Posts tagged rooster aggression

A New Sheriff

We hatched Skana, our black beauty, just over two years ago.

Skana was a beauty - deep black and silver gray with some bronze in his saddle feathers. Although he was a Heinz 57 chicken, he may have had some Australorp in his genes

Skana was a beauty – deep black and silver-gray with some bronze in his saddle feathers. Although he was a Heinz 57 chicken, he may have had some Australorp in his genes

As a chick, he won our affections over his three brood brothers and attained the seat of honour and privilege within our small flock. He continued to hold his throne despite the efforts of four subsequent male offspring. We admired his rise up to alpha-chicken and appreciated how calm he was. Skana was bliss compared to our first roo, Roo – gentle with the hens, tolerant of us, excellent as an early-warning system. No hen was lost, hurt or killed during his reign.

Skana

Doing what he does best.

But, it seems to me that roosters wear out after a time. Skana had an awful crow (“scream-a-doodle-doo” like nails on a chalkboard) and, as time went on, he crowed more and more often. But more than the crowing, the true issue was the aggression. In recent months, my arms were regularly ripped up and scratched by his beak just from offering him scratch or other treats.  He had begun to chase after me too. So, with some pained consideration and discussions, we decided to fire him and get a new sheriff.

Waffles and Pancake came as a twin brother package, donated by FM’s co-worker. She had three young roos and three young hens and, from the treading marks on the hens, there was some nasty competition going on as they all reached sexual maturity. She gave us the two beautiful Lavender Orpington boys who we integrated into our flock of 11 hens.

Quickly dubbed "The Matrix Twins", Pancake and Waffles are Lavendar Orpingtons whose thick silver feathers shine an iridescent purple.

Quickly dubbed “The Matrix Twins”, Pancake and Waffles are Lavender Orpingtons whose thick silver feathers shine an iridescent purple.

Within a day or two, we could see that Pancake was going to be a problem. He was both extremely noisy and quite aggressive towards us. Waffles seemed to be the slower and dimmer of the pair, bamfoozled by the endless beauties that strutted by him at every turn. We gave them more time to settle in, thinking that Pancake was simply stressed out by the new surroundings. In the end, Waffles made the cut and Pancake ended up in the freezer.

Waffles has settled in nicely with our flock. He is remarkably quiet, crowing only a couple of times each morning and very occasionally otherwise. His crow is unusual, kind of like an old jalopy horn. He doesn’t mind being scooped up and can easily be removed from any situation. He will even contentedly sit on my lap and snooze.

But there are concerns with Waffles and we don’t know what is wrong. He seems to be bent to the left, as if he is perpetually looking over his shoulder.

Waffles' bent body makes him run and walk in semi-circle and often bumps into things like porch posts and furniture.

Waffles’ bent body makes him run and walk in semi-circle and he often bumps into things like porch posts and furniture.

sigh.

We can straighten his neck and stretch his neck longer but his body always curves back to his quadimodo posture. His left wing hangs down, almost untucked, and when he flaps, it does not fully unfurl. His head is often down, almost touching the ground, even though he is neither eating nor sleeping.

Sleeping on the job, Waffles is fighting some unknown illness. This head-sown, sleepy position is fairly typical.

Sleeping on the job, Waffles is fighting some unknown illness. This head-down, sleepy position is fairly typical.

He is ‘listless’, sleepy and often falls asleep standing up. Sometimes when I scoop him up, he burps or releases air in a strange way.

But despite these issues, he keeps an eye out for danger (sort of), makes the appropriate roostery sounds and gives all the girls a good chase now and then. We have real concerns for his health since we quite like this new sheriff and we don’t want him to wear out too soon.

Waffles may be the new alpha-chicken but he has no idea how to deal with the marauding band of ducks who are always on his tail. (Look carefully - there is a young buck beside the stump)

Waffles may be the new alpha-chicken but he has no idea how to deal with the marauding band of ducks who are always on his tail. (Look carefully – there is a young buck beside the stump)

 

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Two Many Roosters

Or This Queendom Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us

The correct ratio of roosters to hens is 1:10 or so, but we have kept two roosters and four hens. As usual we are determined to learn from experience rather than rely on what literature tells us. I prefer Skana with his charcoal plumage, his dark Australorp eyes and his patient demeanour when I scoop him. These attributes allow me to ignore his ‘scream-a-doodle-doo’ crow.

Skana is beautiful, with his charcoal black feathers and rilliant red comb. He lacks a true tail and his crow is like a blood-curdling scream.

Skana is beautiful, with his charcoal black feathers and brilliant red comb. He lacks a true tail and his crow is like a blood-curdling scream.

