Can you be a bad chicken parent? Yes, is the answer I arrived at after the last few days. We started out two years ago with a group of 15 fowl. It turns out that many of them were roosters. Having named them all and moved them over five hours to a new home I found it too difficult to selectively cull the flock. As circumstances wittled away at our original crew we were left with five roosters and three hens. I acquired four more hens reasoning that more females would spread out the over-attention being paid to the first females of the coop. Wrong. The fighting, mobbing, squawking and all out clatter from the coop intensified. I can’t be sure as to the exact sequence of events, but I do know it was bad.
Last Saturday morning my oldest son noticed Snowball, the rooster from a previous blog, had a swollen eye. In fact he could not see at all which was evident when our cat, Mater, crept up on his left side and there was no recognition until Snowball cocked his head to the right and caught a glimpse of black out of his right eye. At that point a cock-a-doodle-do was heard across the canyon. Mater had no intention of attacking he was simply on patrol. Snowball found his way back into the coop and perched for a while. We decided to watch him to see if any other unusual signs appeared. The next day we opened the coop to find no improvement and another rooster, Tiny, acting odd. He could barely walk and did so with a labored stagger. At this point I called a friend to ask if he thought I should have them checked out. Could there be an infection going around? I relayed many of the week’s events to him and his advice was to remove the roosters as their injuries were due to fighting and this element needed to be eliminated. Great, I thought. My husband was out with harvest and I had not taken care of putting down an animal before. I felt responsible for these guys as I was their main caregiver. My first thought was to call a neighbor, 10 or so miles away, but a neighbor none-the-less. I asked if he could give me the cliff notes on how to get this job done. He was on his way to check a water tank and said he would stop by. His three-year-old daughter was along for the ride and was wide-eyed to say the least. Her dad said he would take the rooster with him. What a great idea. That way my boys or his daughter did not have to witness the deed. We took the large cat carrier, opened the door and shoed the rooster in. I asked the little girl if she knew her dad was a rooster wrangler. She looked at me and with no words I knew she thought I was nuts. I did send her home with some chocolate chip cookies in hopes of exchanging her apprehension of me into tolerance. My boys were happy with the outcome at least for now.
When my husband returned home after 11:30 that night I filled him in on the drama. He said he would take a look at Snowball in the morning. Before he left that next morning he let me know that Snowball was not better and that he had taken care of him. OK, maybe things will settle down for the rest of the chickens and roosters. That was a nice thought.
That same morning the dogs were in the backyard eating breakfast and playing while we got ready to head into town. I checked on their water and came in and out of the house several times before leaving. Nothing was out of the ordinary. My youngest son had already gone out the door before my other son and I. He yelled for us to come see something. I was sure he had found a caterpillar or toad. No, wrong again. There in the backyard lay a dead white chicken. The dogs were chewing on her. Are you kidding me? Had she flown into the yard? The dogs had been around the chickens countless times without any incident. How had this happened? The dogs could tell I was disgusted and did as I commanded and marched into the house. They would be detained until the evidence could be collected. As I recounted the story to several people that day one person said of course the dogs killed the chicken because it came into their territory. I still do not want to believe that. My account is that a red-tailed hawk picked up the chicken, broke its neck and dropped it in the backyard while attempting to fly off. The dogs then began chewing on it. That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it!