So there he is. This is the fella we have selected to grow out for our free-range flock. I'm hoping he's either too shy or too bold to get bullied around by our number one rooster (Roosteau) when the time comes. I think I'm going to call him Chevalier. Just because.
He has the beginnings of a beautiful comb and wattles. His feathers are full and not too orange for my liking. And I think he's going to be a big boy. Also -- his crow is pretty musical for a beginner. Don't let anyone tell you that your rooster's crow doesn't matter. You're going to hear it one hundred times per day so it better be a somewhat pleasant sound.
For over six years now we have raised our flock of Buff Orpington chickens. We range as many as 75 and as few as 25 at a time. We also always keep at least two roosters out with the hens every day, all day. I have bragged on these roosters for all of these years - having never had an issue with the boys fighting or otherwise causing trouble. I had been told that roosters will fight if there aren't enough girls to go around and I was always sure to keep the rooster-hen ratio just right. And I patted myself on the back, too. MY roosters NEVER fight because I am the chicken whisperer....
But a few weeks ago we found both of our mature roosters bloody and huddled in the cold rain. Honestly, we were stumped as far as what had happened to them. Equally wounded and missing a fair amount of feathers, we speculated that perhaps they had both nobly fought off an attacker in the rain. Or maybe the peacocks beat the poor sweet boys mercilessly when we were not looking. We even hypothetically blamed Loreto the Donkey because he's usually to blame for just about everything.
Things were quiet for a couple of weeks after that. The wounds mostly healed with just a few tale-tell scars left behind. It was peaceful.
And then we caught them fighting. Brutally fighting. Neither one ran. Neither one showed any signs of backing down. They went after one another for at least an hour before we got out the water hose and tried to break things up. It didn't work. We had bloody, angry, WET roosters fighting in the driveway.
With no clue what to do, one of the kids rounded up one of the roosters into one of the chicken coops for some solitary confinement so they could both heal while we contemplated our next steps. But the roosters stalked one another and fought as best they could through the coop wire day in and day out. It was obvious that these two were never going to call a truce. We ultimately decided to release the caged rooster and let the two of them work it out in whatever way was going to be best for our flock. Apparently, the best thing was for one of them to win. The other is gone. Not necessarily dead by rooster-fight.. but gone. We are not asking any questions about his whereabouts now. It's sad. But it's over.
So what happened? Both roosters had enough hens between them. They also had plenty of territory to claim for their own without infringing on the other with just over 17 acres to roam. Food is plentiful this time of year and I have always been sure to do any supplemental feeding at at least two different locations during the day so that the boys can claim their own space. They were raised together as chicks and have been together for two years without previous incident. Everything I have ever read about keeping roosters together successfully had been covered. And ... Don't forget.. We had been doing it for six years without a problem. And, hello? Chicken whisperer? Remember?
I think this falls on these particular roosters. Yes, they were raised together, but more importantly they were exactly the same age. They both reached full hormonal maturity at the same time this spring. They also were evenly matched in size - so much so that it was pretty hard to tell them apart most of the time.
In the past I had always kept one mature rooster with the hens while I raised the secondary rooster from a different batch of chicks. What this meant was that we always had at least one older rooster who was boss. The younger roosters would challenge him when they came into their own - but it really didn't take much other than a good display of awesomeness to send the younger boys running back into the little territories they had carved out for themselves.
Given the fact that we exclusively free-range, we rarely kept a single rooster for a full two years. Roosters do tend to end up getting themselves uh... eliminated... in the process of looking after the flock. So we would often lose that boss rooster who would be replaced by one of the younger roosters... while we grew out another young rooster... and so on. This time.. it didn't happen that way. Both of these roosters, exactly the same age, managed to survive a full two years... There was no boss rooster and young challenger. Just two bosses and one flock of hens. And me, chicken whisperer, paying absolutely no attention to what was going on....
We will be growing out a young rooster to take up secondary position by the end of this summer and will be paying close attention to stature and attitude this time. Hopefully, as long as one or the other of them will just LOOK LIKE a clear winner - there will be no more need for fighting. In the meantime, we have peace... and one bedraggled, yet victorious, rooster.