FM prefers Pingu with his iridescent green and purple plumage, gorgeous rooster tail and rare crowing but he is elusive and expertly avoids the daily scoop.

The sunlight brought out irridescent green and purple in Pingu's feathers. His tail was superb!

The sunlight brings out irridescent green and purple in Pingu’s feathers. His tail is superb!

Both boys get along with each other, having been raised together, but Skana is definitely the top cock. He roosts with the girls, grazes with the girls and has his pick of the girls. Pingu hangs out at the edge of the flock and occasionally tries to get in on the action but is quickly put in his place.

As a result, Pingu has taken a keen interest in the new chicks and has set his mind on establishing his own harem. Like a pedophile, he spends the days lurking around their fenced area, crowing and strutting for them. Eventually when we opened the fencing to allow the chicks a wider range, he was on them in a mating frenzy. The flying feathers and screeches of these two month old babies stressed all of us out as they were pursued beyond their enclosure and had trouble finding their way back.

It also puts strain on Skana. Upon hearing the panicked calls of the chicks, Skana runs from his flock to the chicks to Pingu, trying desperately to assess the danger and to discipline Pingu. As Pingu’s confidence grows, he has started edging in on Skana’s hens but does so in a sneaky and violent fashion.

Pingu is looking a little sneaky here. No doubt he is lurking near the baby chicks, waiting to terrify him with his manliness.

Pingu is looking a little sneaky here. No doubt he is lurking near the baby chicks, waiting to terrify him with his manliness.

The hens are able to keep their eye on Skana’s macho moves and scoot out of reach when they choose to but they constantly blind-sided by Pingu’s ungentlemanly pounce. Let’s just say that everyone has lost a lot of feathers and every egg had been fertilized at least twice. Two of our hens, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, have gone into a hard moult and I truly believe that it is partially due to the stress of being constantly pursued.

And I haven’t even mentioned the crowing. The quiet Pingu has now found his voice and uses it as an answer to each of Skana’s calls. Oh… the endless crowing — it stresses out all 15 of us!

This looks so quaint and picturesque but, in reality, wine glasses within a kilometer radius were shattering!

Skana’s morning crowing session – This looks so quaint and picturesque but, in reality, wine glasses within a kilometer radius were shattering!

And so, the fate of Pingu was decided at the young age of 5 months old. We killed him and processed him just as we had done with his two brothers a few months earlier. Pingu wasn’t a malicious guy at all. He was the right rooster in the wrong place. He was just a guy trying to make his mark and I’m sure he was well-intentioned. His downfall was his gender.

As a three month old cockerel, Pingu was a shy beauty with lovely green/black feathers.

Here, as a three month old cockerel, Pingu was a shy beauty with lovely green/black feathers.

Sadly his sister, SunnySide will be the only one who mourns his passing.

Once again, Skana has been selected as top cock. Here he stands on the rooftop to celebrate. SunnySide is mildly impressed.

Once again, Skana has been selected as top cock. Here he stands on the rooftop to celebrate. SunnySide is mildly impressed.

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Poor Roo is Dead

Poor Roo is dead

Poor Rooster Roo is dead

Gather ’round his stew pot now and cry.

He wasn’t very old

But he had NO heart of gold

That’s why such a fella had to die.

Roo - between crows

Roo – between crows

Yes, it is true. We put Roo out of our misery last Sunday. FM and I have spent about three months discussing his antics, observing his behaviour and trying to reason with him before we finally decided that he was unmanageable. We read endless articles and blogs about mean roosters and we both found solace in one that claimed “Life is too short to keep a nasty rooster”.

Roo was a heritage breed Chantecler, hatched at a local farm which specialized in a few heritage varieties. Looking back, we think that this flock had been so inbred over the years that negative characteristics were amplified. Funnily enough, we haven’t seen any bad temperament among his three sisters – although Croque Madame’s death could have been a result of heredity.

I explained his neurotic symptoms in a previous post but now those descriptions of his aggression seem tame. On any given Saturday, we would head outside early with a long list of chores but, soon enough, FM and I would both be back inside the house, trying to escape his endless crowing. And his attacks became truly dangerous. He would fly at us, claws first, over and over again for no apparent reason. I became quite a master at catching him mid-air and then holding him on my lap as a time-out. This would calm him down and he would usually drift off to sleep in my arms but the lesson never stuck. Mere minutes after being released, he would be back at it again. FM became highly attuned to the sound of Roo’s feet racing towards him as he mounted an attack from behind.

I was especially upset to hear that he even attacked Ginny when she was doing us the favour of collecting eggs and refilling water while we were away last weekend for Thanksgiving. This was a sign that his aggressive behaviour was universal, not just against us, his captors.

