Roosters Behaving Badly, Part 2

I am deeply saddened to write this post. Today Apollo the Rooster suffered for his bad temper, partly because of my badly-phrased advice.

A member of my family was at my house, helping me with a renovation project, and Apollo was giving him hell. I gave him the advice I posted in the first Roosters Behaving Badly: Let him know you aren’t scared of him, and defend yourself if you have to. Unfortunately, I wasn’t clear enough.

I was inside the house, and the rooster attacked. My relative had seen me use a plastic, fan rake to stop Apollo from jumping at some garbage bags (the red tassels set him off), and mistakenly assumed I was using it aggressively. He grabbed the nearest rake to himself: a rigid, metal rake. He then made the mistake of moving hesitantly, stepping back as Apollo jumped at him. What was Apollo to think, except that his opponent was giving in?

By the time I had run outside, Apollo was being pushed head-over-heels by the rake. My guest was immediately apologetic, explaining what had happened, and concerned to see how upset I looked.

As I cooed at Apollo, who had retreated to some bushes, I checked him for injuries. He didn’t seem to be in pain, and wasn’t bleeding, so I let him go. He walked away to a large blackberry patch at the back of the property, and even then I thought he was moving strangely. I should have followed my intuition, because now I can’t find him.

[update]: Apollo was found in some bushes, having meandered halfway around the yard from where I thought he was. He is shaken, and a great deal meeker, but mostly unharmed. One of his legs is scraped, and we discovered that he has the dry fowl pox, upon examining him him once he had been found. We think he got the pox from the chicks, because he has never shown symptoms before, and was introduced to them within the known incubation period of the virus.

I don’t blame my relative for hurting Apollo. It was an accident. If anything, I could have prevented this by keeping him cooped up while I had company, and by not trusting in hasty advice to get someone through an alarming encounter like that.


A Word of Advice

If you plan on keeping roosters, make sure you train them vigilantly from a young age. If they are aggressive towards people, don’t let them be around people (cull them, or keep them cooped).

When you are showing a rooster who’s boss:

  • Remember their anatomy. They have hollow bones, low stress tolerance, and are smaller than they let on.
  • Understand their mentality. Know when to defend yourself, and how to assert dominance. Don’t trust that everyone understands him like you do.
  • Wear long pants. You won’t have to worry (as much) about injury to yourself, and can lift a knee in defense.
  • Bring a friend. If your feathery football becomes overwhelming, your pal can use a broom (or something else soft) to cover your retreat. I don’t mean that you should ever attack the animal. You should only resort to this method when you need to keep him at a safe distance from yourself.

Please don’t put your poor, instinct-driven rooster at risk by failing to take precautions.

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Company for the Rooster

My new Black Australorp chicks, 4 days old.

Finally (behind schedule as always) the new chicks have arrived! I had ordered Speckled Sussex, to match our rooster, but the hatching wasn’t large enough. When it came time to choose the substitutions, I picked Black Australorps without knowing much about them.

As it turns out, Australorps are considered to be the sweetest chickens, and hold the record for most eggs layed in a year (364, one for every unbirthday). Their feathers are sleek and soft, with iridescent blue and green undertones, and they are good brooders, so maybe I can stop paying to replace members of the flock.

Because the weather is so warm, they have been living in a big tote on the back porch/sunroom with no heat lamp. For additional warmth, I filled plastic soda bottles with hot water, and buried them in the pine shavings (the above picture shows one that’s been dug up by the chicks). They no longer need these, now that they’re 2 and 1/2 weeks, with plenty of feathers.

There have been a few chicks bold enough to jump out of the tote, but it doesn’t seem to be a trend yet. However, this has brought my thoughts back to the eventual introduction of Apollo (the rooster) to his new click. I’ve tried to do some research about when to introduce them formally, but I can’t find anyone in quite the same boat as me. My main concern is that Apollo will be too eager in his affection, and hurt them by mounting them before they’re mature.

I’m pleased to say that Apollo is behaving much better now that he knows who’s in charge, and he makes very few attempts at aggression towards humans. In fact, these days he’s more likely to chatter about some tasty morsel he wants to share (he’s always disappointed to realize that I don’t eat bugs). This is something he would do for his hens, along with shepherding them around, warning them of danger, attacking threats, and obviously mating them.

With such an upstanding gent on the scene, I’m tempted to see whether he would take to the chicks. I took them out to change their bedding yesterday, and put them in a dog kennel re-purposed as a coop. They were outside for a while before Apollo realized and came to check them out. He was enthralled. He cooed, flapped gently in greeting, and when he realized that he was startling them, he began moving more carefully. He even went so far as to stop scratching the ground between pecks (he would lift his head, assume the scratching posture, and then pause a moment before pecking again).

