When my last brood of chicks were maturing last summer, I identified three young cockerels that I absolutely loved. I had only planned to keep one or two, but all three of these were so captivating in different ways. The spunkiest and most active was all black with a floppy comb, which seemed like a slight drawback. I decided that if I had to narrow it down to two, he should be the one to go. I considered trying to sell him, since he seemed like such a fine specimen, but, sadly, he disappeared one night while roosting in a tree.
Greyscale, a black, grey, and white fellow with a red saddle impressed me at first by being the biggest, plus I liked his calm, laid-back manner. He clearly didn’t like fights and would patiently wait to eat until the more aggressive birds were finished. But he was eventually taken over in size by the more aggressive Embers, who was clearly the champion.
Embers is mostly dark-hued with shimmery, gold, neck feathers, hence the name. Since diversity is one element to be considered in building a breeding flock, I thought the two would make a great contrast. And clearly Greyscale was willing to accept Embers’ dominance, so I didn’t need to worry they’d fight.
However as time went on, Greyscale’s calmness turned to skittishness while Embers’ assertiveness turned to aggression — at least where Greyscale is concerned. Greyscale will run off screeching hysterically whenever Embers pecks at him or pulls his tail and now spends much of his time alone, far from the rest of the flock.
Undoubtedly, the shortage of hens and pullets is partly to blame for Embers’ total banishment of his rival. They seem to be “feeling their oats” more than ever, and with only four potential mates, one of whom is currently not in lay, it’s no wonder Embers want to corral them all. I’ve been hoping next fall, when I have a lot more females, each of them will get his share.
Of more concern, though, is that Greyscale allows himself to be bullied not only by Embers, but by the guinea hen, as well as one of the more aggressive pullets. With only one pullet that he dominates, he ranks second-to-lowest in the pecking order. Apparently he’s ignorant of the rule that roosters always dominate hens.
The only female who doesn’t follow Embers is the mature hen, who’s presently experiencing what must be the slowest molt on record. She’s not interested in male attention right now. But since she’s the only one Greyscale can get near, he’s taken to grabbing her by the neck feathers and trying to force himself on her while she shrieks and flaps furiously and manages to escape.
One day I saw him do a little prancing motion near her, which I’ve never seen one of my roosters do before. “Now,” I thought, “if he can do a mating dance, that would be a reason to keep him!” But the hen paid him no mind, and I haven’t seen him do it since. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed Embers trying out some similar moves, so maybe he’s learning it now.
Besides all this, Greyscale has sustained a slight bit of frostbite on his beautiful rose comb, while Embers has none. And when something spooks the flock, Greyscale seems to end up farthest away from the presumed danger.
Conventional wisdom says I should have culled him long before this. It’s costing me money to feed him, after all, and a few chicken dinners would be a welcome change from endless venison pot roasts. An extra rooster is useless baggage at this point unless his genes would contribute something outstanding to the flock; given his shortcomings, that seems doubtful. Trouble is, I feel sorry for the poor fellow, and I’ve gotten rather attached to him. I’m casting about for a really compelling reason either to keep him or cull him. Otherwise I’m afraid I’m stuck with a pet rooster!
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