In A Tale of Two Roosters we explained that our roosters, Siegfried and Frodo, couldn’t be more dissimilar in their personalities, even though they were raised together. We also alluded to the fact that of the two, Siegfried was becoming disturbingly aggressive.
Nine months ago, Siegfried arrived at Curbstone Valley with the rest of the new flock.
By four weeks of age Siegfried was different. He looked different, he was more stand-offish than the others in the flock.
By 15 weeks he asserted his dominance by pounding the stuffing out of Frodo, and became ruler of the roost after Frodo was evacuated from the coop.
Siegfried has been phenomenally rough on the pullets from about 16 weeks, and now he’s significantly larger than the girls, he’s recently been doing some real damage to some of the pullets. Torn combs, limping birds, sores on their backs. Coop life has been anything but serene of late. The girls have been getting progressively more stressed, as evidenced by their egg production dropping to as low as one egg per day, from the entire flock! Even in winter, it shouldn’t be that low for pullets in their first year.
Last Wednesday, I walked into the run in the morning, and let the chickens out of the coop. My morning routine has been to stand in the run with my back to the coop. Open the door, hang the feeder, and watch the chickens file out. After giving Siegfried time to walk over to the far side of the run, keeping my back to the run wall, I slowly, and non-threateningly, walk methodically toward the run door, and exit the run, facing Siegfried with my back to the door. Except for the occasional skirmish, it’s worked fine for the last couple of months. It seemed we’d reached an understanding between us. Wednesday though was different.
As soon as Siegfried exited the coop door, instead of walking across the run away from me, he strutted around the automatic waterer, and slinked under the coop, which is raised 18 inches off the ground.
The second I moved one foot (roosters obsess on feet), he launched himself in full attack mode. As I backed up, he threw his feet up, and aimed toward my face, falling short, but striking me just below the shoulder. I continued to make my way toward the exit, as confronting him only serves to escalate the situation, but he was like a heat-seeking missile. I kept my hands up to protect my face, but finally, he latched hold. Locking his feet securely around my right knee, and hanging almost upside down, flapping furiously, he had no intention of letting go. I tried shoving him off, but he gripped harder, until I felt one spur pierce the back of my knee through denim jeans, while the other raked across my knee cap, and into my skin. I’d had enough, and violently shook him off, before making a hasty retreat for the door.
The trouble was I couldn’t close the run door fast enough as a Delaware hen would have been decapitated if I’d slammed the door shut at that moment. I couldn’t push her back without getting Siegfried in my face. Seizing the opportunity, Siegfried charged past her, and out the run into the yard. Great. Fantastic. Now he was now outside with me, and still charging me. Every time I moved, he charged. I admit, I considered leaving him out, maybe Bob would be back later? But even I couldn’t do that, I have more respect for our animals than that, and besides, we’ve already had enough trouble with the Bobcats this winter.
Separated from his girls, Siegfried was clearly confused, being outside the run, with all the girls inside, he finally turned his attention away from me, and toward figuring out how to get himself back into the run. Working with the situation at hand I moved to open the run door, he lunged again, almost as if he was attached to me with a piece of recoiling elastic string. My patience was wearing very thin.
While Siegfried was making up his mind, deciding whether attacking me, or rejoining his ladies was more important, I took a long hard look at each of our girls. For weeks now they’ve been looking absolutely awful. I’m honestly embarrassed for anyone to see them at the moment, but in the interests of being honest about how life with a rooster can be, I think it’s important for anyone considering keeping a rooster, to be aware of what some are capable of.
We’ve always taken pride in how good our girls look. Our orchard hens are beautiful, but those housed with Siegfried are nothing short of disheveled.
Parts of their combs are missing on a few, most of their combs are bloodied and scabbed, a few have almost completely bald heads. Most have bald backs, and I recently had to treat one for almost a week with a severe lameness after a rough mating.
Remember Sam? The Black Australorp that kept Frodo company? This is what Siegfried did to her…
It’s clear I had a decision to make. Now. Not after Siegfried has gored one of the girls with his spurs.