My favorite part was him going off to find a bug. He searched and searched, and when he found a grasshopper, he tried so hard to call the chicks over (not realizing that they couldn’t leave the coop). He eventually made as if to walk away, stopping every few steps to see if he was being followed.

My plan for now is to move them to the kennel/coop when they’re too feisty to keep in the tote. When the coop gets too crowded, they should be large enough to start roaming the yard. This will also allow time for them to become accustomed to Apollo, and for him to show his true demeanor.

If anybody has experience with introducing chicks/pullets to a lone rooster, please comment!

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Establishing a Food Forest (The Permaculture Way)

In this video, Geoff Lawton takes viewers through the process of designing, maintaining, and fine-tuning a forest system. Geoff Lawton is a co-creator of Permaculture.

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Keeping the Litterbox Green

Click the image for a great article about the specifics of composting pet waste!

A few weeks ago the school where I work ran out of pine bedding for the gerbils, and cedar bedding was purchased to replace it. Apparently, gerbils can be allergic to cedar, and a few were getting bloody noses. My bleeding heart couldn’t take it, and I replaced the cedar with pine. I had been contemplating the merits of composting Felix’s litter a few months earlier, and with an almost-new bag of cedar chips the time seemed right.

There was a little of his standard kitty-litter left, so I put that in the box, and let Felix use it once or twice before putting a layer of cedar chips over the top. This went on for about a week before I dumped the clay-cedar litter and replaced it with all cedar chips.

Felix doesn’t seem to mind the change, and I’m happy he’s contributing to the fertility of the acre, instead of our local landfill.

P.S. The gerbils are enjoying the fluffy pine bedding I bought them, no more bloody noses.

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Lawn is My Enemy

Quite lovely, when the neighbors can't see it!

Eek! I haven’t posted anything in weeks. My employer, and the lead teacher in my classroom, contracted a nasty infection from a deer tick. Luckily, it wasn’t Lyme’s Disease, but she was out for almost 3 weeks. I ended up working 9 and a half hours a day, resulting in my complete lack of motivation. Now, on to the topic at hand: why I hate my lawn.

From the standpoint of a lazy gardener, it makes perfect sense. I have almost half an acre of fenced yard, quite hilly. By the time I’ve recovered from the mowing process, I have to start all over again. Because my husband and I aren’t quite ready to commit to that much mulch, we aren’t at the stage where the lawn can be eliminated.

Even without considering my lazy gardening practices, there is plenty to dislike about the lawn. To begin with, the gas and oil required to make the mower go. It takes nearly 13 gallons of water to produce one gallon of gas, not to mention all the resources used to create the lawn mower itself. It takes food energy to power the body that pushes the mower, and even more water and energy to grow the grass that needs to be cut.

Some people may suggest a reel mower, and it is a great solution, but only if your lawn is quite level (no bumps, roots, stumps, or pits). The lawn I’m working with is nothing like a postage stamp, and so it would take considerable effort to level out bumps and pits.

One more factor, and this one really sealed the deal: I like all the dandelions, buttercups, violets, and chicory! The shaggy lawn is one of my favorite things on the acre, and it always makes me sad to mow over all those beautiful “weeds”.

The pathways preserve the beauty of our overgrown lawn, while allowing for accessibility.

The solution was a simple one (because none of our neighbors can actually see the lawn). I mowed pathways to all of our high-traffic areas, and left the rest as meadow. It turned out to be quite challenging, because I wanted the pathways to have some logic. I didn’t want to mow more that I had to, but I also didn’t want to hike half way around the yard to get to the compost pile. Each path is about 3 widths of the lawn mower, with convenient turnarounds at points where the paths meet. I went once around the edge, along the fence, and then made branches and connections wherever they were needed. In some places I mowed along the “game trails” made by Knox, Apollo, and whatever bunnies will brave the yard.

I still plan on cutting the meadows a few times each year. So as not to waste all the water and energy put into growing grass and flowers, it will be cut like hay, used as chicken bedding, and then composted.

How do you manage your lawn? I would love to hear about your solutions to this shaggy dilemma, just leave a comment!

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Geoff Lawton: 7 Food Forests in 7 Minutes

I thought I had probably seen every Permaculture video on the web, but here’s something new to me. I this video, Geoff Lawton (half of the team that coined the term Permaculture) shows 7 different stages of forest succession. From newly planted seeds and saplings on bare earth, to semi-mature forest, this is a great step-by-step presentation for people who don’t know what to expect. This short video was filmed in one week, owing to the vast number of food forests planted each year by Lawton’s students.

