• Jessica Kesler

Joe, the Papa Rooster of Drunken Cabbage Farm

“Don’t get a Rooster”, these were the first words my husband and I were told as we were telling people we were thinking about including one as our first flock. “They are mean”, was another common response. “Just wait till they attack you”, obviously not so positive. But these warnings didn’t seem to deter us. In our research roosters are an essential part of the flock and have a host of benefits including the most common support of offering protection and allowing you increase your flock without always having to order from hatcheries. They are also super cheap! It seemed like a good idea. Also we were convinced that with enough TLC raising him, this rooster would be nice and love us like we read about on the internet.

As we were looking at breeds, we were pleased to see plenty of evidence that the Barred Rock breed was more docile then some of the other breeds. This was the right choice! As mentioned in another blog post, our rooster was a calculated purchase and when he arrived with his six baby girls, we couldn’t tell much difference.

On our farm only a few of our chickens are named. But right from the start we knew our rooster would have a name and it would be Joe. There are a few bad ass Joe‘s in our life but this name had a special history, just ask my dad. You see, my grandparents had chickens just like most families in the 1950s and they had the first Chicken Joe. Chicken Joe had a limp. This made him special and my dad was fairly fond of him. One day my dad noticed Chicken Joe wasn’t around while they happened to be eating chicken for dinner that night. Yep, you know where this story is going. Chicken Joe became the sacrificial dinner for the family and when the news finally came out my dad was pretty messed up about this. Having our rooster as Chicken Joe was a nice way to honor his memory and make my dad smile.

We don’t plan on eating Joe (though there are some days with his behavior we’ve thought about it) and truth be told in the short time we’ve had him he has been a good rooster and is even a dad with his son, Bumblebee (cross between him and a Buff Orphington) sharing flock responsibilities. Unlike the hens, he seems to be getting better with age. However every once and a while I have caught some slacking on the job.

Just the other day we caught him napping in the coop while poor Bumblebee was at the constant call of the hens. I was worried something happened when we found him on the coop. Evidence below!

Although Joe is the big papa to Bumblebee and the primary protector and preferred rooster for the hens, he is a little temperamental with us. I’ll never forget the first time I was “attacked”. We had moved the flock to the coop and they were now free ranging on our pasture. I was walking and the next thing I know I was smacked in the calves by this young cockerel. He was small and didn’t have spurs so I didn’t think much of it, until it became a weekly occurrence. Sneak attack turned into stare downs and full blown charges in the yard. I couldn’t for the life of me understand how just a few weeks prior this little bundle of feathers would eat out of my hands and let me hold him, to feeling like I couldn’t even walk on my own land without being chased. Hormones!!!

To be fair our first flock was a bit spoiled. As I learned later, this made him more protective of the girls and was trying to earn his status as flock leader. He also had a favorite hen who anytime I came near would fire his blood and make me a target. My husband was much more assertive and would chase him back and make a stand. I just wanted my baby boy back. Unfortunately I would like to say that he finally came around and stopped but that would be lying and naive. The truth is he was doing his job and following his instincts. We as humans think it is mean, but to chickens its part of their instincts.

We don’t cut or burn our roosters spurs so the older he became the more we had to become conscious of the damage he could do. Some people kick their roosters, some pick them up and hold them up side down to try to break them of aggression. I don’t promote violence against my animals so we just carry a big stick and when he starts to show the signs of an attack, we gently but firmly move him away from us. We also know which hens not to pick up and not to be lazy on the pasture. Our flock are workers and we respect their nature and their role on the farm.

When people visit us we tell them about Joe and we try to enforce the rules of engagement. No one wants to be chased by a full grown rooster, especially one with spurs but at the same time we make it clear how to prevent accidents.

Something you learn quickly when you own a rooster and they get old enough to crow is that they don’t crow only in the morning. They crow as much as they want, as often as they want and there are lots of crows they use. The most common are telling the flock there is food or that there are predators around. The crow is different for air borne predators like hawks vs. land based predators like raccoons or foxes.

For Joe, he has other crows like when you are on the phone near him and he seems to hate it (or maybe he is saying hello, either way it’s loud and repetitive). My personal favorite is the “Shut up and go to bed” crow that happens if you are near the coop after dusk talking or making noise. He apparently loves his beauty sleep.

Roosters, like hens, also loose and regrow their feathers (called molting). For Joe, you can really tell the difference in his tail feathers which when full are very beautiful and wispy.

In conclusion having a rooster like Joe is an adventure but totally worth it. We know the flock wouldn’t be the same without him and although its a little bit rough at times, we still find him just as lovable and are proud to have him as the papa of Drunken Cabbage Farm for many more years to come.

Jessica Kesler, MBA, PMP, CSM, PMC-II is one of the owners of Drunken Cabbage Farm and is passionate about growing organic, non-GMO produce and chicken farming and supporting the regenerative agriculture movement.

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