Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ode to a Rooster

A few years ago, we were processing broiler chickens on our farm. It's a really gross job, and I won't bore you with the details. (Say "Thank you!") Towards the end of the day we looked in a bucket of things that would be dumped, and found a small, black, baby chick sitting on some yuckies. We were very surprised. There were not chickens in that area of the farm. The flock was out on pasture near our barns. We scooped up the small chick and proceeded to look around to see how he had gotten in the bucket. Soon we heard peeping sounds. We followed the sounds to the other side of the building where we had been working. There were more small chicks with their mother.

Mama Hen was one of the girls' pet chickens. She lived in an old brooder house and free ranged during the day. Apparently, she chose to have her babies inside of the nearby building. The little chick had to have jumped out of a nearby window to land in the bucket. The kids collected up the babies and put them with Mama Hen in a small, movable pen just outside our kitchen window. The little family was happy there, until one night when a raccoon attacked. Mama Hen courageously fought the raccoon and protected her babies. The girls named the little black chick Leonardo DaVinci. It must be that homeschool thing. I guess one of the kids had been studying famous artists that week. Soon his name became Leo.

Leo quickly became one of the favorite pets. Leo free ranged in the yard around the house. He became tired of living in the brooder house nearby and would make his way high up in a tree when the day's light would dim. Leo loved to eat scraps from the compost pile. He found cat food appealing and would challenge the cats to get his share. We would often see hungry farm cats waiting for the rooster to get his fill. Leo grew. And grew. And grew. He was enormous. Hmm? What was in that cat food? His size made him quite a sight in the tree!

For many years he acted as the farm mascot. Visitors delighted to see the huge, colorful rooster. He seemed to like the attention. He fathered a number of chicks by the hens that the girls kept as pets. He taught some of his female offsprings to join him in the tree. Still, being a rooster, he needed to be the only guy in town. His rooster chicks were not left to challenge him. The were relocated.

It's true what they say about roosters crowing at the first break of light. They aren't very selective about the source of that light. With the tree so near the house, Leo would crow in the middle of the night if someone turned on a light in the bathroom. It was annoying at first, but it ended up being just one of those things you get used to.

Leo was placed in the pasture area to oversee our laying hens. He loved being with the hens, who groomed him constantly. The flock was calmer when he was there. He was very protective of his more than one hundred hens. He would fight off predators and sound an alarm for us. Once we knew he couldn't see the bathroom light, it became necessary to start paying attention. He made it through his last predator fight a few weeks ago, but passed on a few days later. Leo will be missed by our family. What a good rooster!

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