If it was just a few missing feathers, and Siegfried was otherwise a reasonable rooster, his favorite pullets could be fitted with saddles to save their backs. However, as we’ve shown before, any individual that stands out in a flock can lead to trouble. The problem with Siegfried runs far beyond being overly amorous though.
I’ve given Siegfried so much benefit of the doubt, so many second chances, because in part I’ve accepted that coop life is different with a rooster in the mix. Is it really just of me to cull a rooster, for being, well, a rooster? Roosters aren’t hens. Their personalities are larger than life, they’re assertive, and obsessive by nature, and they demand a certain level of respect. Even if Frodo was with the girls, I have no doubt their physical condition would be similar, and he has the personality of a marshmallow compared to Siegfried.
The reality is though, that unlike Frodo, Siegfried is much more dangerous to people. We can defend ourselves, but he’s a liability around children and dogs. He’s a hole into which we throw food, and trust me, organic feed isn’t cheap. We don’t come close to breaking even on eggs as it is. We tried to justify having Siegfried living at the farm on the basis that he should help to alert the girls to danger, help to keep them safe from the hoards of predators here.
Bob’s encounter with Zilla clearly proved otherwise. Siegfried showed his true colors that day, turned chicken, and hid.
I’ve tried various strategies for months to tame Siegfried down. I’ve played both alpha and beta roles in the coop, and although being beta to Siegfried helped diminish the frequency of his attacks, it really didn’t alter his overall aggressive nature. The fact of the matter is that his wild and aggressive behavior simply doesn’t fit in with the flock, or the farm. There’s been no improvement in recent months, he’s just more unpredictable, and as aggressive as ever.
Part of why we’ve kept Siegfried this long is that we wanted to maintain a closed flock, to minimize the introduction of disease to the farm, to raise our own chicks. Recently though it’s become very clear that we don’t want to breed such an aggressive bird. Hatcheries don’t select for temperament, they can’t, as their volume of production is simply too great. We however can. I knew it was time to stop dragging my feet. Siegfried had to go…and last Saturday, go he did. Frodo is now ruler of the roost.
For a look back at the last 9 months with Siegfried, see the video below. Note, around the 12 second mark in the video, where Frodo is chasing Siegfried! It’s a shame that didn’t last!
I know some won’t agree with our decision to cull Siegfried, but honestly I think it’s the most humane thing we could have done. We could have listed him for sale, but I’m well aware that a number of illegal cock-fighting rings exist in this county, and even though his aggressiveness may have been appealing to someone interested in a fighting bird, I absolutely abhor the practice of cock-fighting. Siegfried simply didn’t deserve that. Sending Siegfried to a home elsewhere as a family pet, would have been nothing short of irresponsible. He wouldn’t think twice about attacking a small child, or a family dog. As homeless roosters are rather plentiful these days with the resurgence in chicken-keeping, the other most likely home a rooster is going to find is an 8-quart stainless steel one with a lid. A 100% organic rooster, I don’t doubt we’d have found a buyer, however, by taking care of Siegfried here ourselves, at least we know he had a humane end.
It wasn’t an easy decision, and one I really didn’t want to make. I tried to find yet another excuse to keep Siegfried here, but I was out of excuses. Loving the sound of his quintessential rooster crow just wasn’t enough. He was never intended to be a meat bird, if he was, for one, I never would have named him. He was more of a farm fixture, not food. However, I’d simply run out of reasons to keep him here. This farm is too small for a vicious rooster.
I’m sorry Siegfried, I wish we could have made it work, but the coop is much more peaceful and calm now that you’re gone. The pullets are so much more relaxed. Egg production has increased significantly in the last week, and I can actually walk into the run each morning without wondering whether I’ll make it back to the kitchen without injuries. The farm is much quieter too. We do miss his morning crowing volley with Frodo, but if I’m honest, there’s not much else I miss. It sounds less like a farm here now, but who knows, perhaps someday when Frodo is full grown, he’ll finally find his voice too.