A Family Held Captive by a Kid and a Rooster
For years, my older siblings teased my dad about the time when his eleven-year-old kid and her rooster took over the family. I was persistent about my dream of owning chickens, and my dad had a weak spot for animals and a good deal. He went out to buy dog food and came home with a twenty-five pound bag of chicken feed that included a free dozen “laying hens."
Every one of those chicks grew up to be a rooster. Several farmers suggested we put them out of their misery. The idea of such cruelty inspired a new level of animal rights in me. My father waffled under my stamina and let me keep them all. He whipped together a shoddy coop at ground level and used a staple gun to fasten the chicken wire across the front. That may have been intentional.
A few days later, our
friend’s dog jumped out of the car, wrangled himself through the wire and killed
a couple of my precious roosters. After the elaborate burial ceremony, I was still
devastated but even more determined to protect my flock. When I badgered my dad
to make the coop safer, he reinforced the wire using the staple gun.
A week later, we returned
from town to find seven chicken carcasses splayed across the lawn, legs and necks
bent at funky angles and blood streaked across their white feathers. It was
like a Far Side cartoon. The neighbor’s dog skulked back home with feathers
hanging out of her mouth. I dropped to the ground in tears. My mom chuckled
under her breath and said, “For Pete’s sake Cindy, don’t be ridiculous. What good are a bunch of roosters that don’t
lay eggs?!” She obviously viewed the slaughter as progress.
We decided to move the
roosters from their little appetizer tray of a coop to a safer storage shed. My
dad felt badly enough to buy five full-grown laying hens from Dean Croall, the
local farmer. The hens were laying eggs within days despite the presence of
three tweaked roosters in the coop.
Preoccupied by the need to
figure out the pecking order, those three roosters spent a lot of time fighting.
My mom didn’t pester me about my roosters as long as the hens kept laying eggs.
Fresh eggs quelled the irritation of guests who were awoken by crowing roosters
at 4:45 AM.
Harmony in the coop and our
family was short-lived. The three roosters grew to be massive and increasingly
more violent. While two were sparring viciously, the other one would leap up
and scratch me and peck any open piece of flesh. Sometime when I stepped in the
coop, all three would come at me in a rage of slashing talons and beaks. Dean
Croall had warned us that more than one rooster would be trouble.
One day, I was devastated to
discover that one of the roosters had been pecked to death by the other two. My
increasingly anxious dad suggested we get rid of the other two scary roosters,
but I dug my heels in. Before I was done grieving the loss of the first nasty
rooster, another one died of the same fate. It was apparent that my animal
rights effort had ended up as a cannibalistic cock-fighting tragedy.
This rooster appears submissive. It is actually waiting to spring.
We convinced ourselves that
one rooster in a coop would be peaceful, but the hens remained unnerved. It
turns out that a rooster that survives two attacks by dogs and battles for his
life ends up the cock-daddy, menacing prick of all roosters. Now that he was
older and saltier than ever, I had to carry a metal rake and saddle up for combat
just to collect eggs. Changing the water required agility, excellent peripheral
vision and quick reflexes. This rooster brought out serious rage in me, but not
as much rage as he inspired in my older sister.
Sarah reluctantly agreed to
feed the roosters while I spent the night at a friend’s house. Upon my return, she
informed me that she had not fed my chickens that morning because my “horrible rooster”
had attacked her. In a terrified rage, she ran out of the pen and shot staples
from the staple gun to watch him dance. My tearful rant of injustice had no
affect on my family. The combination of my relentless determination and my
dad’s love of animals had turned him into a doormat dad, and our family was off
Somehow I convinced my
brother to help me build a fence that kept the rooster separate and enabled me to
feed him safely. As big and fat as that rooster grew, he managed to jump over
the five-foot fence and surprise me without my rake. When I added some height
to his fence with chicken wire and the handy staple gun, I could hear that
ungrateful old codger back there trying to leap up to show me who was boss. It
was uncanny how he outlived all the hens as well as our next round of hens.
Finally, one cold, dark winter
morning, there was an eerie silence behind the wall. I found him dead and frozen solid in the corner. After years of fighting for that crazy rooster’s life, I
calmly put that stiff old guy into a garbage bag and placed him in the dumpster
with a sigh of relief. As I headed off to the bus stop, I caught sight of the
staple gun resting on a stool near the coop reminding me of how a single tool had
prolonged the agony of my own foolish righteousness.