The Trouble with Roosters
Two of our roosters, Reuben and Ramon, have been living in their own bachelor pad for a year and a half, and they had been doing quite well until a few weeks ago. I visited them nearly every day to check up on them and bring them treats, and they seemed happy and healthy. They didn’t have any ladies, but they had a lush green pasture with plenty of room to roam and bugs to hunt, and it was a pretty good life for a rooster. Reuben has been having some sort of trouble with his legs for quite some time, which causes him to walk very stiff-legged. Over the last few months he has had more and more difficulty walking. Not only are his legs stiff when he walks, but he seems to have trouble balancing at times, and his legs also seem to be getting weaker. He still walks around to eat and drink and peck at the grass a bit, and he always comes over to me for treat time, but usually he just sits and suns himself in the grass. The bachelor pad coop is elevated about 8 inches off the ground, and about a month ago Reuben started to spend hours at a time underneath the coop. It didn’t look too comfortable to me, and I wasn’t sure why he was choosing to spend his days there.
When I went to give the boys their treats a few weeks ago, Reuben was inside the coop and he didn’t come out when I called. I had to coax him out of the coop, and when he came out I could see that his comb looked like it had been injured and had some scabs on it. Ramon is the dominant rooster of the two, and he is always demonstrating that with his body language which involves some intimidating movements and getting really close to Reuben. Reuben has always turned the other cheek to Ramon, and I had never observed any hint of fighting between them. But on this day when Reuben came out of the coop, Ramon was a bit more aggressive toward Reuben, and in one quick motion he lunged at Reuben and pecked at his comb, leaving a little speck of blood. Reuben let out a little yelp and tried to run away on his wobbly legs. I watched the two of them for another minute or two, and it soon became clear that something had changed in their relationship. Reuben was definitely frightened of Ramon. It was sad seeing our once majestic big black rooster debilitated and unable to make a quick escape from his aggressor. I have read that when an alpha rooster starts to age and show signs of weakness that the other roosters in the flock will start picking on him and take him down a few notches in the pecking order. The pecking order can be ruthless, especially for a sick or injured bird. Although Ramon was already the dominant rooster, this change in his behavior toward Reuben had me more than a bit concerned. I had recently lost a hen to just this sort of bullying behavior, and I was not about to let that happen to Reuben.
I scooped Reuben up in my arms and carried him up to the main chicken pasture. It’s at times like this that I am so glad that I spent the time with my roosters to tame them so that I can pick them up without any difficulty whatsoever. We still had the temporary fencing up in the main chicken pasture that we had put up to separate the four teenage roosters a few months ago. I put Reuben in this fenced enclosure, got his food and water set up, and brought up a pet carrier that he could use for a temporary shelter to sleep in at night. I could tell immediately that Reuben was relieved to be separated from Ramon. He walked about his new accommodations a bit, had some food, and began to let out a few cock-a-doodle doos, which I hadn’t heard him do in a while. I imagined that Reuben was telling Ramon that he was back up in the main chicken pasture living the good life and in sight of the lovely ladies again.
It’s been 3 weeks since I separated Reuben from Ramon, and Reuben seems to really be enjoying himself. I bring him breakfast every morning, and he always wobbles over to greet me. Violet’s three chicks are now five months old, and are the lowest chickens in the pecking order, and they have discovered that they can fly over the fence into Reuben’s quarters to share in his breakfast and that they are not subject to the pecking that they get from the ladies when they try to eat breakfast with the rest of the flock. Reuben gets a little company which I think he enjoys. My sweet husband has built Reuben his own little rooster house (which puts us up to bachelor pad #3 now!) and is currently making a few other improvements to Reuben’s area to get it ready for winter. Although I’ve grown attached to all of our roosters, I have a special place in my heart for Reuben. Maybe it’s because he was so cute as a young rooster (Rooster Cogburn), or maybe it’s because of his big soulful black eyes. I’m not sure how much longer Reuben will be with us, but he’s one of the good ones, so I want to give him the best life possible while he is around.