Such is the case with Taz, my Americana rooster, who — five months after he came to me as a fuzzy, allegedly female chick — was scheduled today to move on to a new home.
From Day One, Taz was a busy, bossy little bird, traits I assumed had more to do with personality than gender. But as the weeks passed, it became clear that the sheriff of Chicktown had fooled the hatchery sexers and was going to become full-on boy.
I have written elsewhere about the moral bankruptcy of the hatchery system’s wholesale killing of male chicks fresh from the egg. It’s a practice in which we backyard flock-keepers collude: Most of us choose — because of laws banning roosters, or our own preferences — to keep only hens. We don’t want males, so the hatcheries who supply our chicks do our dirty work.
In that same post, I explained why roosters — who, like hens, have been exhaustively overbred into an amped-up version of their natural selves — can be a problem for flock-keepers. Many are little more than rapists, so sexually aggressive that they breed the most submissive hens until they’re bald, bruised and sometimes bloodied. And, of course, roosters crow, which is a concern in town. Their presence also guarantees fertile eggs, which are a needless complication unless one wishes to raise chicks. Plus, roosters eat like linebackers.
That said, Taz is a sweet-natured guy, endearingly goofy and easy to handle. And, he’s gorgeous in a singular way: Americanas are not a true breed, so every bird looks different. Taz sports a cream-colored head, cream hackle and saddle feathers with black midlines, fluffy cheek muffs, a burnished burnt sienna body, and a slate plume of a tail. His golden eyes are dappled with dark spokes. There will never be another Taz.
So it has been difficult to keep my affection for him — and the sharp sadness I knew awaited me today — from clouding a decision that will best serve the flock in the long run. As much as we might wish otherwise, one effect of making tough adult choices, especially about relationships, is sometimes a childlike sense of loss.
It has helped, in recent weeks, that Taz’s chasing down and mating of the smaller hens has accelerated. Ellie, my other Americana, appears to be a particular favorite, and the life of this gentle little girl has become decidedly more stressful. Ever alert to his presence, she alternates between running and resignation.
Ellie and the other hens who did not grow up with Taz have clearly voted him off the island. I have seen my meek faverolle Lave sufficiently provoked to go at him straight on. And Em, one of the big brahmas, has morphed into Xena, Warrior Princess, charging to the rescue of her flockmates and pecking Taz when he jumps on them. She was so irritated yesterday that she went after him simply because he was on a crowing jag. He swallowed the last few syllables.
It seems that only Charlotte, the little Welsummer who grew up with him, will truly miss Taz. She is the least bonded to me, and they behave like friends; he does not attempt to breed her, and she hangs out with him. All the others acknowledge me as the “rooster” of choice: the one who provides dinner without demanding sex. Him they can do without.
It has also helped to know that Taz will go to a good home, Happy Haven Farm & Sanctuary, where he will have a free-range life with other chickens, and livestock, too. This nonprofit organization is powered by good-hearted, strong-backed volunteers; it’s worth a look if you love animals and are seeking a worthy charity committed to their well-being.
So I guess it’s all good, as they say, though I hate that expression. Because, yes: It is all good in the great scheme of things. But in our own little lives — in the day-to-day that we inhabit — it sometimes does not feel good. Not at all.
I’ve felt, as today approached, how I will miss Taz: his spectacular beauty, his goofy personality, his baritone cluck, which always sounds faintly worried. I’ve considered how it will feel to go into the coop on the first nights he is gone: I will note his empty spot on the roost, next to the no-longer-chicks with whom he grew up. I will feel that heaviness in my heart, the jagged contours of the space he no longer fills in our now-separate lives.
So I wrote this post yesterday morning, anticipating it would be too difficult to write after handing off Taz. Then, in the hours following, I watched him check on the hens in the nestboxes and echo their egg cackles. Later, he let meek little Charlotte peck him inquisitively about the head while Tess, my buff Orpington, preened his tail.
I had seen neither behavior before. There is so much I don’t know about roosters, I thought; so much. I want to see what happens next, as my gorgeous galoot of a teenager mellows into adulthood.
That’s the rationalization. The truth may be that I simply — well — chickened out: I wasn’t brave enough to say farewell to an animal I’ve come to love, even though that was probably the best choice for the flock. So, time will tell. I am the flock member with the prefrontal cortex, and the good of the group remains my responsibility. Taz may yet go to Happy Haven.
All I know for sure, right now, is this: Today, this goodbye is too hard.