could I take that away from him?
The local animal shelter? Already overflowing with former backyard chickens.
Find a good home for him out in the country? I followed several leads but they all ended with Rooster George on someone’s dining room table.
The future Rooster George
Rooster George & Poor, Froze Up Farm Dog Jesse
Given my affection for my rooster, I simply could not deal with the looming backyard crisis. Sure, I knew that when he started to crow at the crack of dawn my neighbors were likely to sic the chicken police upon me, but I chose to channel Scarlett O’Hara and “think about it tomorrow.” In the mean time, I convinced myself that Rooster George would never learn to crow. He would live a happy, quiet life and be father to future generations of sweet fuzzy chicks. I kept this fantasy alive for nearly two months but as you might have guessed, I was eventually ejected from the Land of Denial when……
Rooster George screamed at six o’clock one August morning.
Throughout history April has been a time of celebration; for new life just beginning and the hope of a bountiful harvest. It is my favorite month of the year. The days are getting longer, the weather less forbidding and the spring rains and warm sun awaken my farm from its long winter slumber. I am still awed by the magic of Nature's poetry in motion: The seeds I plant now become the food that ends up in my pantry and freezer. As a bonus, April is also the month I make my annual pilgrimage to the feed store for new chicks.
This year I brought home five fuzzy Barred Rock hen-chicks, a hardy breed known for producing copious quantities of eggs. During the two weeks that they lived in the big plastic box in my house, one of the chicks became quite special to me for each time I put my hand into the box she would run right over to it. I was touched and honored for I assumed this was some form of chick-bonding behavior and that we would be best friends forever. My illusions were shattered one morning two weeks later. I put my hand into the box. As expected she ran to it. And then she bit me. I began to suspect that there was something odd about this particular hen-chick.