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The Good Die Young

January 21, 2016

After three years of keeping chickens, I am forced to admit that the nature of most roosters is to be a jerk, although if you are very lucky, one may pass through now and then who has a very rare gentlemanly gene. Our first gentleman was Mr. Darcy, an elegant Marans who lived up to his name admirably. He was smallish, with insignificant comb and tail, sturdy, and solid black. In other words, not much to crow about in the looks department. The dominant roo at the time was a cocky (I learned early where the term came from) Americauna who first introduced us to the fact that roosters are the worst of sex-offenders.

We named him Dandy because he was so beautiful, with a big, red comb, white mane and a flamboyant copper tail. That was before we realized what a horrible thing he was, a bully who crowed loudly each morning, announcing that it was his right to rape and mutilate. Then he jumped on each of the girls with sadistic glee. He particularly liked to torment poor Bess, a tiny little lady who laid the most beautiful turquoise eggs. Once he realized that Bess was not as feisty as the others, he gave his sadistic bent full license, attacking her constantly until he had stripped her of most of her feathers and had pecked  her head so hard that it split open, exposing her brain.

(Surprisingly, this did not seem to affect Bess as much as you might think. After we isolated her and nursed her back to health, she did just fine. Eventually, her head healed over, her feathers grew back thick and full, and she developed a strategy to stay out of Dandy’s way by spending most of her days roosting high up on a tiny ledge under the eaves where Dandy could not go. And she continued to faithfully lay those beautiful turquoise eggs.)

Then Mr. Darcy appeared on the scene. He was a true gentleman, always kind to the hens, and they soon learned that he would protect them from Dandy. Whenever Dandy made evil advances toward any of the ladies, she would run to Mr. Darcy, who placed himself between her and Dandy, raised his hackles, and said, “Back off, Dude!” It was a pleasure to watch him playing the role of protector.

Sadly, Darcy did not last long. A fox got into the henhouse by climbing the fence, then chewing his way through the chicken wire. In my dream that night, I heard crowing in the wee hours, and woke enough to tell myself that there is no way I could hear a rooster crowing from that far away. It is true. I have never heard crowing from inside the house before or since, even though we have a number of very loud roosters who stage crowing contests several times a day. I have to suppose that my “hearing” it was just a telepathic response to the trouble. How I wish I had listened to it!

The next morning, Mr. Darcy was gone, and his blood was smeared all over the inside of the door. Dandy was untouched, as were all the hens. Clearly, our brave, gallant, knight had died protecting his ladies from the fox. We mourned him then, and we still do.

Right after Darcy died, we incubated all the eggs, hoping that we might get one or two of his offspring. Imagine our delight when every single baby turned out solid black, the spitting image of Mr. Darcy! We were so pleased that when Dandy eventually died, we did not mourn him at all because we had new roos that we hoped would take after their daddy.

They did not. Of the two cockerels in the group, the dominant one we named Dandy Two, because he grew into a gloriously beautiful, prancing cock. The lesser one we named Sidekick. Dandy Two turned out to be a pretty good adult cock, somewhat sane and protective, but not the shining knight that Mr. Darcy had been. Sidekick, however, had killer instincts, not only going after the hens with a predatory rage, but also occasionally turning his meanness on the rest of us. Every once in a while he would sidle up, pretending to not be looking in our direction, and then suddenly he would turn and fly at us, claws out and mouth open. We renamed him LeRoy Brown because he was the baddest thing in the whole damn town.

LeRoy Brown did not last long after he started his psychopathic rages. At first, we treated him better than he deserved. He could not hurt us through boots and jeans, so we generally just swatted him off him when he attacked, but it was another matter when babies became involved. The last straw came the day he attacked little Wells, my grandson. He sidled up while I was bending over the food bin, and the next thing I knew, he was in the air, flapping his wings, claws extended toward Wells, and then I was kicking the stuffings out of him before I was even aware of what had happened. That evening, Mike put a bullet in his brain, and LeRoy Brown became our introduction to home-grown coc au vin.

(An interesting side note to this story: The moment LeRoy Brown had been killed, one of the hens rushed over and kicked him. This really happened. He was one hated S.O.B.)

Now, Dandy Two is doing a fair job of roostering. He looks out for the flock, announces it when he finds a tasty morsel so the hens can come enjoy it, and generally keeps our newest crop of young roos in line. There is a gang of five young criminals who run around  harassing and torturing the hens, and Dandy has his hands full beating them off. He, himself, however, is only partially civilized. He may keep the young roos at bay, but he is by no means a kind and gentle lover, nor is he brave. Whenever a chicken hawk hovers overhead, he squawks and crows, and then he heads for cover without a thought for the ladies.

Only one of the new group of young cockerels had a gentlemanly streak. I had named him Darcy Two because he had begun to be protective of the girls. He was not particularly beautiful: his tail was not the shimmery teal color of the others, his mane was short and drab, but his soul was angelic. The hens had learned to run to him whenever the gang of five came roving in their direction, and I looked forward to the day he would take Dandy Two’s place as Cock of the Coop. Dandy is beautiful, but I now know that roosters are dispensable. I had decided that if he became belligerent toward my new Darcy, I was all for putting him in the pot.

Tragically, a chicken hawk got Darcy this week, driving home the truth of the old adage that the good die young. Once again, the only kind and protective guy in the yard sacrificed himself so that the ladies might live. The first Mr. Darcy went up against a fox, and now Darcy Two has faced a hawk while everyone else ran to safety. The sad part of nature is that the bravest and best expose themselves to danger while the sly and sinister thrive in the corners. Our gang of five revels in evil, then runs for cover. The Dandies cry and cower in the henhouse whenever a shadow passes overhead. My sweet Darcies throw themselves at predators so the hens can survive. It does not seem fair, or fitting, and to me, it does not make any sense. Aren’t the bravest and best supposed to be the ones who live long and prosper? Isn’t that what Disney and every other great storyteller makes sure we understand?

In the Spring, we will hatch out another batch of chicks. Until they are a few weeks old, all of them will be fluffy, cuddly little darlings who nestle in the palms of my grandbabies’ hands. Then time will coax out their true natures. The pullets will grow into docile ladies, and the cockerels will transform into the world’s biggest jerks. I can only hope there will be a single sweetheart among them.

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