Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
People often ask me how to handle difficult roosters. They tell me, “I went out to the chicken yard to collect eggs, and the rooster attacked me. Of course, I had to show him who’s boss, so we had a fight and I won!”
And I assure them, “Sure, I can show you how to fix this, and it’s worth it. Imagine how much more pleasant your life will be when you never have to worry about a rooster again. But first, I want more detail. So you’re out in the chicken yard, and there he is. He acts in a threatening manner. You act in a threatening manner back. He acts even more threatening, and before you know it, the two of you are fighting, right?”
Then I ask, “But did I just describe what happened from the rooster’s point of view, or from yours?”
Maybe you’ve heard that a stage hypnotist can make you think you’re a chicken. That’s nothing! Even a chicken can make you think you’re a chicken! In these barnyard fight scenes, the rooster is in charge from start to finish. First, he decides what’s going to happen: a fight, right here, right now. Then he gets you to join the fight. How does this happen? And how do you make it stop?
But let’s not give too much credit to the rooster. The issue isn’t that the rooster is powerful, but that the human automatically accepts whatever role is thrust on him, and that means that even a chicken can redefine who you are! … at least for a minute or two.
Of course, everyone makes mistakes, and the first time a rooster attacks you it’s a big surprise. You can’t expect to do your best decision-making when startled, so the first time doesn’t count as far as I’m concerned. We’ve all been there. But what’s the long-term solution?
Don’t forget, a rooster who thinks that you’re a fellow rooster is mistaken! And by fighting him, you are not only participating in his delusion, you’re reinforcing it. First he was convincing you, and now you’re convincing him.
Suppose you win. What’s the payoff? The glory of vanquishing an eight-pound bird? Sort of a foregone conclusion, wasn’t it? And what is all this fighting going to look like to the neighbors? Are you sure you can explain it to your kids … or the cops?
Desensitizing an Aggressive Rooster
It’s not hard to desensitize an aggressive rooster. The first step is to desensitize yourself. Look deep into my eyes: You’re not a chicken. Rooster rules don’t apply to you, and this means that you are free to act in an un-rooster-like manner. You have options, and the most important option is to reject the roles that others project onto you.
I use only three techniques for desensitizing aggressive roosters:
1. Never fight them. If they attack me, I withdraw slowly, without fighting back. This is not difficult. Roosters aren’t very dangerous and this isn’t a life-or-death struggle. A chicken can’t force you to do anything; the choices are all yours.
2. Don’t scare them. Don’t walk directly towards them as if you’re going to run them down. If you watch the roosters, you’ll notice that their behavior changes before they attack. They do a little dance and give other signals that they’re feeling threatened. Don’t trigger this behavior. If you do, back off a little and they’ll forget all about you.
3. Feed them handfuls of grain. Roosters know that other roosters don’t double as feed dispensers, so when they associate you with food, it’s hard for them to think of you as a fellow rooster.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly these techniques work, how much better you feel about your chickens, and how much more confidence and control you’ve achieved. By observing your chickens’ behavior but not participating in it, you can give them what they really need, not what they think they want.
Do I Need a Rooster?
Don't forget to ask yourself, "Do I really need a rooster?" Sometimes they're nothing but a burden or a disappointment. For example, some people get a rooster to father baby chicks, but then never get around to hatching any. If offspring were the plan, but there aren’t going to be any, you’ve set your autopilot on a one-way trip to nowhere.
It’s easy to get rid of roosters if you offer them for free on Craigslist or in your local newspaper. They will probably end up in someone’s stew pot, but at least someone’s enjoying them. It’s almost impossible to get rid of roosters with a “free to good home” ad.
I remember an old farmer telling me once that, with livestock, the important thing is to think through the relationship. You’re supposed to be building a pleasant present and a better future. Unless that’s where things are headed, it’s time to make changes. He expressed this as, “There’s a livestock auction every Thursday.” What he meant was that we can end an unsuccessful relationship quickly — and we should, because when things go sour, everyone's a loser. It's time for someone else to give it a try. As for me, I like having them around, and my farm is a good place for them. Your situation may be different, though.
If you fight the rooster, he’s going to come back for a rematch. In a pecking order, victory is always temporary; every fight is just the warm-up act for the next fight. And if the rooster starts attacking one human, he tends to attack others too. Don’t you just hate it when roosters attack little kids? I sure do! These problems don’t go away by themselves; you have to resolve them.
Putting on your human hat puts you in control of your livestock and your life. It’s like the Kung Fu master said, “If you can make it across the chicken yard, Grasshopper, you will become a master.”
Sometimes, though, people who ask me for rooster advice reject the whole concept. I don't know why, but some of them walk away still believing they have no choice but to keep kicking around their roosters. It’s sad. Hard on the roosters, too.
Robert Plamondon has lots of great advice about poultry on the Poultry Pages of his website.