By Bailey Cadman
One of the on-going challenges of keeping farm animals is protecting them from various predators. Around Shady Grove Ranch the main ones we have to watch out for are coyotes, hawks and skunks, especially since the fires have compromised some of the electric perimeter fencing. Our three dogs, especially our two Great Pyrenees guardian dogs, are a good amount of help: they put up quite a ruckus when they spot anything unusual on the property—whether the usual animal predators or the UPS truck!
Our flock of laying chickens is the most vulnerable right now. They are truly “pastured” chickens, living right out in the middle of one of the pastures, but are surrounded by a very large electric net fence, designed to keep them in and predators out. We also close the door on their mobile henhouse as soon as they all go inside around dusk. This two-pronged approach to protecting our valuable layers is pretty effective, but not 100%. We do occasionally lose hens to predation.
One evening as I was standing at some distance from the layers, waiting to close their door, watching them finishing up their last “bedtime snacks” and then heading, one by one, into the henhouse, I saw something so surprising that at first I thought I must be imagining it. However, I assured myself by watching on subsequent evenings, and even had my observations confirmed by my lovely wife, who assures me that I wasn’t just seeing things!
We have purchased three roosters for our flock of some eighty hens. Rooster serve several purposes in laying flocks: they (supposedly) protect the hens from harm; they (supposedly) intervene in any intra-hen squabbles. The hens also seem to be more settled when they have a “man” around. And, in addition, there may be an added nutritional benefit in having our eggs fertilized.
But back to the three roosters. I have given them very personal names—“One,” “Two,” and “Three.” Appropriately enough, “One” is the biggest, “Two” is middle-sized, and “Three” is the smallest. “One” has been with us longest, and he certainly thinks he is the flock’s (and maybe the world’s) Number One Rooster. He struts around like he thinks he’s every hen’s dream. He is also the only one who occasionally attacks me when I am working around the hens. What a great plan that is—attack the one who brings the feed and water!
However the amazing behavior which I discovered going on each evening around sunset was not One’s, but Two’s.
Two is, as I said, our middle-sized rooster. Both he and Three are far more laid back than One. They don’t strut around quite as “cocky,” you might say. And neither of them has ever attacked anyone on the Ranch. But Two is, in my judgment, the only real rooster in the place. Because he is the only one who acts like a real man!
As the sky darkens, the hens begin to enter the henhouse for the night. It takes ten or fifteen minutes for this process to complete. Some hens want a last bite of feed. Others go for a last sip of water before turning in. And a few will be off at some distance from the henhouse, still scratching around in the dirt for some tasty bug or worm to tide them over until morning.
Now I had just assumed that it was just a matter of waiting for the last hen to decide it would call it a day, and then I would close up the henhouse. But as I was standing and watching, I noticed that, although One and Three were already safely tucked up with the girls in the henhouse, Two was standing a few feet from the door, apparently standing guard as all the hens moseyed over and made the short hop into the henhouse. If there was a hen straggling, Two took a swift walk over to the hen and in just a moment, she was on her way (sometimes at fast speed!) into the henhouse. I personally could not hear what Two may have whispered, but whatever it was, any man would love to be let in on the secret!
As I observed over several evenings, sometimes Two would hop into the henhouse when several hens were still outside. When that happened he would invariably come back to the open door and peer out, apparently checking on the dawdlers. When he spotted delinquents, he hopped back outside onto the ground and ran over to them, making sure that they left off their culinary preoccupations and got into the roost. And each night it is only after every single hen is safely inside the henhouse that our otherwise unpretentious, but certainly our most valiant, rooster hops up into the house for the night.
You want my opinion? I think One would make a tasty chicken soup. Three is inoffensive, if ineffective. But Two—he’s the rooster who saves the chickens from all those mean hen-eating predators. He’s a rooster who is a real man!