A friend of mine and I recently took our roosters to a feed store to get adopted. Marie’s guy had gotten mean. Just going into the pen meant risking fingers, eyes, teeth. Mine was just loud. Even though we both live in a rural area, the sound carries. Doesn’t sit well with many of the neighbors, or me.
When you get a batch of chicks from a hatchery or feed supply, the “pickers” who are trained to separate the females from the males often don’t get it right. You can’t tell for sure with most breeds whether you got stuck with a rooster until the birds are about five months old. The day you hear that fateful crow, it’s a moment for the palm of your hand to slap your forehead.
My bird started yelling — oh, I mean crowing — several months ago. It actually startled me. The chickens were locked in their coop so I went out to the deck, listening. “AAAAAHHHHgurgle,” he screamed. It didn’t sound like a rooster. It sounded more like a woman getting attacked. Someone told me it takes time for a growing rooster to find his voice.
Some city folk might think a rooster cries once in the morning. Nope, the darn things go on all day. He should get a Twitter account, I thought, when he went off one night at 11.
We with backyard flocks often name our birds. Marie gave her rooster the cute little name of Chipmunk, which belied his true personality of attack, attack, attack. I struggled with the anti-woman, belligerent, full-of-self sounds that kept coming out of my rooster’s beak.
Marie has a softer heart than I. Lots of people here in Northern California put their roosters up for free on Craigslist. Or eat them. Marie sought a home where she could be assured Chipmunk would not end up in a cockfight (he’d be good at it) or a stew pot. She called the Biofuel Oasis in Berkeley, Calif., where we had both purchased our “flocks.” They said they couldn’t take the roosters back, but they knew of a woman with connections to a feed store a bit east of here.
We made arrangements to drop our guys off the next week.
Meanwhile, my rooster’s crow continued to evolve. I thought of calling him “The Donald.” Then “Don.” I settled on “45.” He seemed to take to it. He would stand between me and the hens and scowl at me, putting his nose in the air and staring when I opened the gate to feed and water.
On adoption day, Marie and I each boxed up our boys and drove east to the feed store. It took me an hour to wrangle 45 into a beat-up box and secure it with duct tape.
Blood was shed.
I have one of those little troll dolls with bright orange hair, and contemplated cutting it off and making “45” a little toupee. But then I thought better of it; I didn’t want to put him through unnecessary trauma.
When we got to the drop-off site we set our boxes down amid others. Marie and her soft heart were sorry to say good-bye. She asked the woman behind the counter about the person who would be coming to get them within the hour. The clerk (owner?) sang the woman’s praises, describing 16 or so acres teeming with livestock, free to range — she even taught roosters how to herd animals. She had a petting zoo for the more tame animals, and children would come to visit.
Marie whispered in my ear, “Chipmunk isn’t going to end up there.”
With the clerk still smiling and Marie satisfied, we turned to go. I hollered back to my beat-up box, “Goodbye, 45!”
The clerk looked perplexed. “45?” she asked. I explained. “You, know,” I said, “He’s named after the 45th president.” A group of customers in Aisle 1 overheard and erupted in laughter. The clerk did not look amused. She wasn’t smiling any more. She glared at me.
She didn’t tell me to get out.
But she didn’t say goodbye, either.