Size Does Matter - If You're a Chicken

We went to another poultry show to purchase a couple of hens, but it didn't quite work out that way.

This past weekend, the family (husband Jay, daughter Kelsey and myself) went on our planned excursion to the poultry show being held at the Big E.  Our plan was to purchase a couple of the large breed hens we’d admired so much at the last poultry show we attended in November where we bought another Silkie and a bantam Cochin, both very small girls. 

The Mallory Complex Building at the Big E was divided into two areas, birds for sale and show birds.  Only one person was selling chickens in the large fowl category, the rest were bantam (miniature) chickens or breeds that didn’t interest us.  So we zeroed in on Steve who had a few cages of very large, partridge-colored Cochins. 

Unfortunately, his hens were already marked as sold and we didn’t want a rooster….or did we?  We could wait a couple of hours for Steve’s friend to come back from the farm where he’d gone to get more hens to sell, try to talk one of the exhibitors into selling their show chickens (after judging) or consider one of the three colorful cockerals (male chickens under the age of one year) Steve still had available. 

Jay admired the cape of feathers on the males for fly-tying purposes (a fly-tier will pay as much as $90 for scalped rooster cape of outstanding quality), Kelsey wanted to get the rooster and go; I was the hold-out.  As we stood there and debated, two other buyers came up and offered to buy Steve’s chickens.  I was being pressured.

I did not want to take a chance on an aggressive rooster.  The downside to not having a rooster though is that they truly become the leader of a flock and will protect their hens from predators, often to the death.  These boys were the size of a hawk, but a lot heftier.  A rooster has no influence on a hen’s egg-laying ability, just whether or not the eggs are fertile (something we don’t care about). The Cochin breed is known for being big, friendly and fluffy; the gentle giant of chickens.  Interestingly enough, our bantam hen Millie is a Cochin too.  Same breed, just two extreme sizes.

You guessed it; I gave in and we got ourselves a roo.  He barely fit in the large cat carrier I had, but we placed him in the back seat and happily left, with me still in disbelief that we’d just bought a rooster.  His clucking is a low, resonant sound, a deep James Earl Jones-type of voice.  “How about naming him Mufasa?” I suggested to Kelsey.  “He’ll be like the King of the Jungle, a protector of his flock.”  Kelsey came up with a better name: Aslan, the lion from The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. 

Since we had to go through Hartford on our way home, we made a detour to Whole Foods to pick up gluten-free food for Kelsey.  Kelsey has Celiac Disease so we are constantly looking for food that will work for her.  We filled our grocery cart and finished by picking up lunch while we were there.  As we sat in our car in the Whole Foods parking lot eating lunch, I thought about what a wonderful family day it’d been, although a bit odd by most people's standards.  A brilliant cockeral in the back seat, a happy daughter because she’d found the gluten free mega-load, and a delicious meal for three hungry people.  Aslan even got to share our lunch.

Normally, there is a proper way to introduce a new chicken to the existing flock, just as there are best practices for bringing a new kitten home.  Chickens, however, can be evil toward new-comers and tend to attack those perceived as intruders or weak.  I hoped that with Aslan’s size and gender, he wouldn’t get hen-pecked, but he’s very young.  My hens may not be impressed with a teenage boy. 

With previous new clucks, I put them in a cage near the coop so everyone could get used to seeing each other for a few days.  In this case, the temperature was expected to be about 9 degrees overnight so leaving a chicken in an exposed cage was out of the question.  I ignored Kelsey’s suggestion of keeping a rooster in her bedroom.  Aslan squeezed through the door of my bigger cage and stayed there until dark when I placed him on an empty perch in the chicken coop.  Chickens are blind and helpless in the dark so the hens had no choice but to allow the stranger with the deep voice to nest with them. 

In the morning I opened the coop doors and calm, cool Aslan strutted out of the coop with his new harem and began to eat the scratch off the ground.  This was the first time the hens got a good look at Aslan out in the yard with them.  The first challenger was Pilgrim, our Plymouth Barred Rock, then Lucy, the Rhode Island Red.  Both tried to spar with him.  A couple of fluttering chest-bumps from the big guy and the hens quickly figured out the new boy was no push-over and backed off. 

Aslan is doing great so far.  I constantly marvel at how truly magnificent he is with his multiple colors and how he purposely places his feathered legs, as if he's wearing snow boots.  I took my scale out and weighed him; he’s 9 pounds, but looks more like 15 to 20.  He should weigh about 11 pounds when he’s fully grown.  He hasn’t picked on any of the girls and has started crowing, albeit an adolescent crow.  The hens respect him and no further aggression was observed from anybody. 

When I let them out in the afternoon to range in our yard, Aslan stayed right with his new flock, returning to the coop to roost when it got dark.  It’s been such an easy integration with a large rooster into a flock of hens.  Normally it can take weeks for a flock to completely accept new pullets and even then the smaller ones will always be at the bottom of the chicken hierarchy. 

In the cat world, the males rarely dominate the females.  Boy cats will “Yes Dear” the girls, staying out the way if she’s in a bad mood and savoring the times she is affectionate.  With dogs, we’ve all heard of the little dog bossing the large dog.  For them, and for people, an assertive personality is all that’s needed to be in charge.  In the chicken yard, however, size does matter.  It doesn’t hurt to be the only boy either.

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