Updated: Mar 24, 2021
Of all farm animals, few have such an infamous reputation as does the rooster. His only rival for that position is the bull. Before this homestead life grabbed ahold of us, we would have vowed with certainty that we would never own either one. Now we own both.
Bertram Roo’s arrival on the homestead fulfilled three purposes:
With a rooster around we have the chance to raise our own broods to replace the current layers.
The authority of the rooster at the top of the pecking order helps keep the chickens from arguing.
A rooster’s vigilance keeps the hens safe from the wide array of predators who inhabit our ecosystem.
The first night that we brought him home, we thought he would never see the light of another dawn. Although he was easy to handle and calm in his interactions with us and with the other members of the flock, we had decided to have him roost in the loafing shed with the cows rather than in the coop during his first night. Our goal was to allow the hens more time to adjust before they were enclosed with the newcomer. The cows payed little attention to him throughout the evening, ignoring his statuesque presence on the loafing shed roost bar. All that changed as soon as darkness fell.
Across the road in the house we had cleared away dinner and were getting washed up and changing into clean clothes when through the open windows we heard a terrible noise. It was more of a yowl than a squawk, but none of us could identify whether it sounded like bird or beast. Sam and I grabbed flashlights and headed out to check on the ducks and rabbits, but we didn’t find anything amiss. Just then we heard the noise again, this time clearly coming from the paddock. We arrived at the pen in time to see Lissy—head down and tail outstretched—chasing Bertram around the pen with all her might. It seems that what she perceived as a harmless chicken during daylight had been transformed into a deadly, calf-eating ghost bird. Nothing, not even the ghost bird, was going to touch her baby.
I tried to call Lissy away from the chase, but the moment she stopped, Buttercup (who was thrilled to have a romp) would take it up and both cows would launch back into a gallop. Bertram was flapping, squawking, and running as fast as his 4-month-old legs would allow. Our flashlight beams shone like beacons through the clouds of dust kicked up by the cow and calf, occasionally illuminating Lissy’s angry face or Bertram’s terrified one. I lost sight of him several times during the fray, and was beginning to give him up for lost. I was headed into the pen to get him, but Sam called for me to distract the cows while he went after the rooster. My outstretched hands full of grain and alfalfa pellets were enough to buy Sam the two minutes required to find the poor bird hiding by the feed bunk. Sam scooped him up and had him out of the pen before fearless Lissy had finished her treat. We decided to hazard a rough introduction with the hens and popped him into the coop for the rest of the night. Back at the house we retold the story for Kindra and Jamin, laughing until our sides hurt and wiping away the dust with which we had been coated.
Although he had a rough start, Bertram has shown himself to be an enthusiastic, friendly, and alert member of the flock. Brahma roosters have a reputation for their quiet, calm personalities, and Bertram has proven to fit both of those descriptions. As he hears me approach in the mornings, he crows a greeting and eagerly follows me around the pen, waiting for me to scatter the day’s ration.
Within a couple of weeks, he demonstrated his intelligence by learning to jump and take treats out of my hand. Even if he served no other purpose, he would be a valuable member to the flock for his entertainment value alone. Fortunately, he is the alert guardian we had hoped he would be. In addition to many four-legged predators (bobcats, weasels, coyotes, racoons, etc.), we have hawks, owls, and an aerie of bald eagles living in the valley around us. The wild creatures are a fascination and a delight, but Bertram rightly sees them as a threat and gives his sudden, screeching hen call the moment he senses danger. Frequently he will sound the warning long before I have been able to locate the threat.
He is an enthusiastic forager, scouring the paddock for food and cluck-clucking his finds to the flock. I have read before that roosters will offer the good things they find to their hens. Bertram hasn’t learned that bit of gallantry yet—he clucks to them what he has found and then swallows it immediately. He’s a growing boy yet; maybe he needs the extra food.
Bertram has become a cheerful part of our daily rhythm on the homestead. As evening covers the valley, he herds his hens into the safety of the coop. When the morning sun comes up over the oaks, we listen for the heralding trumpet of our eager Bertram Roo.