Thursday, May 31, 2012

There's a Rooster in the Hen House

It was Mother's Day weekend.  We were having a weekend soiree, not to be confused with a weekend sorbet, which could be cold, filling and quite time consuming.  Depending on whether you were eating or swimming in it.  My wife's parents were up from the South Bay Area, and so was our daughter, her husband and our two incredibly wonderful grandchildren.  Tim, our Grandson will be six this summer, and Sophia, our Granddaughter will be three.

Our daughter's family had just moved up to Oakland from San Diego, CA, making their drive to our house about two and a half hours compared with a long eight before.  We were all thrilled they were now this close.  Our son-in-law is a scientist, and had just been hired by a firm in Emeryville, CA, after an intensive, two month and seven interview hiring process.  However, it was worth the effort and has turned out to be a huge win-win-win for all involved (especially us Grand Parents!).

But I digress.  Sunday morning around 7:00, Sophia and I, the only two awake, were outside on the deck having a very worldly conversation.  Somewhere in the middle of one of her oh so important yet completely unintelligible soliloquy's I heard a hoarse and muffled, "Er a er a errrrr." 

My senses immediately went parabolic, whatever that means.  I also said, "Uh oh, a Rooster."

Then he crowed again.  And Sophia said, "Uh oh, a Woostah."

Our poultry brood arrived February 6, 2012 via the US Mail.  I was really quite amazed (and impressed) by the whole process.  I ordered them online at, and would highly recommend that site to anyone.  I landed on them for a couple of reasons.

I didn't buy local because they usually don't have a large variety and they also weren't going to be in until the first part of March.  I wanted to get them girls going as soon as I could.  I had also been looking over several hatchery's catalogs over the course of a year, however they all had a minimum order of twenty-five and I didn't want that many birds.  EFowl's minimum order was fifteen and when a friend said he'd take three, we were in the ballpark of where I wanted to be.

EFowl was not without their own minimum type order requirements though, I couldn't just order one or two of a kind, it had to be a minimum of five of any one breed.  However, they did offer a Heavy Breed Mix, which essentially gave you a blind opportunity to get as great a variety as possible depending on availability at the time.  They would all be good layers as well as cold hardy, which was another requirement since we do get some snow here in the Sierra Foothills.

EFowl sent an email when they mailed the chicks, about six days after I placed the order.  The post office called two days later at 6:30 AM stating they had some chicks for me and to come on in and pick them up.  When I arrived you could hear them chirping throughout the entire building.  When the nice lady brought them to the counter I was surprised to see them all essentially in a heavy duty shoe box with holes.  And then I learned the reason they have those minimum shipping requirements are so the chicks can stay warm on their trip!

I ended up with four Buff Orpington's, one of which is now a confirmed Rooster.  This is a grand looking breed with bright golden feathers.  Four of them are Red Stars, a cross between a Rhode Island Red Rooster and a Delaware Hen. They are not quite as dark as the more familiar Rhode Island Red, and they have a little black in their tail feathers.  Four were Plymouth Barred Rocks, that familiar black and white checkered bird.  And four were Black Stars, another cross between a Rhode Island Red Rooster and a Plymouth Barred Rock hen.  They are glossy black, with some brown on their chest and a greenish tint on their backs.  And yes, EFowl actually sent sixteen for the price of fifteen.  Nice touch!

                                                                      Boldie Goldie

I brought them to their new home, two large moving boxes taped together in the garage.  There were wood shavings on the bottom, two little round chick feeders and a one gallon waterer.  I also had a flood light on about eighteen inches above the floor of the brooder.  They had a good twelve square heated feet or more to start their lives, which was just about the right amount of room. 

My friend Tom took a Red Star, Barred Rock and Black Star.  And I lost a Black Star and Barred Rock.  I'm pretty sure one of them died of thirst (try though I might) pretty straight away.  I thought I had gotten all their little beaks into the water a couple times, but with all the commotion I could have missed her.  (That is one important step-making sure they get watered immediately after their journey.)  And the other was a mystery.

I was actually concerned about a gold chick, which was looking rather lethargic just like the black one that had already perished.  So I dabbed her beak in water several times over the course of a couple minutes, and she was noticeably improved.  When I went back an hour later to check on her, she was fine, but a black one that had shown no outward obvious symptoms was dead.  Go figure.

I had harbored some suspicions about "Boldie Goldie" for a while, but several sources I had read stated that aggressive or bossy behavior, large combs or wattles, body size, tail feathers and stance don't mean much of anything.  What really matters are the saddle feathers, which are the feathers that develop where the lower back meets the base of the tail.  In hens, they are flat or rounded, in roosters they are pointy at the end.  And then, of course, the best indicator is a simple yet rousing "Cock-a-Doodle-Do"!  Feathers, schmeathers.  Being somewhat of a novice at this, I waited for the "Cock-a-doodle-do" to be certain.

The process of sorting males from females happens immediately after hatching by somebody at the hatchery, who I imagine would have a rather large magnifying glass and knows exactly what they are looking for.  How big could it be?  But even they can make mistakes, averaging about a 90-95 percent accuracy rating.  So, this would mean that I would have had about a one in ten chance of getting a rooster, which apparently I did with my brood of eleven.  

We're good with him for now.  When I first had inklings he might be a boy, my wife and I both made an extra effort to pick him up and handle him as much as possible so that he would be familiar with humans.  I think this has paid off.  He is very friendly at the moment, and he and his harem do have quite a bit of room to maneuver.  If a neighbor complains however, a friend has offered to take him.  He's on ten acres waaaay out in the country.  Way out.

Why do roosters crow?   First of all, roosters crow all the time. The connection with the sun coming up is a coincidence.  I'm sure you've also heard a number of other birds chirping in the morning.  They'll also crow because they hear other roosters crowing, to show that a certain place in the barnyard is their territory, to try and assert their authority or for any other reasons known or not known to man.  You can read more on this subject at:

Our flock of eleven is now roughly four months old and they have survived the migration two months ago to their recently refurbished chalet, which shall be the subject of my next post...all part of the ongoing saga of a late 50's something ex-x-executive trying to toss together a homestead in the midst of it all.  Or in spite of it all.  Whatever.

                                                                Harem Scarem



  1. Ha Dave I can see where this is going to go. ;). Especially if mr. Er a er a errrr is amongst the ladies. You must e mail my Michelle & Ryan! They have 3 lovely ladies--- Ms. Flo...Sweet Clemintine & and Blu ..who rules their roost ! I was up there house sitting for several weeks while they were on holiday in Europe last Oct. What a wonderful relief to escape from Oklahoma. God bless the people here but they should have hurried their Sooner Mobiles thru the State and out and left it to the Indians! I fell in love with their home and their babies.. jasper (who reminded me so much of Sid with his intelligence and spirit and such a dedicated heart) Jesse their Conour parrot and "the ladies 3" who provided me with breakfast every day along with their delicious and bountiful garden! They built their hens a wonderful. "condo" simply genius and functional easy to take care of. It's like 3 levels--a roosting area- next the nesting/laying area and the bottom enclosed food contain, water container (large containers that food /water comes out as needed :) I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog and look forward to more adventuresome reading! Love & miss y'all. Carolyn