We almost experienced our first chicken death last week.
Coming from a woman that lines up at the deli counter to purchase the rotisserie chickens hot out of the oven, you would think that the possible death of a chicken would be no big deal.
But it was a very big deal, especially because it was my favorite chicken — my rooster. Thankfully it was not the avian flu. A shot of doxycycline and a week of antibiotics in the water to treat the whole flock, and everyone is back to health.
Our rooster, Goldie, is back to work protecting the flock and crowing at dawn.
I first dreamed of chickens in April 2020 — the same time I stopped watching the news and headed out to the garden to breathe. The garden was the only place I felt safe and free of the anxiety of how we would protect my daughter Johanna from getting COVID.
So many scary thoughts were going through my mind as I was prepping the soil. But I found the answers there too.
For the first time in 25 years, Johanna joined me in the garden. She didn’t really love being outside in the garden because it was always hard to maneuver and the headaches worsened with the changes in temperature, humidity and exposure to the sun.
But this season was different, unlike any we had ever experienced before. Even though I shielded Jo from the news, she knew about the pandemic because everything in her life changed.
Jo also wanted to be outside. She intuitively knew being outdoors was our key to staying healthy and that finding life in these pandemic times could be found in the garden.
I had my first vision of chickens while working in the garden. I can’t say it was a profound spiritual experience, but it definitely was an inspiration from God. With little effort, I imagined chickens running around our feet and hanging out with us in the garden.
When I shared this vision with Jo, her eyes lit up with excitement and she gushed about collecting eggs and being a real farmer. That’s when my imagination started working overtime.
By the end of the summer of 2020, “Jo’s Farm” was born — an enclosed garden with four raised beds and a beautiful chicken coop complete with nine hens and one rooster.
By October, we had our collection and sales of “Eggcellent Eggs by Jo’s Chicks.” Jo’s dream of being a real farmer was conceived in our imagination and born in our pandemic refuge of our own backyard.
Johanna was easily entertained by the antics of baby chicks — which we housed in our bathroom — especially when they got daring and jumped up next to Jo on the sink as she was brushing her teeth.
The chicks stayed in our house until they were fully feathered and ready to move outside at 8 weeks old. But if I ask Jo today about raising baby chicks, she will tell you it was fun for about a day.
One chick stood out very early as the leader of the flock. He was the first to awaken and greet me when I came to change the water and food and reposition the heat lamp. When that same chick pecked our curious golden retriever on the nose, I suspected he was a rooster.
Just a few weeks after moving the chickens outside into their coop, my suspicions were confirmed as I heard Goldie’s first official crow shortly after dawn.
The sound of a crowing rooster is a soothing sound to me. Twenty-three years ago we’ve moved to the North Fork in search of the sky and a slower way of life. The smells, sights and sounds of farming — including the rooster’s crow — gives me peace at home.
On the North Fork, in Riverhead and Southold Towns, roosters are allowed on commercial and backyard farms. Especially with the influx of people moving from NYC to the North Fork, there are occasionally complaints from neighbors about the sounds of roosters, which most times can be easily remedied with fresh eggs and a clarification on town codes. Fellow chicken-keepers in other Long Island towns need to check their local codes on whether or not you can keep a rooster in your backyard.
My rooster Goldie is by far my favorite of the 18 chickens on Jo’s Farm. He uses his voice to alert me to concerns in the backyard. He makes a low growl if he’s concerned and outright crows for a big problem, like a hawk flying over the flock. When the flock is free-ranging, Goldie remains alert searching the yard and the skies for predators.
When I am trying to get the chickens back into the run, I move alongside Goldie and ask him for his help. He walks next to me making clucking noises and often runs ahead to crow and to call his hens home to roost.
My success as a chicken-keeper is only as good as my rooster.
Recently, I was reading someone’s description of what she called the rooster’s “flirty dance.” The rooster dances around his chickens with one wing fanned out at his side, seemingly tilting his head at his favorite hens. This woman said that the movement signifies that the rooster is using this “flirty dance” to claim his hens as one of his own.
When I inquired about the dance, I realized I’d seen Goldie do it many times — around my feet! Other things began to make sense too.
I realized that I wasn’t just imagining the mutual respect between me and my rooster. He did indeed see me as his lead hen and we worked together to keep the flock safe.
Something else made sense too. The only person Goldie doesn’t like is my husband.
When my husband enters the chicken area at dusk to get some feed for the goats, the rooster will chase him out. Even though I find it a little amusing, we have decided that it’s best for all of us for my husband to wait for the rooster to go to bed or for me to go with him into the chicken area.
If I accompany my husband into the run, Goldie will stay by me, shaking his head in frustration as he watches my husband enter the chicken feed area.
But the rooster maintains his position next to me as I reassure him its all good. We believe the rooster thinks my husband is stealing food from the flock to give it to the goats.
My husband knows if there’s a problem between them, the rooster stays! Since we’ve established clear boundaries between my rooster, my husband and myself, all is peaceful on Jo’s Farm.
Next Friday …is National Rooster Day!
To brush up on your rooster knowledge and prepare to celebrate your local Roo, you can read more interesting facts about roosters in this article https://backyardpoultry.iamcountryside.com/chickens-101/12-fascinating-facts-about-roosters/ .
We will be celebrating on Jo’s Farm with a live book reading by my friend and local author, D.B. Fiumano who just wrote an adorable children’s book, “Little Roo Finds His Crow”. The book is perfect for kids with disabilities and for any child (or adult) who is searching to find their voice!
See more details at https://www.instagram.com/littleroofindshiscrow/?hl=en and https://www.instagram.com/johannasfarm/?hl=en.
There are lessons to be learned in the garden and even in the backyard chicken coop. While some may not appreciate being awakened by a crowing rooster at dawn, we all can relate to the struggle of finding our own voice and speaking up for another’s good will.
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