We’ve had an unusually mild winter so far, and despite fewer hours of sunlight, the girls are still giving us an average of a dozen eggs each day. A cold snap two weeks ago brought a few extra chores, like thawing the automatic waterers each morning, but the chickens handled the cold just fine in their snug little coop. We’ve still got a few months of winter ahead of us, of course, but it’s nice to know that the renovated coop will keep them cozy and safe.
One very important member of the backyard community is our rooster, Sterling. He came out of the “Assorted Bantams” straight-run (i.e. — male? female? who knows?) tub at TSC last April and turned out to be one of two roosters. (The other was smothered in a tragic dust-bowl incident in October.) Sterling is a good bit smaller than the Golden Comets, and Esmerelda could probably kick his butt if she needed to, but he doesn’t know it.
Now, technically, you don’t need a rooster. Hens will lay eggs with or without one, although (obviously) the eggs won’t be fertile if there’s no rooster around. Some people believe that a rooster’s presence improves egg production, and others say it makes no difference. One thing I know, though, is that having a rooster in the flock is like having a guard dog. Whether there’s a hawk circling high above, a strange animal approaching the coop, or a snake in one of the nest boxes, any self-respecting rooster will spot it first, sound the alarm, and keep himself between the hens and whatever might be threatening them for as long as he’s able. My mom used to have a beautiful white rooster with bronze and copper markings who allowed himself to be petted like a cat. She was broken-hearted when I found him torn apart in the middle of the pen one day, but he had gone down fighting, defending his flock, and the hens were untouched.
Sterling has a much cushier job than the white rooster did — the fences on our run are solidly framed and high enough to keep most critters out, the run is partially covered with wire to discourage hawks, and the coop gets closed up securely every night. But in spite of living his whole life in safety, his instincts are just as strong. When a big Cooper’s Hawk paid the coop a visit a few months back, perching on top of one of the run walls to eye our plump hens, Sterling herded everyone under the coop and patrolled the open side until I chased the hawk away. It really couldn’t have gotten in, anyway, but if Sterling knew that, he didn’t care.
I find those instincts so amazing. We’ve owned that rooster since he was two days old. He spent his first six weeks in the back sunroom of our house before moving out to his secure run and coop. He had never heard or seen a bird of prey in his life, but he was born knowing the difference between a blue jay and a hawk. All it takes is a single scream from overhead or a shadow gliding across the run, and he knows it’s time to get the hens to safety.
Sterling isn’t exactly friendly — he was part of the second “batch” of chicks we got last spring, so he spent much less time indoors and wasn’t handled as much as the Golden Comets had been — but he’s definitely not mean. He would rather avoid confrontation with me, although once in a while as I leave the run, I turn to shut the door and find him standing silently right behind me. Maybe it increases his street cred a bit if it looks like he’s chasing me off. He probably hollers, “And stay out!” for the hens’ benefit as I walk back to the house. It’s OK, though. I don’t mind his pretending to be in charge as long as I know how seriously he takes his responsibilities as defender of the flock.