A few weeks ago, Elly and Andy were sitting in the parlour (or sitting room to you young people), and suddenly Andy stood up to stare out the window. He called me over to ask what he was seeing; a smallish animal trotting across the field behind our house. I took a look and together we decided that the dog sized, greyish creature was a fox. Before we could secure the binoculars, he had disappeared into the trenches of our property line drainage ditch and that was that.
I remember remarking something about the fortune of having small carnivores on our premises to take care of rodent problems. It wasn’t until Andy returned from morning chores that we learned why that fox had been bee-lining his way off our land.
Andy found seven dead laying hens out by our mobile coop. A significant loss, considering they are older and producing really low egg numbers for our store (like 2-3 dozen per day out of 160 hens).
But then he dropped the bomb. The fox had taken out Reinhold as well. All that remained were some golden feathers right behind the house! That fox had killed our favorite rooster while we slept peacefully in our beds not 20 feet away. We could scarcely believe it.
Let me take you back a little bit. In February you may recall that we adopted a little black and white dog named Rio to be our new farm dog. You may also now realize that we haven’t mentioned Rio since that post. Just over a month after we welcomed him to our family, he was tragically hit on our busy road right in front of our eyes. It’s a miserable story to recall and I get misty just thinking about it, which is why we never posted a blog about him. We were too heart-broken to let everyone know what happened and just tried to get on with things at the farm without him.
I truly believe that the wild things in our area make note of what properties have dogs and which do not. All the years that we had a farm dog, we never had squirrels in our trees. The trees just across the road would be all a-twitter with chipmunk and squirrel activity, but they never ventured to our side; not even when our fruit trees teased them with ripe treats or our gardens were overflowing with great veggies.
The same held true for raccoons, skunks and foxes. Even coyotes were held at bay by the viscious barking of a 40-pound farm dog.
But the absence of a dog here on our land has been taken note of, and the wild things are beginning to return. Now, I’m all for an eco-friendly farmstead. It’s what we’re all about. The coyotes and turkeys and opossums and Sandhill cranes all have a place in our fields and woods.
But when they have the boldness to take out a beloved rooster right under our noses ... well that isn’t right. Reinhold was more than a rooster. He was our farm mascot.
Let me explain ...
When Andy and I first moved onto the farm and began renting the house from my parents, we were still city folk living on the farm. We didn’t work on it, Andy commuted 45 minutes one way to a sales job, and I stuck around the home with a baby Elly. Several months later, our next door neighbor got out of selling eggs and offered us her remaining 6 hens as a backyard flock. We gladly took them and began the joyful trail of chicken husbandry.
That very spring, we noticed that the lead hen, a big black lady named Rocket, was acting very broody over the nest of eggs. My dad suggested we find ourselves a rooster and see if she would hatch some chicks for us.
Within a week, we heard about Reinhold at a farm about 25 minutes away. He was an older boy, head rooster of a similar backyard flock, but was slated for the axe because the farmer no longer wanted to deal with an old rooster. We said we’d take him!
He came to us in the front seat of my sedan after the farmer’s wife and I chased him around and finally hooked him with a chicken catcher (these are long-handled rods with the ends curved around like a tiny shepherd’s hook to swipe under the fleeing chickens’ legs; ideally the hook catches a leg and the chicken is yours for the taking).
We intoduced him to the ladies and he took charge as if he’d always been their Man. Reinhold didn’t come with that name; it was some generic rooster name that I can’t recall. It didn’t fit him anyway. He looked too regal for that. He was pale yellow with a big proud tail and golden flecking on his wings. His crow was lusty and strong. He was alert and attentive to his new hens. He needed something unique.
Reinhold. It just came into my head and we went with it. And he totally lived up to his name by the end.
Rocket was allowed to set on a clutch of eggs and even hatched one! We had a nice fuzzy yellow baby for about two weeks. Then, three hens and the baby were taken out over the course of two nights by a racoon. The third night we caught him and took care of him the way farmers do. It was a devasting loss, and we could tell Rocket gave her life to protect that chick. Capturing the racoon was more satisfying than I ever thought I’d feel about it ... and it gave me pause. We had really grown attached to these chickens!
When we finally decided to free-range the flock of four that next summer, Reinhold took the timid hens out on “hunting” parties. These hens had never been free-ranged, but Reinhold had had the run of his other farm. He knew what to do and showed them all they ever needed to know about scratching out worms, pecking seed heads from grasses and snapping bugs out of the air. He would find a pocket of tasty bugs and dance and cluck until the hens came running. Then he would back up and let them feast.