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Roosters Behaving Badly

Our Rooster Story

We have a Speckled Sussex rooster named Apollo (for the full story, visit the Pets page under Our Acre). Since we lost the rest of his flock to a combination of hawks and Felix, our cat, Apollo has been a lone rooster. He now has a batch of 7 Speckled Sussex hens to look forward to, so don’t feel too bad for him.

Apart from his incessant crowing, Apollo wasn’t much of a bother. I was more concerned with getting Knox to stop chasing him, than I was with his lack of companionship. Now, many of you who have experience with keeping hens and roosters may have spotted my looming problem already. Many people have trouble with roosters bullying them, and those are roosters who have a harem of hens to keep them busy!

As a new chicken owner, I had no idea about training and handling roosters to make them docile. I also made the assumption that Apollo and his ladies were fully mature when he started crowing. He really paid my husband and me no mind when we were in the yard with him, so why should we worry about him? Well, as it turns out, he wasn’t quite as full of testosterone as I thought.

Nothing to be afraid of, right?

The last member of his flock was killed almost 5 months ago. About 2 months ago, Apollo started rushing us. He would take off, doing that funny chicken waddle-run, and bolt straight for us. As he neared, his flight feathers would drop to touch the ground, and a few times he even jumped at my husband. He was still too intimidated to jump the dog, but he wouldn’t leave us alone.

My approach was a simple one. When he ran at me, I ran at him. When we met, I would turn my side to him and begin circling to get behind him (in imitation of his display). We would stare sideways at each other, and continue our strange dance until Apollo gave up and began walking away from me. My husband wasn’t as adept at predicting Apollo’s behavior, and was being bullied long after I stopped being a target.

And our dog? He escaped the yard a few weeks ago, and spent the day exploring near and far. This was just the confidence boost Apollo needed. Every time Knox would come near the fence, Apollo would rush at him, and display. Maybe he understood that the fence was protecting him, because this was the first time he had attempted to stand up to the dog. Knox didn’t seem too bothered, until he came home.

Apollo put the day’s practice to use immediately, and proceeded to jump at (and later peck) the dog who had terrorized him for so long. I would feel worse for Knox, but he started it.

Rooster Behavior

So how do you train a rooster to be docile? I did some research, and the following is a summary of the most helpful results.

Some people say that there are friendly roosters, and mean roosters, and there’s nothing you can do to change their disposition. Many of these people advise killing the ornery rooster, and starting fresh. Even those who believe in the possibility of training the rooster as a peeping chick, still disagree about the prospects of conditioning an adult bird.

I think Apollo’s case makes it clear that you can train a mature rooster, though it’s advisable to begin with younger birds.

The process of establishing yourself as the Alpha of your flock is pretty straight forward, if you’re a chicken. For us humans, it can seem a bit unkind (the chickens aren’t bothered by it, really).

As the peeping batch of chicks begins to develop its pecking order, its members will spar playfully with one another. Your first job as Grand Master Chicken is simply to separate them. This isn’t for their safety, and you aren’t trying to rough them up either. All you are telling these chicks is, “I am in charge of what you do while I’m here.” Of course they will continue to spar when you aren’t around, but whenever you are, you gently separate them.

Handle the chicks frequently, talk to them, and make them comfortable with you. If a chick runs from you, corner it and handle it anyway (be gentle). As the Alpha, you are in charge of when you interact with your flock. This part seems a bit mean, but a dominant chicken will chase down its companions, and assert its will. As far as the chickens are concerned, you’re speaking their language.

Once you can tell the roosters from the hens, it’s time to get down to the business of letting them know who’s boss. It isn’t enough to have the hens looking up to you, the roosters need to know you’re the biggest rooster of the lot. When you see a rooster on his way to eat or drink, get in his way. Doesn’t he know that those are your food and water? The flock regulates one another in this way, with dominant members using resources first.

When you feed your flock, the hens go first. A dominant rooster would make sure of this, and so must you. You are telling him, “these are my hens, I look out for them.” Once the hens have started in, you can relax and allow the rooster to join.

The last step comes when he starts mounting the hens. In a flock with two or more roosters, the Alpha will stop the lower ranking members from mating with members of his harem. Whenever you see a rooster mounting a hen, push him off (literally, give him a shove). If the pair in question aren’t near you, run at them. Much like separating the sparring chicks, the goal is not to end the mounting behavior, but simply to be in charge of it when you’re present.

If the rooster persists, chase him down and handle him (if he’s really aggressive, you may need to pin him until he becomes calm… yes, this is what chickens do). Whereas chicks didn’t warrant the use of force, a mature rooster might. Although I have the deepest empathy for living creatures, a boot in the rooster’s rear does a lot less harm than an angry rooster on yours.

What do you think? The humane treatment of domestic animals is a touchy subject, and I’m trying to find the right way to go about it. I would love to hear other people’s ideas regarding this matter, please comment!

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