Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Three's A Crowd

Meet Wyatt. See him there? All black and white with glossy green tail feathers, just hanging with one of his ladies?  

Wyatt is the cock of our walk, the King of the Coop. He's the man.

He's our one remaining rooster.

See, we had three roosters. And three roosters among only eight hens is two too many. (Too bad I couldn't have figured out a way to work in "to" in that sentence, too. That would have thrown any of you who are just beginning to adopt the King's English. Who doesn't like a challenge?)


There is keen importance attached to the ratio of roosters to hens in a flock. Just ask the girls. I'd show evidence of that importance, but I respect my sisters and know I wouldn't want to be pictured when I look so bedraggled. Suffice it to say that when there are too many roosters forcing their attentions on too few hens, the girls show the wear and tear. Feathers ripped from their heads, shoulders, lower back and the base of their tails (I don't know what that's about. I've seen the roosters yank their heads back unceremoniously, or grab on tight with their talons dug into the ladies' shoulders, but not sure what the heck is up with plucking their lower back. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.)

Beyond the overuse, though, we had a bigger problem. One day a few weeks ago, my mother-in-law Sharron stumbled on a gruesome discovery behind the coop. Our hen Blackie was dead, appearing to have had her neck broken and the back of her head and neck pecked, well, to a pulp. We considered all the options - had the dogs gotten into the pen? No. Could a predator such as a raccoon or skunk have crawled in under the fence and killed her? Perhaps, but they most likely would have left evidence of a fight (feathers) and drug her away. A coyote? Don't see how one could have squeezed himself into the coop, first of all, and it's more typical he would have a) drug her off to devour at his leisure, b) created a pile of feathers from her initial fight, and/or c) tackled more than one hen, creating loads more carnage while he had a captive audience in the pen. Given the lack of evidence Blackie had put up a fight alongside the aforementioned considerations, we were left with the conclusion that the roosters did her in. A few days later, Sharron saw a rooster hop on one of the hens, then the other two boys came running up and started pecking on the hen's head while the first guy was still...umm...involved. Sharron shooed the other two away and our suspicions were confirmed. Blackie's death was murder.

We hadn't planned on having three roosters, but it was the luck of the draw at the Feed & Seed when we picked up our baby chicks this spring.  We didn't know until the little boogers started getting bigger what we had.

So what happened to other two roosters, you ask?

Well, this.

Sharron , the fast learning farmer, "took care of" (that's farm speak for "killed") the other two, with Mike's help, while I was off editing film for a video project. Mike helped her with getting the right heft behind the, well, "whack", and she did the rest -- scalding, plucking, eviscerating, cleaning and cutting up the roosters. It's the first time we've killed and eaten any of our own poultry.
Before we get into how that was, let me tell you why Wyatt was selected to be the surviving fella.
We spend time among our little flock and we observe their habits and characteristics. And, we've been around the block a few years now and have a sense of typical rooster behavior. We observed that one of the two ill-fated roosters was a bit "touched." That's genteel Southern speak for a little off your rocker; simple; oh, let's just say it, stupid. Stupid Roo (we didn't call him that while he was alive, swear; I just came up with the handy moniker for the purpose of distinction during this tale) would sort of wobble around the place, a little off kilter, stumbling here and there. He did not command any respect from the ladies, who would routinely run him off when he came around. Not King of the Coop behavior, whatsoever. Worse, he would dart in to do something mean to a hen if he got a chance, then would run off, occasionally looking over his shoulder and stumbling as he made his get away. Not exactly primo characteristics to be contributing to our future feathered gene pool.
Bully Boy, our other now gone rooster also not named that in life, was a meanie. He was more tolerated by the ladies, but he was just rough. He didn't have adoring girls who hung around him; they'd just let him bully them around as he did his business and then would have nothing to do with him.
Now, neither of these boys' character flaws were enough that we would have put them down if our rooster to hen ratio was acceptable; they just made the decision easier when it came down to who would get the axe. Or hatchet, as the case may be.
Where Stupid Roo and Bully Boy got it wrong, Wyatt gets it right. He has a little group of ladies who hang around him all the time; he's protective of his girls, keeping an eye on them throughout the day and calling to them when it's time to eat or go in for the night. Trust me, the girls like these qualities in their man.
Happily, we appear to have made the right decision. Our little flock is calmer and quieter. The ladies are looking less bedraggled. We aren't seeing any signs of unnecessary roughness. All is well.
So, how did it go eating the roosters? Well, we left it a little long. Ideally, you want to eat a young chicken. While the roosters just hatched late March, early April, that's still a little old for eating. You want them at 6 or 8 weeks old if you plan to eat them fresh. The chicken and dumplings made from these roosters were tough and stringy. We got a little grossed out and couldn't finish our bowls, but we had some happy dogs that evening.
While we boiled the meat for the dumplings, we pressure cooked the other meat that was used the next day in chicken enchiladas. That meat was more palatable. But, I think if we find ourselves eating older poultry again, we'll pressure can it first, which cooks the meat a lot longer and is supposed to take care of the toughness factor. I'm not sure we'll ever do much regular butchering on our farm, as it certainly hasn't been a regular occurrence up to now, but it's good to be learning the ins and outs of regular farm life. (I say this, having been in a nice clean television studio while the deed was done, but still.)
Well, there you have it. Another day in the life. How about you? Done any killing around your place lately? No? OK.
Love from the farm,

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