He watched the perimeter and warned them when they should take cover. He helped them find the best places to sunbathe and dustbathe. They were a really nice group to see wandering around the yards.
Over time, we saw that he had developed an intentional relationship with Goldie, a robust golden hen that had taken Rocket’s place as lead hen. They could be seen foraging together, sunning together and even roosting next to each other at night. It was quite heartwarming.
In October of that year, we purchased 120 more laying hens and 8 roosters. When we introduced our small flock to this large group, Goldie got lost in the mix. We were never able to identify her again. Lady and Henny Penny were a little more unique looking, being Araucanas, so we can still pick them out to this day. Reinhold, however, had a little bit different experience.
While the hens just sort of assimilated into the group, the roosters had to re-establish pecking order. The eight that we got had already figured this out, as they had grown up together. Throwing elderly Reinhold into the bunch really cramped their heirarchy.
We feared for his life, with him being older and not as virile as the younger roosters. We feared this ... until we saw him in action.
Within two days, he had established himself has The Rooster of that chicken house, and all other roosters ran from him! We couldn’t believe it and actually felt a sense of pride seeing him chase off the competition with a ruffling of his golden feathers. He was OUR rooster, distinguishing himself from the crowd once again.
Over the long winter he had to daily establish his supremecy, and it began to wear on him. By the time we moved the chicken trailer to the fields this April, he had been beaten to the lowest ranking rooster and in fact had quit roosting with the group at all. He became an old loner, wandering around the outskirts of the flock and running from the roosters the way they once ran from him.
When we took them the quarter mile down to the cow pastures, Reinhold wandered back home. We returned him to the group twice before realizing that he was really unhappy with the flock. His big proud tail had been pecked away and sometimes he came back with blood on his feathers. We decided to let him stay here, to be our homestead rooster.
As May gave into June, we became accustomed to being awakened at 4 am to his crowing. Well, I did. Andy did not. Some mornings he started at 3:30 and Andy would stumble out of bed, yell a few choice words at Reinhold and slam the windows shut. After a moment or two of blessed silence, we’d hear an even more pointed, though very muffled “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” I’d smile to myself as Andy would stuff pillows over his head.
One evening in late July, we were relaxing on our patio and Reinhold came right up to us and searched around for food. We were amused at our “pet” chicken and happily threw him some of our grilled entrée. From then on, he was unashamed to come around all sorts of folks who came and went from our store. He would hang out in front of the house and crow all day. He snuck strawberries from our ever-bearing patch. He took beak-shaped snips out of our ripening tomatoes. He bedded down like an old man would at about 7 pm in the small cavity under our front porch.
Late in the summer, he began hanging out down the field by the rest of the flock. He’d walk the quarter mile in the early misty morning, crowing as he went. He’d stop at the pastured chick house and banter with the “young-uns” for a spell before making his way to the big chickens. Then we’d see him again, meandering his way back to the farmstead just before noon. Only this time, he wouldn’t be alone! He’d have a pretty young hen accompanying him all the way back to our front yard. They’d spend the day scratching and pecking, dirt bathing and sunning, hunting for bugs or exploring the garden. Then, as the shadows began to grow long, Reinhold and Miss Hen would make the long trek back to the mobile coop. Shortly before dusk, Reinhold would return to our patio, alone, and retire to his porch home for the night.
He was a true old gentleman. In the morning, he’d repeat the process all over again. In these ways, and many more, Reinhold became a beloved animal on our farm. True, we couldn’t hold him and cuddle him. He wasn’t producing anything of monetary worth. He could even be annoying at times! But he was a mainstay and a celebrity of sorts to the friends and family who got to see him trotting across the lawn in that peculiar fashion of his.
So the morning we saw that fox and then found his carnage ... I had to think to myself, did we hear Reinhold this morning? I had become so accustomed to hearing him that I almost didn’t hear him anymore.
We will never forget our first rooster. It’s funny to try to quantify to someone who’s never been close with poultry. Ha, indeed! Until we owned chickens, I wouldn’t have believed that was even possible. But it is. Those funny little birds have a way of scratching a small place into your heart.
Thank you Reinhold, for all the laughs and the joy. You were a wonderful old gent.