Rest in Peace, Quasimodo


A lot of British people I know don’t use the word “rooster”. Instead they say “c**k” – which, as you see, I am too much of a prude to even type, much less say,  (unless it’s followed by an “-a-doodle-do” or an “er spaniel”). Too bad. I soooooo wanted to start this chicken update with the sentence:

“My c**k has been a real dick lately.”

A few weeks back, Rooster Gustav started charging at me – usually from behind – squawking and wings flapping. Then he would stop just short of me and try to make himself tall. The first few times it was half-hearted and I hardly noticed, but he got increasingly closer and more menacing. I am not absolutely sure, but I think he even pecked at my rubber boot once. To be honest, it freaked me out just a bit. But then my pride kicked in. I had been fancying myself something of a poultry savant for a while, and now this dicky . . . rooster . . . was challenging not only me, but my animal husbandry reputation. I had to do something.

First I asked chicken-keeping friends for advice.  Mark, my organic farmer slash teaching colleague, told me to “whack him”. I am not sure if he meant I should hit Gustav or turn him into drumsticks and white meat. In any case, this wasn’t my style. I consulted Google:

I’ll start by saying that the Number One solution to my problem seemed to be “stew pot” (also chillingly expressed as “culling”). The second most popular and somewhat more humane (however improbable) solution was “re-homing”. (Hey! Do any of you out there want an aggressive rooster? He’s free!!) From my more kindred spirits – the type of people who not only keep chickens, but blog about them – I got conflicting advice:

Hobby Farms told me to wear protective clothing  – long sleeves, high boots, (ski mask? protective goggles?) – and then crouch down and try to get Gustav to eat from my hand.

Countryside Daily said “In the rooster world, he who runs away, walks away, or hides is the loser”. I should stand my ground, raise my arms and flap them. If that doesn’t work – I should whack him.

Happy Chicken Coop recommended the opposite. I should give Gustav space. And respect. Slow and deliberate movements were the order of the day. But I should also be prepared to whack him if necessary. In so many words: speak softly and carry a big stick.

But then . . .

Picky to Plenty tells me not to pick a fight or to run. I should not reduce myself to the level of my adversary. Instead I should repeat this mantra to myself as I slowly walk backwards away from the rooster:  “I am not a chicken. I am not a chicken.”

Backyard Chickens said to never back away from a dicky rooster. His advice went on for pages and pages and contradicted itself continually. But he was the first to recommend picking up and petting Gustav. If that didn’t work, I should whack him.


What to do?

Let’s face it. Stew pot, culling, re-homing and whacking of any kind were all out of the question. So far, “Kill ‘em with Kindness” had worked for me in my own human life and, gosh darnit, it would work with chickens too. Each day, as I entered the range with a pitcher full of feed and a bottle of fresh water, the chickens swirled around me, Gustav included. I made a point of holding the feed in front of his beak. After a few days of this, an opportunity presented itself. Gustav had escaped the enclosure somehow and wanted back in. My husband and I cornered and captured him and I took him under my arm. He screamingly squawked and flapped for quite some time, but I held on until he was calm and quiet – it took maybe five minutes. I talked to him and petted him and then set him on the ground by his hens. He ruffled his feathers a bit and walked away from me.

The attacks seemed to come to an end. That was easy!

– – – –

(Two days later – i.e. today)

Since beginning to write this post, my poultry-related bona fides have been challenged a second and a third time.

I mentioned in the comments of my last post that one of our chicks was born with an injury or a birth defect. He had one normal eye and one big bulging eyed. We named him Quasimodo, which turned out to be somewhat prescient. As you might have guessed, he became something of a favorite. Unfortunately, I don’t think his popularity extended into the poultry world. Today I found him lying on his side taking his last gasps.

I buried him under the weeping willow tree and marked his grave with a rock. Then I went to feed the chickens. Gustav took an aggressive flying leap at me.

Today was not my best day.