If you read the chicken update in my last Around The Homestead post, then it likely comes as no surprise that Lord B was the first rooster culled. Had circumstances been different, it was not a choice we would have made. It was his nonacceptance of the new chickens, and the ongoing conflict and chaos that resulted, which made it impossible to keep him.
He'd seemed a near perfect rooster: good personality, protective and deferential toward his hens, not aggressive toward humans, and provided us with hours of entertainment. He always came running when I called him, and would accompany us anytime we took a walk around the fields. As he got older however, he began to show more aggressive tendencies. He threatened to attack me twice for trying to shoo him, and Dan once, for imitating his rooster dance. This caused me to begin to keep an eye on him, but the real problem was that he was not receptive of the new chicks. Once the young cockerels began to mature, there was constant crowing and chasing and cornering and attacking. One option would have been to butcher all the young cockerels earlier than we originally planned. That would eliminate the male competition, but His Lordship didn't like the pullets either. The other option was to eliminate him.
In decision making, we fell back on our homestead goals. We would like to keep a heritage, dual purpose breed flock. Initially we thought it would be Barred Hollands, because we really liked the look of ours. They and their eggs are somewhat small however, so we considered other breeds. That was why we got the Buff Orpington chicks. The bigger goal however, is to be as food self-sufficient as possible. That means we need to perpetuate our chickens. I figure if we can hatch some homestead chicks every year, we can keep ourselves in eggs with occasional meat. If B wouldn't accept expansion of his flock now, he wouldn't next year either, or the year after that.
The dispatch went much more quickly and smoothly than our first experiences. This time around we scalded the carcass and what a difference that made. It was a breeze to pluck! Because he was an older bird (almost 2 years) we used a temp of 180 F for 60 seconds. Temperature and time vary according to age and size, (insert nod to Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living here.)
We have to agree with Herrick Kimball, that butchering chickens will never be something we'll actually like to do. Taking responsibility for what we eat though, is something that comes with the agrarian lifestyle. In the end you don't dwell on it, you just do it. Emotions? A tinge of remorse beforehand; afterward, relief.
My hopes of at least a temporary peace in the chicken yard were short lived. As soon as Lord B was gone, somebody started crowing, almost nonstop. It turned out to be the roo that His Lordship had picked on and chased the most. The entire flock sensed the change, and our original hens hung back that morning. The first to emerge from the coop was jumped on by about half a dozen of the young roos. They chased her mercilessly and probably would have killed her except that I interfered. Soon they spread out into the pasture, and the crowing commenced.
As the morning matured, things gradually settled down somewhat. There were still squabbles aplenty and jockeying for new positions in the pecking order. Since the two groups of chickens never integrated into one flock, we essentially had two flocks who shared the same quarters. With their protector gone, my older hens were now the ones being picked on, especially those who were meanest to the chicks. We later thought we should have done several of the cockerels at the same time, to upset their social order as well. That may have prevented some of the ganging up, but I wasn't sure yet which ones to cull first. This is something I would definitely do differently, should we ever be faced with a similar situation.
For us, life resumed as usual with no sense of sadness or grief. Still, there was a peripheral awareness that something had changed. It wasn't just the loss of a rooster, a particular rooster. It was because B about his business, had been a fixture in the mental landscape of our homestead. It was as though the infancy of our dream had come to its close.
Next comes the job of choosing a new rooster. We need to get on with this soon so that things will settle down. I don't want an aggressive bully, nor a scardy cat that runs away at the first loud noise (we've had both.) Nor do I want the "friendliest" rooster. What initially appears to be friendly behavior toward humans is actually boldness without fear. Based on the experience of others, I've learned that these often turn out to be the most aggressive toward humans as they mature. What makes it hard, is that being the same breed, they all look pretty much alike. It will be difficult to keep track of the ones with the qualities I'm looking for, the potential candidates. There are at least two who seem to be getting along with everybody, so I observe carefully to find something distinguishing about them.
On the other hand, having only one breed makes culling easier in some ways. They all look alike, so distinct identities are obscure. Two other things help. One, is to never think of them as pets, to make a deliberate choice to not develop an emotional bond to them. That's why we never technically named our chickens, though in describing them I often said Lady (breed) rather than The (breed). The B in Lord B's name is actually for his breed, Barred Holland. The other, is to not assign human emotions to them. They do have their own emotions and opinions, but I have begun to realize that animals do not perceive life and death as people do. Perhaps this is because animals do not have the spiritual decisions to make that people do.
I have only one photo. Considering my topic it's not offensive, but I still debated whether or not to show it to you. For some reason it just struck me as terribly humorous, which perhaps is incongruous with the rest of this post. At any rate, here it is.
I can only add that a slow cooker or crock pot is the best way to deal with an older, tougher bird. And with that, life goes on.