THE LAST BITE: The Chicken Who Wasn’t!

Rogue rooster’s tale reveals an unlikely hero


James B. was his name. He was blond and beautiful, a rooster with eyes the color of a sunrise and a tail that went on for miles. I was 20 years old and, having raised chickens my entire life, I’d never met one I didn’t like. He was a Buff Orpington, a favorite breed of mine, which I’d often lovingly refer to as the Golden Retrievers of the chicken world.

Unfortunately, James B. was more like the Rottweiler of the chicken world. The B in his name stood for badass, a term which he faithfully lived up to each morning when I would open the gate, pour him his grain and change his muddied water. Throughout the process, he would jump at me, thrashing and flapping until he dug his spurs into my pant leg as hard as he could. Each time I shooed him away he immediately came back for more. Finally, when James felt satisfied with himself, he would back up, cock his head, look me dead in the eye and with the sun shining down on his brilliant golden tail he would lift his head and give out one last rebel yell: his mighty cock-a-doodle-doo

Now James was the one rooster among about six assorted hens, one of which I named Sara, whom I referred to as my little misfit. Sara was a Silver Laced Wyandotte, black with white streaks, and due to enduring a hard winter at an early age before coming to live on our farm, her growth was permanently stunted, a disorder referred to as rickets. In short, Sara looked like a kindergartener in a pen of second-grade hens. Every day the hens and James would spend hours scratching around in the fenced-in chicken run that kept them safe from most ground predators like foxes and coons. It did not, however, protect against hawks. I had brushed off the idea of a hawk attack simply because hawks generally go after young adolescent pullets, not full-grown hens like mine. Surely, I thought, my hens would be too big for one to handle. Boy, was I wrong. Sara was the perfect bait.

Around 5 o’clock I heard the ruckus from my cabin. The chickens were going crazy. Fearing the worst, I scrambled for the door and sprinted to the coop. When I arrived at the scene, I was baffled. James B. was standing head to head with the hawk. Little Sara lay unmoving on the ground next to him. The hawk saw me and immediately took off, but what had taken place was already quite clear.

I walked into the pen and picked up Sara. The tiny hen just barely cracked her eyes open. She was stunned but not dead, with a broken wing and some visible puncture wounds. I couldn’t believe she was alive. I looked down at James. His beak hung tiredly open and he was panting like a dog. The once-glorious tail he flaunted was no more than a few stubby feathers attached to his rump.

The hawk had likely dived down to attack Sara while the other hens had run for cover in the coop. James had obviously stayed to protect the littlest hen and in the process gotten his tail torn off. James was no longer the glorious beauty he once was, but if he hadn’t have stuck around Sara would have surely been carried off. My pain-in-thebutt, overly aggressive rooster had become the hero of the day!

Chickens are truly fascinating creatures and some of the most underrated animals around. Many people brush off chickens as being, well, too dumb, but a rooster actually has a specific warning call for both ground and sky predators to alarm the hens of an oncoming threat.

My name is Laura and I have worked with poultry my entire life. I wrote this column to share my experiences as well as my love of chickens with any and all who are interested. Happy chickening!

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