Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How the Rooster Lost His Spurs

How the Rooster Lost His Spurs
Copyright Ken Harris 2009

From the title you might think this is a children's fable or a Native American myth, but it isn't. Instead, it's a story about two real roosters among our flock in North San Juan in the late '80s.

We had several flocks of chickens during our time in North San Juan. They were Leghorn crosses or Rhode Island Reds. We always tried to have a rooster in the flock to keep order in the hen house.

But once we somehow managed to acquire two male birds at the same time. This situation was not conducive to order because there is room for only one rooster in a small flock. The two males were vicious to each other until one decided that a subservient life without dignity was better than none at all.

Once the two birds decided who would rule the roost, some interesting physical changes occurred in each one. The winner's comb grew larger and redder while the losers shriveled significantly. The dominant bird's spurs grew long and sharp, while the inferior bird's spurs shrank to nubbins.

Life for the dominant male was pretty good – until trouble came up. Trouble arrived to the flock in the form of the neighborhood bobcat, the one who included our henhouse as a part of his territory. One snotty, cold, dark winter's night the bobcat decided it was just too unpleasant to hunt, and so he would visit our henhouse to see if he could discover a breach. And when the Great Bobcat visit, it's time for the Boss Rooster to stand up to be counted.

In this case, the rooster successfully defended his flock and survived to tell the tale, but it cost him his spurs. He tore them off trying to beat the bobcat off through the fence. We could see the disturbed ground and torqued chicken wire where the battle had occurred. It occurred to me that being Cock of the Walk might not necessarily be a good thing.

The bobcat revisited from time to time, and the rooster died, whether from bobcatitis or some other dread disease. Thus came the promotional opportunity for the inferior bird. Everything changed for him and he responded with increased testosterone. His comb grew long and richly red and sharp new spurts quickly appeared on his heels.

Soon he, too, lost his spurs. But he survived and shortly after that we trapped the bobcat in a humane trap. Then we put a bullet in his head. The rooster went on to rule his flock of hens for years. Timing is everything.

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