Mr. Rooster: A chivalrous protector of a tick eating flock

As a child, I did not grow up with any livestock. But I lived in a rural place in farm country and many of my friends had small flocks of chickens. I was never chased or attacked by any of their roosters, although I do remember, at 4, being terrified of my best friend’s chinese geese which often did attack and chase us while we ran screaming for cover, hoping our little legs would be fast enough to save us from being pecked by those big beaks or thrashed by those huge powerful wings. Yet, I did occasionally hear stories about mythical roosters that were supposed to be as mean as these feared geese of my childhood.

Author Joyce Carol Oates, in her piece “The Rooster,” describes her intense love for the rooster who lived at her grandparent’s house, who was evidently quite aggressive and often attacked her, actually catching her and drawing blood on many occasions. She writes, “As a little girl I ran crying to my grandmother to ask: Why does Mr. Rooster hate me?—and my grandmother told me in her heavily accented English, Don’t be silly. The rooster doesn’t hate you, he is just a rooster. Always you should know, that is what roosters do.”  I have owned a lot of roosters, and I have never known one to peck or attack anyone other than another rooster. You can read it here.

When we decided to raise chickens to control the tick population at our home, we naturally discussed the possibility of aggressive roosters and agreed that unfriendly roosters would not be absolutely unacceptable and that we would only keep friendly roosters. That aggressiveness, in our opinion, was not an acceptable rooster trait. We didn’t really know what we were doing. When I first brought home the 6 baby chicks that had been raised by the kids at my school, two of them turned out to be roosters. Both were bantam breeds that would never grow to be very large. They were incredibly sweet and neither of them would have ever imagined chasing us or harming any of their friends. We were about to learn many hard lessons once we began keeping free range chickens, and the first one came when we lost one of those first sweet little roosters to a predator. We started searching for a larger, more protective rooster, understanding this was how a flock of free range chickens worked. You had to let the birds out for them to eat the ticks but that put them at risk for predators. We knew now that small roosters simply weren’t capable of protecting even themselves, let alone the entire flock. My partner found a couple of roosters not far away, and purchased one for $10.

Gentleman Bill

We soon researched this breed and learned it was a heritage breed native to new york that seemed to have all the characteristics we wanted. And he quickly proved all the people who told me roosters were something to be feared completely wrong. This guy was a total gentlemen.  He was completely docile towards people, and a perfect gentleman with the ladies of the flock. When you fed the birds, he’d make sure all the ladies found the food and ate some before having any for himself. Whenever he found tasty bugs or other treats out in the yard, he always offered them to the hens, and never ate them himself. He made sure the hens stayed together in small groups and was quick to warn everyone of predators. He did everything we hoped a rooster would. He was a very docile guy and didn’t mind letting my daughter pick him up to practice showing chickens. He was particularly smitten with a new hen who arrived to us one day, and hardly ever seemed to eat anything himself after she showed up, as he always offered every morsel to her first. We decided to call him Bill, and the new hen became Hillary. We couldn’t have been happier with our new rooster.

Hillary

Months passed and Bill continued to do his job guarding the flock, warning them of danger, and helping them eat all the ticks. One day, when we returned home from work and went to check on our chickens, we noticed something was wrong. One of the hens seemed to have been injured. And our head rooster Bill was nowhere to be seen. We scoured the area, and eventually found his wing and a pile of feathers in the woods. When we examined the hen we found most of one side of her butt had been very seriously bitten. We were able to piece together what had happened based on the clues left behind. A coyote had come to our yard that day, and managed to grab part of one of the hens, looking for a tasty lunch. Bill, the chivalrous gentleman duty bound to protect the ladies, had sprung into action and sacrificed himself to save the girls. And it had worked. None of the other hens had been harmed and the injured hen eventually healed nicely and suffered no lingering effects besides a crooked butt. But poor Bill was lost.

Everyone knows a rooster is supposed to let us all know when the dawn arrives, an important responsibility that roosters were given a long time ago. A job many people see as holding very little value in these days of technology and alarm clocks. And, of course, everyone knows you can’t make more chickens without roosters either. But not everyone knows how integral they are to the flock in other ways.
The flock cannot function properly without roosters.
As in many animal groups, we are all given different roles. The hens lay the eggs, hatch the eggs, and raise the babies. While they are busy doing all of that, and finding enough food to fuel themselves, they pay little attention to anything else. This makes them particularly vulnerable to predators. So roosters are given the task of protecting them while they take care of the eggs and babies.

cream crested legbar roo

We learned quite quickly that having a rooster for protection is imperative. Unfortunately, that was reinforced for us when the town told us we are no longer allowed to have any roosters and forced us to get rid of ours. Without the roosters to guide them, help them find food, and warn them of danger, our remaining hens rapidly began to be lost to the predators. In the couple of months since we had to get rid of our roosters, we have lost over a dozen hens, many of which had lived here in harmony with the predators for many years, many who had been born and raised right here at our home. Tragic  and sad losses that should not have to occur.

Raising free range chickens in a rural, wooded area rich with hungry predators is in no way sustainable without allowing people to have at least one rooster. A free range flock in predator country is just a bunch of sitting ducks without a rooster to protect them. As evidenced by what happened to Bill the day he saved the hens from a coyote, and by what has happened to my poor birds the last few months.

In the face of the growing tick borne disease epidemic and the ever increasing tick populations, I think it should be illegal for municipalities like mine to completely exclude chickens, and most importantly, roosters, from rural communities. Taking away a person’s ability to own chickens and roosters is equal to taking away a person’s right to “raise” chickens at all, since chickens can not be raised, or kept in a sustainable way without a rooster’s presence. There is no safer or more effective way of reducing a tick population and keeping up with the ever increasing population than biological tick control measures, such as free range chickens or guinea hens. Therefore, taking away a person’s right to own a rooster is the same as taking away a person’s right to own chicken’s at all, which also takes away their right to protect their family from ticks and the diseases they carry.

Polish Roo

I hope to find a way to urge my local lawmakers that this sort of legislation, in epidemic areas like mine, should be made illegal. My town should not be allowed to ban roosters, and thereby prohibit me from keeping a sustainable flock of chickens to protect my family from the ticks.
I was bit by multiple ticks for the 3 years I lived in my home before  acquiring chickens. My home was plagued by them. I have contracted Neurological Lyme disease, Anaplasmosis, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Babesia, Mycoplasma, and Bartonella  from these bites. When I got chickens, the tick apocalypse in and around my home was completely controlled. We no longer saw ticks at all within just a few months! I stopped having to worry about them biting me or my children in our home. For 4 wonderful years, we didn’t have to worry at all about ticks unless we left our home. Then our town took away our roosters, and severely limited our hens, and we once again are seeing ticks, and my children and I are getting bit again, and more disease is surely close behind…..

A person should feel safe in their own home.
My children should feel safe in their own home.
We no longer do since we are not allowed to effectively protect ourselves from the ticks.
I thought this was the land of the free.  But I don’t feel free at all.

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