When we picked up our Thanksgiving turkey from the small organic farm down the hill, we told the owner R what happened with the dozen supposedly fertile eggs we had bought from her earlier this spring–only 2 hatched, three hens killed one of the chicks, the lone remaining chick turned out to be a rooster, etc. We also told her we weren’t sure of now-misnamed Scruffy’s fate.
She replied, “well, they have one bad day in their otherwise good lives.”
Yesterday was Scruffy’s bad day.
We had been willing to keep him, despite the additional cost and relative minimal benefit (more protection of the hens and our entertainment), as long as he didn’t hurt the other birds or become aggressive towards us. We thought he was mostly fine with the hens, but several events this past week began to indicate otherwise.
First, Ron witnessed Scruffy suddenly see the five older hens in the orchard while he was in the garden, put his wings down in this funny mating ritual thing that birds do (I still haven’t seen it), rush over to the orchard, and proceed to run after the older girls. At which point they all ran back into the coop and hopped up onto the top roost in order to get away from Scruffy.
That made us realize that the older girls hadn’t been going out of the coop much. At all. We had noticed this for several weeks, but explained it away by two factors: winter weather and molting. In contrast, the three Easter eggers were going outside a lot, although they weren’t big fans of snow either. But maybe there were other reasons the five older hens hadn’t wanted to go outside.
We also realized that all of the older hens looked really thin, most of all Daisy the matriarch. In fact, she was so thin, we were confusing her with Ella. That wasn’t a good sign. And upon reflection, Ron realized they were going through the chicken feed more slowly in recent weeks.
Having a new theory that Scruffy was keeping the older hens in the coop, either purposefully or inadvertently, we corralled him into the garden and shut the gate. After a few minutes, Caroline wandered out, saw Scruffy in the corner of the garden nearest the coop, and turned around and went back inside. A minute later, Daisy moseyed out, followed by Caroline, but as soon as Daisy saw Scruffy (even though he was on the other side of the fence), she immediately did a 180 and scurried back into the coop with Caroline on her heels. I witnessed the whole thing.
And with that, poor Scruffy sealed his fate.
He was pretty nice for a rooster–calmer, quieter, not very aggressive, not to mention handsome with a nice crow. But we think that testosterone got the best of him. He started running after the older hens (in addition to “his” Easter eggers) in the hopes of mating with them. But unlike the eggers, the big girls wanted n o t h i n g to do with him. Hence, they were hanging out in the coop and not eating much for what we now think was something like (at least) several weeks. Given that undernourished hens don’t lay, Scruffy’s behavior was affecting the whole enterprise of having a small number of laying chickens.
It was gloriously beautiful day yesterday. The first truly sunny day in two weeks and five days (not that Ithacans were counting or anything). It was full sun for most of the day, in the mid-40s, a little breeze. It felt more like a spring thaw on March 26th, not a spring-like reprieve on December 26th.
And thus, it was a good bad day.