Posted 09-22-2004 at 15:24:40
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Brewster has been around since day one on Triple J Farm. He’s a mutt-type rooster, but what he lacks in family lineage he makes up for in size and beauty. At roughly twenty-four inches tall, he is the largest rooster on the farm and with his cascading bluish-green tail feathers and golden mane feathers, he is without a doubt the handsomest.
Brewster was single-handedly responsible for saving the lives of some eighty hens. In early 2002 we brought home in the neighborhood of a hundred retired egg farm hens. These hens had lived their entire lives in small cages and knew very little about what to do in the ‘free-range’ department. So, when we unloaded them and turned them loose in the hen yard, they proceeded to sit down in one spot and stay there.
Some of them sat on the same six inch by six inch square of dirt for a full twenty-four hours. Upon physically moving them, it was discovered that many of them had laid eggs. We wanted eggs; that was the purpose for getting the chickens, but we preferred to get them from one general area rather than go on a daily Easter egg hunt.
Not only would they not move, but they wouldn’t feed themselves, nor did they know how to drink out of a water tub. We were losing chickens on an average of five a day, because frankly, they were too stupid to see to their own basic needs.
Faced with the impossible task of trying to ‘train’ a hundred hens how to survive day to day, we pretty much gave up. Brewster, however, did not.
In the beginning, he seemed as stumped as we were, but it didn’t take him long to figure out that if these hens were ever going to assume a normal life, he was going to have to be the one to communicate with them and teach them. The next thing we knew he had taken to spending all his time in the hen yard. He would run to a particular spot and go to scratching the dirt and carrying on like he’d struck oil. If roosters could speak, he would be saying "..come see what I found! You're never gonna believe it!" Then he would stomp around in a circle and fluff his feathers and looked very pleased with himself.
Little by little, one by one, he penetrated the stupor of the hens and they began to respond. Before long he had twenty or so following him everywhere he went. Being a strong, young male, he wasn’t satisfied with a mere twenty, so he kept calling to them until he had the entire group’s attention. He led them to feed, he led them to water, he romanced and protected them, and eventually taught them about roosting in the hen house at night. In a matter of a week or so, he had them all trained.
Brewster’s contribution to the farm is invaluable. What he does, he does well, and that includes welcoming the sun in the morning and managing a harem that ranges in size from sixty to one hundred head of hens. Needless to say, when I thought I’d lost him, I was devastated.
After surviving Hurricanes Charley and then Frances, numerous dog chases and even attacks upon his person by grouchy sows, Brewster fell victim to two bored dogs, barely more than pups, and almost didn’t live to tell about it.
I heard a sound that was similar to the contented sound a hen makes as she is wandering around lazily searching for bugs and tender grass shoots. What I didn’t realize was that the sound was much further away and much more frantic in nature, and wasn’t a hen at all. Raisin and Noodle, the two young pasture dogs, had Brewster penned down out by the shed in the pig pasture, and were systematically plucking him from beak to bum. The sound I was hearing was the sound a rooster makes when he's given up and is expecting to meet his maker at any moment. A sound of pure unbridled helplessness.
Once I realized what was happening I ran outside and shouted at the dogs, at which point they ceased and desisted, slinking away, looking guilty as only guilty dogs can do.
I was several yards away from the scene of the crime so I shaded my eyes and watched anxiously for any sign that Brewster was still alive. Directly I saw the flicker of a wing, and then gradually he got to his feet.
“Come on, dummy,” I said, coaching him urgently under my breath, “those dogs haven’t forgotten you're there."
Eventually he began to make his shaky way out of the pig pasture. I watched him stagger across the grass, and then duck under the gate. When he was within fifteen feet of me, the full horror of what he’d been through began to sink in.
All of his golden neck feathers were gone. Every single bluish-green tail feather had been ripped out, along with almost every single feather from his back. With the exception of his ‘under’ feathers he looked ready to plop right in the pot and stew up for chicken and dumplings. I can only assume that the dogs found the ripping sound of the feathers as they tore loose extremely satisfying, as they didn’t leave one feather intact.
I cursed the dogs under my breath, knowing in my heart that they really weren’t to blame. They are dogs, it is their responsibility to protect the pig pasture and Brewster didn’t belong there.
He seems to have survived the mauling, and despite a pretty healthy case of sunburn across his bare back, and a mean looking rash, I expect he will pull through, but I doubt that he will ever enter the pig pasture again. I don't know what possessed him to go in there to begin with, as he always seemed to instinctively know that it was not a healthy place to be.
In this particular instance it was Brewster’s turn to do the learning, and I suspect that if he lives to be thirty years old, he will never forget the lesson he learned one fateful summer day about pig pastures, territorial dogs, and knowing one's boundaries.