So, I ventured into the area of chicken ownership. I have a coop with 7 hens. That’s out of the total 18 chicks I purchased in the spring–one round was a set of 6 black pullets, and the second round was straight run. I knew with the straight run I would likely have roosters, and it wasn’t long before I had two confirmed leghorn roos. They are flighty and goofy and crowed their way straight to my heart. Bastards.
As the summer progressed, and Jason and I put together a new coop, struggled with the rattlesnake population, tried out a garden, and put together the solar array, I saw that dreaded mounting and butt wiggle behavior inside my henhouse. We decided to start kicking them out of the coop. In the meantime, we also bought a round of guinea chicks, who somehow miraculously survived to adulthood, and we’ve only lost one to the resident predatory birds.
Some of them have names. The two leghorn boys are Fabio and Romeo, the latter of which is chill and sweet. I have a pretty hen with red head feathers(Redhead), a black hen with green iridescent feathers(Magical Beast or Mag), and I HAD a white leghorn female I used to call Bitch, but now is Butch. Butch now lives with the boys.
Before we started kicking them out, Jason built a condo on the side of the coop. Its basically a slant roofed box with perches inside. We wanted them to have a safer spot than the trees, since we have owls and hawks. We started with the two leghorn boys.
Then there was Spot, the biggest of the roos, a black barred Wyandotte. After that came Greenie, then Buttfeather(named for the period when the others had plucked out all his tail feathers and I thought he was a she), and Twinny. The last three all looked the same–white with a few black markings, and green tails. They were jerks. Last to be identified was Gimpy, named so for the bad leg and limpy pidgin walk–he got to stay with the girls. They would cram into that tiny condo, and Jason added another perch. Then we got the Guinea shed, and finally moved those loud smelly goobers out there. You talk about really, really stupid birds…and I thought chickens were dumb. We got them to annoy the hell out of the snakes.
When I tried to let Butch out, it was evident that the condo was just too small. Butch, being not an actual rooster, but having taken on rooster characteristics, was a bit gentler on the girls, and kept Gimpy in his place. I tried to release him too, but the others ganged up on him and nearly killed him in the first 20 minutes of his freedom. Yes, I had pity and put him back…for a time.
Spot got huge…and really photogenic, as my friend Audra discovered during her first visit to the ranch. He was indeed pretty, and I hoped to keep him and the leghorns.
Then some weird stuff happened…
One night, one of the white Wyandottes came cackling and flapping up to our kitchen door, obviously scared. He was out by himself after dark. The roos were good at putting themselves to bed by sundown, which was early in November. Jason and I went out in the cold at 10:30 to investigate; the best we could guess was a predator visited, and this roo happened to be the one closest to the door of the little shed. The guineas were fine, as they lived completely closed up at the time…so we chased him across our half-frozen pond, I picked his idiot butt up, and put him in with the guineas for the night, since he was cold and wet, and they have a heat lamp.
Next night, same thing got our attention, same time! This time, all the roos were scattered, and we spent a little time catching them all and tossing them into the much larger guinea shed. They all acted dazed and confused, and Romeo had a really ugly leg wound. After that came a week or two of the Wyandottes picking fights with the Leghorns, then with ME. Seriously, they attacked me spurs first. Spot started it one day, kicking at my boots. After tending to Romeo’s leg for a few days, they attacked Fabio. He was a glorious bloody mess, so I put both the leghorns into the old coop to recover. I like them; they’ve never attacked me or been snotty. Romeo got used to me picking him up to check his leg. Fabio got a good washing. Maybe I care too damn much, but watching them sweetly coo through the hen house fence to their ladies is really something.
Christmas day, one of the white Wyandottes flat out attacked the back of my knee and left a mark through my pants.
I walked back into the house and told Jason. “Hey, it’s slaughter time. Lets try out the plucker today.”
Like the supportive man he is, he went with it. Later that afternoon, Spot(I discovered he was the biggest bully and he came at me most frequently) and Gimpy(I wanted him out of the coop) became breast and leg meat. As a team, we discovered that Jason is great at butchering, and I have the right kind of fortitude to kill them, cut off their heads, and pluck them. I tried my hand at butchering, but nicked an intestine, and we ended up doing something more like a wild fowl slaughter–saving breasts and legs only.
This is how I now know how hot bird blood feels. I wore nitrile gloves, of course–I wouldn’t do this without–but when you put a chicken head first into a cone, they still struggle and try to hide their head. No matter what the “experts” say, the cone isn’t that calming. I held their heads and stared them down while they bled out on me. No, I wasn’t grossed out. I felt this was a spiritual thing–to be close to the thing you eat, to feed it and care for it(even when it acts like a complete jerk), and to someday collect on the relationship. I think it did bother Jason a little, and later he admitted it. That’s ok, it’s not everyone’s thing. I let him handle the rest of the butchering that evening, and when we finally had some good meat, I brined it. The breasts went into soup, and the legs we saved for the smoker. Won’t be smoking our roos again, too gamey, but soup will always work. It’s one of those activities I really feel all kids should have to do at some point–I know 4-H and some school ag programs do teach this, but they don’t raise it with the intention to eat it, care for it, and hell, even love the animal, to initiate that energy exchange by their own hand later.
Circle of Life, ya know?
So I spent my Christmas slaughtering two of my jerk roosters. Since then I’ve sequestered the rest of the Wyandottes(to make them easier to catch for slaughter in the near future) and allowed the healed-up leghorns to have their territory back. Still the chillest birds…way nicer to the guineas, and to me. Butch now resides with her brothers. She likes to hang out with me when I’m out taking care of food and water. I am certain my hens enjoy no longer having Gimpy clumsily attempt to mate. The Leghorns cluck sweetly to the hens through their fence.
It’s far more relaxed now. I like it this way. The sheep beg for attention, the guineas have learned what the scratch scoop means, the leghorns don’t attack me, the jerk roos are locked up, the hens seem happier, and have been producing more than enough eggs for me. We’ll have chicken soup again in the near future, and not have to worry about chicken blood again for a long time.