Jessie Raymond: One rooster can spoil the flock

I got a new batch of day-old chicks in early May, and I’ve been watching them carefully — like a hawk, you might say, although I try to avoid such imagery around chickens — for signs of roosterishness.
When you order chicks for a flock of laying hens, you are told you have a one in 10 chance of ending up with a rooster. 
I’d say the real odds are considerably higher.
Until this year, I’ve never ordered more than six chicks at a time, and I’ve always gotten a rooster in the bunch. And this year, I pressed my luck by ordering eight birds.
It seemed inevitable that I’d end up with at least one male. But my probability-challenged brain reasoned that after all these years, I was due for a rooster-free batch.
The chicks spent their first three weeks brooding in our pantry. This is not to be confused with the brooding I do in the pantry — I’m just bitter because Mark still hasn’t finished the cabinetry. Their brooding was limited to staying warm and safe until they were old enough to move into the coop.
In an effort to make them more tame than past flocks, I’ve spent a lot of time hand feeding and handling them. One chick in particular has taken a liking to me. Whenever I visit them in their pen, she scurries up my arm and perches on my shoulder or nestles in the hood of my sweatshirt. So cute.
I named her Daphne. 
Things were looking good. My birds were acting more like pets than the indifferent lawn ornaments I’m used to, and for once it looked like I’d scored an all-female flock.
Not that there’s anything wrong with roosters. They look quite majestic. In fact, if you’re a flatlander going for a Vermont country homestead aesthetic, a rooster is practically mandatory.
And if you don’t mind the crowing — which goes on throughout the night, regardless of what you may have heard about “nature’s alarm clock” — you might even enjoy having a rooster around.
With a rooster, you’ll always have fertilized eggs on hand, either for your hens to hatch or for you to incubate and brood in your still-unfinished pantry. 
But if you just want eggs for eating, a rooster wastes a spot in your laying roster.
Also, roosters are cads. They’ll find a juicy worm or grub and then call a hen over with a flirty cluck and seductive dance. The hen, who never learns, comes running. But the moment she zeroes in on the treat, the rooster drops the act. 
I hate to be indelicate — at least in print — so let’s just say he will take advantage of her, in a nonconsensual and unromantic manner, and then strut away, straightening his tie and moving on to his next victim. 
It’s not a scene you’ll ever see in a Warren Kimble print.
I’ve had several roosters over the years, and most of them were quite well behaved, at least toward humans. Only one of our roosters, who had started off quite sweet, turned nasty when he grew up. 
The first time he really came at me, talons first, I responded (more out of panic than strategy) by roaring at him and chasing him around the yard screaming gibberish. The surprise factor seemed to work, and he settled right down after that.
A few days later, however, a fox got him, so I’m not sure if the lesson really took.
Every day I analyzed the girls for any roostery characteristics. These include, among other things, standing up tall instead of freezing when faced with an unfamiliar sight or sound, growing faster than the other birds and developing long and stringy neck feathers (called “hackles”) that resemble the hair of an unshowered 14-year-old boy. 
Until recently, I saw nothing like that.
Last week, however, I noticed that Daphne was looking quite a bit taller than the other girls. Also, she kept charging at them and knocking them out of her way.
I told myself she was just big-boned and clumsy. 
Then, Sunday morning, when I opened the coop door, Daphne muscled her way out first. Standing at the top of the little ramp, she surveyed the yard, took a deep breath and in a preschooler’s voice made a tentative and squeaky sound: a rudimentary but unmistakable rendition of the classic “cock-a-doodle-doo.”
It figures.
Daphne, I hereby dub thee “Duke.”

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