We were considering catching Roo and taking him to the local butcher for processing. I didn’t think that I could take part or be witness to his death. But then I read an article by Erica at Northwest Edible Life (an amazing blog, BTW) that changed my tune. This is the meat of her article:

[They are] Your chickens, your adoption, your decision, your responsibility to see it through to the end. You do not get to embrace the idea of a more intimate relationship with your food chain and then make that food chain – the food chain you specifically set up – someone else’s problem when shit gets real.

I suddenly realised that, by being a chicken farmer and reaping the rewards of our hens, we had to take real responsibility for our chickens when it was time for them to be dispatched.

And so, while awash in tears, I caught and held Roo, helped FM place a milk-jug cone over his head and held him tightly upside-down as FM slit his jugular. It wasn’t pretty and we definitely have room for improvement in our slaughtering technique (thanks youtube!), but we did it. Although I participated in all of it, FM did the work – slitting, chopping and gutting – while I blubbered away.

And, since you asked, Yes, we will eat him. Why wouldn’t we? He was fed the best feed around, got plenty of outdoor time and breathed fresh air. And despite his nasty disposition, he was loved. Would you like to come over for a fabulous Coq Au Vin on Saturday?

Poor Roo is dead

Poor Rooster Roo is dead

We can still hear his crowing loud and clear

The chickies in the coop

Will miss that clumsy goof

But his attacks will no longer bring us fear.

Roo in the foreground

Roo in the foreground

Roo – a hideous molt!

Roo - ever curious and helpful!

Roo – ever curious and helpful!

Here he is, mid-crow, as Chip and I have our morning chat over coffee.

Here he is, mid-crow, interrupting my morning chat with Chip over coffee. (Yes I do have a Chip on my shoulder!)

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That’s One Unruly Cock

Two months have passed since I posted the video of our rooster’s first cute attempts at crowing. During those two months, we have had our share of listening to him crow and we no longer think it is cute or funny or anything like that. In fact, very little about him is endearing in any way at all.

Ever aware of our movements and actions, this beady-eyed little demon may have his days numbered.

Ever aware of our movements and actions, this beady-eyed little demon may have his days numbered.

Last month while the hydro company was clearing the branches with a power saw near the hydro wires on our street, Roo crowed incessantly for nine hours, three days in a row. He crowed even after his crow cracked and he began to lose his voice. He crowed so much that he would drop off into an exhausted sleep in between crowing sessions.

Soon after that, we discovered that he crows in response to the whirr of power tools. If you use the power drill once, he will crow about 7 times in response. If he hears the chainsaw, the circular saw, the tractor or any other machinery, he crows. Unfortunately, these are the sounds of the Queendom (and our entire neighbourhood) – especially on weekends. We now gladly don our hearing protection whenever we undertake a project!

If we thought that the crowing was a bother, then we were in for a surprise when the attacks began. A few weekends ago, FM had the planer out and spent a couple of hours preparing boards for the next great project. Roo, of course, crowed in response to the noise and came closer and closer to watch. Soon enough, Roo was hurling himself, claws first, at FM over and over. His head would lower in a downward dog position, his wings would drop to the ground and his white cape would flare out just before he would launch. FM deflected the attacks with the planed board but had to keep one eye on Roo for the rest of the day.

This initial series of attacks has now become a regular occurrence. Roo has decided that FM is a constant threat and moves to attack him often when FM goes near the shop door. One morning, while retrieving his bike to begin his commute to work, FM found Roo stalking him and once again had to deflect the attack with the bicycle. Although I am not yet on Roo’s enemy list, he has attacked me twice, but both were related to food distribution so I discount them.

I have done some reading about rooster behaviour. One theory says that there is an alpha-rooster in every flock and regular battles occur in order to establish the alpha. Roo’s behaviour shows that he sees FM as a rival and is initiating pecking order battles with him. Advice points to keeping Roo lower on the scale through a few behaviour modifications to establish the alpha:

  • don’t let Roo mate with the hens in your presence, since a lower rooster would not have this privilege in a flock. We now have a water spray bottle at hand whenever we are outside with them
  • respond to his attacks with assertiveness. FM now chases Roo all over the yard when he shows aggression
  • isolate him from his hens. We have done this once or twice in the new chicken run but that means that the hens don’t have access to their nesting boxes and we don’t want them to choose new places to lay

FM is chasing Roo around to let him know who is the Queendom’s alpha cock on the block

In order to get any projects done, we have taken to locking Roo up in the chicken run with the hens but that doesn’t prevent the sound of crowing from boring into our heads and making us crave a little stewed chicken for dinner. ‘Cock on the Chopping Block’ may be the title of a future instalment.

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