The Gentleman Farmer – Four

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The Gentleman Farmer – Four

Jan 6, 2023

Moe:  Part Two

Watching Curly, Moe and Larry settle into their bachelor rooster’s life had been gratifying. Their quality of life improved greatly from dried black soldier fly larvae and meal worms to hunting for live insects.

Before moving them in with the goats, I spent hours creating a coop inside a 12X8 foot aluminum shed, even hunting the woods for the perfect roosting branch.  I thought “They are going to love their new man cave.” I couldn’t wait to see how they liked it. I was surprised and a little disappointed when they decided to roost on a sideways turned 50-gallon drum under the 8ft-high porch. The only time they were in their custom shed was when I tried to coax them with black oil sunflower seeds and a mixture of cracked corn, barley, wheat, and oats called chicken scratch. I eventually moved the drum and replaced it with the roosting branches from the shed. They were satisfied.

As the months passed, they continued to patrol the yard as a single unit. They mingled with the goats as if they all grew up together. My animal family seemed happy, and all was well.

One routine morning I entered the yard greeting everyone with a few Cock-a-doodle-doos. Moe and Curly answered, but I didn’t hear Larry. He wasn’t with his brothers. I stepped under the porch, glanced down by the water pump, and saw him on his side. I reached down to pick Larry up and was startled to see that under his left wing he had a gaping infested wound full of maggots. I laid him back down – he was barely alive.

I fetched a towel, wrapped him up, and held him tightly. “Aww Larry, what happened to you?” I sighed.

I could not let him suffer but I couldn’t bear the thought of putting him out of his misery. I prayed, “St. Francis please help, I can’t kill him.” Seconds later he quivered and died in my arms. I stood motionless holding Larry tightly; grateful his suffering had ended. I wondered how he was wounded as he never showed signs of being hurt.  I found out this is common in the animal kingdom – to hide pain and not show signs of weakness.

It was strange watching Moe and Curly patrolling the yard without Larry.  I missed him. The thought started crossing my mind about getting a third rooster.

A few months later I got an email from a man in Roanoke. He heard from a friend of his that I might be interested in adopting a rooster. I emailed him back asking for more information.

He responded that he had a rooster named Jerry who started out life as Geraldine, but now identifies as a male and uses the pronouns he/him. He went on to explain that when they got the Braham chick at The Tractor Supply company the employee said he thought she was a hen, so his girlfriend named her Geraldine. She quickly got taller and wider than the rest of the brood. The comb on her head, and the wattle under her chin got larger and redder. Then the crowing started and Jerry(he/him) “came out of the coop.”

Normally when introducing a new chicken, it’s better for the brood to get to know a new member gradually. This is done by caging the newbie for a few days in the middle of the chicken yard. Since there was plenty of room in the yard for Jerry to run, I decided to simply let him loose.

Curly got along with Jerry from the start. But Moe was aggressive and mean. Jerry was able to stay out of Moe’s way, but it was painful watching Jerry get bullied when all he wanted was to hang out with the guys. I wondered if I had made a mistake letting him run free too soon. I knew he had to understand his rank before fully becoming a member of the boy brood. Jerry learned quickly that Moe was running the yard. It took about 3 weeks before he was able to peacefully move about the yard with his adopted brothers.

Jerry filled the void created by Larry. His journey from Geraldine to Jerry(he/him) had come full circle. He was happy. Once again routine returned to the yard, the goats and the roosters were content, and all was well.

About six months later Christabel – my red heeler – and I we’re on the front porch. I heard a deafening screeching scream in the backyard. Christabel started barking uncontrollably. I thought that a rooster was being killed – maybe by a coyote. I let Christabel through the gate she darted to the back of the yard. I locked the gate, turned around, and saw her tail straight up as she barked ferociously. Her sound combined with the roosters screaming was horrifying. I could see Curly and Jerry flapping wings and jumping. As I approached, I saw Moe pinned to the ground screaming for his life.

 I looked closer to see his head caught under the cyclone fence as if it had been placed in a guillotine. Curly and Larry were pouncing on his body trying to kill him. I shooed them away. Moe suddenly stopped screaming and I thought for sure his neck was broken. I reached down next to his head, forced my hand into the dirt under the sharp metal fence, pulled as hard as I could, and managed to free his head. I saw blood all over my hand and thought it was Moe’s.  I was stunned when he stood up, flapped his wings vigorously, and ran off. I then looked down at my hand and realized when I forced my hand under the fence a metal piece had gouged the base of my thumb. But Moe was free.

