Monday to Friday, I get to make my children breakfast and see them off to school.
We wait at the end of the driveway for the big yellow schoolbus.
So happens the gal driving the bus is part of a big local farming family. Missus took prom photos for them some years back.
That’s what it’s like in the country. Circumstances delightfully “repurpose” inhabitants as needed.
She waves as she pulls away.
The kids waste no time waiting for the bus. They climb snow banks and barns.
Right until I spot yellow approaching a quarter mile up the street. Then they re-assemble, don backpacks, ready to embark.
But on this day, Charlie finds a wounded Cottontail recovering from what must have been a harrowing night.
There’s blood on the rabbit’s ear as it sits immobilized by an old stove. Coyotes are all around us, lurking, occasionally at any hour of the day.
We hear their yapping most nights, often just outside our bedroom window. They are big and healthy lately, perhaps bolstered by a peak rabbit year.
We find their scat all over, and sometimes what little is left of their kills in the mornings.
For this lucky bunny, last night was no kill, just scat.
This is the day…
Last year the fox killed a dozen of our workers, including Little Dude.
As we gathered corpses and shored up defences, the boy found chicken tracks leading into the forest. The two children and I followed them through the brush, a little snow still on the ground helping us find our way.
The Ancient Forest beside us has numerous old structures left standing from previous tenants who had constructed a great paint ball battle ground. It was to these that little not-yet-named Sir Omelette had fled. Reaching the end of the tracks, the three of us puzzled at how they seemed to disappear, and we stopped and looked around. There, on a board nailed across two trees about four feet up, stood this little chicken, just a few inches high himself at the time, pacing back and forth, making worried sounds.
I grabbed him and handed him off to daughter, and she tucked him safely into the crook of her arm and jacket while cooing reassurances to the escapee.
Back in the chicken pen, he was released to grow up some more, ample food, protected, and that is what he did. By late spring, he looked increasingly like his old man, and crowed a hoarse rooster call each morning soon after.
Alas, while rebuilding the flock on behalf of the company, Sir Omelette sired two sons. One was a virtual twin, the other a mix with a red hen that daughter called Fire Feather. That she is reading the Warrior Cats series no doubt influenced her and equally without a doubt, Fire Feather is an entirely appropriate name.
The problem became three roosters. I have tried that before; it is too hard on the hens. I am convinced Granny, one of my favourite chickens over the years, was weakened by a pair of juvenile roosters After she died, I killed them both. I also culled Sir Omelette’s lookalike son last week, something that the children and I debated over breakfast for most of the month. Daughter has no loyalty to the Little Dude looks and prefers the fiery looking rust colours of Fire Feather.
The problem is soon after, Fire Feather and Sir Omelette suddenly became mortal enemies. Sir Omelette realized two of the younger hens were aligned with his son, and without his son’s brother there, it was the time to strike.
Only Fire Feather fought back. Both birds were covered in dirt and circled each other menacingly each time they got close. In just a day, Sir Omelette was blinded in one eye, blood visible on his little rooster face.
The boy suggested we quarantine Sir Omelette in his own yard, splitting the flock between the roosters. I asked him how that would work, who would build a box for him, that sort of thing. He reassured me, “I will dad, I’m a big boy now.” He had my ear. And there is a penned off area at the back where we sometimes had put a new chicken for a few days until the others get used to them. It has an old doghouse converted into chicken coop we use for such occasions.
I sent daughter out to let the chickens out by herself this morning. I could see through the window as she walked among them examining the results. She came back in and told me it looked like Sir Omelette was blind in both eyes. I suspected she was exaggerating but the problem was no less severe. She reported that Sir Omelette was likely beyond repair. “Do you mean I should put him down, Charlie?” I asked. She nodded, then suggested I find some sleeping medication and feed that to him until he just goes to sleep.
I put the kids on the school bus and Remington the dog and I went out to have a look. Sure enough, Sir Omelette was staggering around the pen, attempting to fight Fire Feather, mistaking hens for roosters while lurching to and fro. I snatched him up in my arms and he was gone in moments.
It’s not my favourite thing to do, that is for sure. I liked that rooster; I liked him a lot for the ordeal he had suffered and the bond we had in rescuing him.
Roosters are remarkable animals. Like adult human males, they contribute only a tiny amount of DNA to new chicks. While women are the burdened but precious creators of life, we men are the expendable males but powerful defenders of life. It is the rooster we hear when a fox or coyote comes near. I’ll know his alarm all the way to my office at the front of the house. It is the rooster whose loud calling brings attention to the Cooper’s Hawk who might be sitting in a tree overlooking the flock.
When I feed the birds, the rooster eats last. First, he will pick up pieces of bread and put them back down to show the hens where the food is, making a short “tuk-tuk-tuk” noise while he is at it. Once the hens have all had a chance at the treat, then he will take some himself.
There may be lessons learned in all of this. I am not sure. I had three crowing roosters a week ago, now I have one.
He was a fine bird, and I am hoping it gave his life purpose to serve here at Rooster Acres.
For a man, dying for a cause is honourable, while killing for a cause is sometimes necessary.
Goodbye Sir Omelette.