As anyone who maintains a small farm knows, you cannot always keep animals just because they are cute. They need to serve some practical function as well. What can a flock of geese do for you?
The guardian goose.
There is a blog post or a YouTube video floating around out there somewhere that suggests keeping a single goose with your chicken flock to protect them from predators. I have never personally encountered the original source of this information, but I have read enough blogs and such to have encountered the reference repeatedly. A lot of our customers also come out to our place looking for a 'guardian goose' for their flock. They tell me that they read that they could raise a single gosling with their chickens and it will bond with the chickens and fight to defend them as part of its own flock.
I really hate to burst bubbles here, but it simply is not true. I will give the benefit of the doubt and say that individual animals have their quirks - and it is possible that someone somewhere ended up with a goose that seemed to do exactly what they are advertising. However, such a goose is an exception and, if he does indeed exist out there, he is in imminent danger.
In our experience, a single goose will not actually bond with chickens (or guineas or turkeys and so on) no matter how young the goose is when you bring him home. It is within the realm of possibility, though I am purely speculating here, that if a gosling were actually hatched by a chicken he would imprint on the chicken and, therefore, appear to have bonded with the other chickens. However, imprinting happens a lot earlier than a couple days later when you bring a gosling home from someone else's farm. Bonding is something else entirely. A goose bond is very strong and it is not handed out all willy-nilly to any other creature just because it happens to have wings. A goose will bond with another goose if another goose is available, but a lonely gander's second choice is... you. (Because if that gosling had been incubated and hatched by humans, chances are high that he imprinted on a human.) Sure, you may be able to isolate a goose to the point of him following your chickens around in desperation for company, but he is not going to stick his neck out (pun intended) to defend those chickens. Any such behavior is self-defense and nothing more.
And this is where the real problem comes in: A single goose cannot defend itself against a determined predator. A flock of geese work together to defend their territory - circling, honking, hissing, and snapping like a multi-headed monster. To the unwary predator, that is exactly what the flock is. It is no longer a scattering of meal-sized birds, but a single, immense, obnoxious, and potentially painful creature that is just not worth the trouble for a snack. If you are following me here, you can clearly see how one goose and a flock of chickens cannot produce the same effect.
If you have only found us through our website and this blog, then you may not be aware that we have a pair of Indian Blue peafowl. They are not listed under 'Critters' on our page. They do not even get an honorable mention. There is a very good reason for that. You see, when we were putting our website together, we were not completely sure that we even had peafowl. There's a story here....
I have always been fascinated by the study of animal behavior. As a matter of fact, behavioral science was my minor in college for a time. (Until I could not manage to pass organic chemistry. Three times. Consider that a closed door.) When I spend my days (and sometimes nights) here surrounded by and observing animals of all kinds - I am in my happy place.
I love animals. I am an animal lover. However, I have noticed that I am not an animal lover in quite the same was as a lot of my animal-loving peers. You see, I love animals best when they are being animals.
I am not, in fact, a robot. I do enjoy cuddly moments of human interaction with creatures. It's just that I especially love to be near animals when they are doing what is most natural for them. That may sound sort of crunchy and far-out groovy, but really it is practical. Animals behave better when they are behaving naturally. The clincher is figuring out what is natural for them -- and what is not.
We often choose what is not good for us.
Put down that Little Debbie snack cake and read that again: We often choose what is not good for us. You could blame it entirely on free will - a rather important thing that other animals lack as they depend on instinct alone. But you would be missing a key to the puzzle. In addition to free will, we humans also have instincts. Reaching for that Twinkie may be more instinctual than you think.
But wait! Twinkies are not natural! How could I have an instinctual drive to eat Twinkies? Why do chickens eat styrofoam when there is a bowl of fresh, organic, non-GMO chicken feed right there? Why does your goat stand out in the cold rain next to his shelter all day?
There is a long and complicated answer to this question that is far too meaty for a mere blog post. However, it essentially comes down to one thing: Stress.