Me and Christabel hung out in the yard for a while. She kept an eye on Moe, running his brothers off if they got to close. Christabel had a sympathetic look like she felt sorry for him. I left Christabel in charge and ran in the house for some alcohol and bandages and returned in just a matter of minutes. Moe stayed on the opposite side of the yard from Curly and Jerry. As I began tending to my wounded hand I said to Christabel, “What on earth do you think happened…do you suppose he was hurt which made them think he was weak? Had Moe lost his machismo? Or had they decided being co-alphas was a better way of life?”  “Well,” said Christabel, “being an Alpha dog I can’t get past the thought of how embarrassed he must feel to be knocked down to number three.” Then she matter-of-factly said, “Shit happens – maybe Jerry was seeking revenge for being bullied and Curly just followed along. Anyway, he should be grateful we rescued him in the ‘neck’ of time.” I snickered until the alcohol hit my opened wound.

As the sun started to set, I figured Moe would be safe as they prepared to roost for the night. A temporary peace treaty is understood when comes time to roost. I stayed close until it was pitch dark. I heard no skirmishing, so Moe was safe – for now.

Early next morning when I heard the roosters crowing Christabel and I went to check on Moe. I could not find Him. I said, “Christabel, go find Moe?” I heard her mumbled, “Now I’m a bloodhound.” We hunted around the entire yard and could not find him. I hated to think that Moe was dead but if so, where was his body? I took one more look in the roosting area and saw the 50-gallon drum on its side. Could he be hiding inside? I bent over, looked inside, and sure enough there was Moe all the way at the back of the drum.

“Hey, Moe.” I cried out. For a few minutes I sat on the ground at the mouth of the drum looking at him. I felt a sense of impending doom if I was to leave Moe here.

The only logical course of action at this point was to return Moe to the chicken coop. Inside the chicken run I already had a separate cage 8ft long X 3ft wide X 2ft tall which served as the intensive care unit in the event a sick chicken needed to be isolated. Moe would hang out there for a week or so.  This would allow the girls and guinea hens to get used to him and would also offer him a peaceful setting to recoup from his near-death experience. I got up, grabbed some gloves and a large blue plastic trash can with a lid. I lifted the drum upright. Moe was tall enough for me to reach in and securely grab him. I got a good grip on him and pulled him up and out of the drum and into the bottom of the blue can. I put the lid on and carried him to the back of my truck. At the chicken coop Moe cooperated nicely as I moved him into the chicken ICU. I spoiled him with fresh greens and organic chicken scratch.

The girls were immediately curious poking their heads through the cage. I was more concerned with the two large Guinea hens. They could be aggressive. But there was ample room for Moe to get away from any annoying intrusions. This was Moe’s last chance. I had to make it work.

At sundown each night, when the brood went to roost, I covered Moe’s cage with blankets. I thought this would give him a sense of roosting.

As the week progressed the brood was less curious with Moe, which I took as a good sign. Each morning as I was taking off Moe’s blankets, I would crow – hoping he would answer me. The fifth morning I drove up and heard Moe crowing. I was a proud dad like when a little league son makes his first base hit. As we exchanged Cock-a-doodle-doo’s, I knew Moe finally felt at home.

On the seventh morning I brought Christabel in the coop. She loves her chickens, and they are used to her walking amongst them. She would help if the release started going badly. I opened the door thinking Moe would dart out, but he just stood there. After about ten minutes he stepped out and ran across the 800 square-foot enclosed yard.

 I wondered if he remembered growing up there. After about 30 minutes without any altercations Christabel and I left. I came back at sunset Moe had joined the brood to roost in the coop. I stuck around for a few minutes, and hearing no squawking, I left.

Now, months later, Moe struts proudly around the yard. He certainly did get the last laugh. He not only got the girl – he got the 19 Draper Dream Girls!

The other day Christabel told me, “That Moe sure is cocky now. He cut his eyes at me the other day in the chicken yard and did one of those braggadocious cock-a-doodle-doos (by the way I like yours better). I was going to bark in his face, but then I remembered when he went from top alpha cock to number three and almost died. I just rolled my eyes at him, laid down, and took a nap.”

Written by:

Brian Gardner, Healing Arts Director

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