July 20, 2013 § Leave a comment
It had been on the cards for a week or so – he was getting more rather than less aggressive with me, and increasingly rough with the pullets. We would still have days where he would be fine, and even when he had a real go at me it was not in the same league as Davy’s attacks. He frustrated me, but he was manageable with a certain amount of caution. I would just keep an eye on his wing position – if the tips were drooping, he was thinking about attacking. So then I would face him, growl a warning, and take a small step towards him. If he attacked, I would stomp (the ground, not him), growl, and if he persisted, corner him and pick him up. Then he would be carried around under my arm for a while. Every time it got to the cornering stage, his aggression would disappear and he would actually be quite panicky (which was sad and frustrating in its own right). So I would hold him, talk to him, be as calm and soothing as possible, and after five or ten minutes put him down on the ground and let him go.
We’d been through this with him before – when he and Lola were on their own, and before we let them in with the girls. It started with just dancing around, and the occasional dart at my gumboot. But then one day he actually hurtled the length of the garden to attack m. I was emptying something into the compost bin – nowhere near him, not even aware of him – but he caught sight of me in the distance and decided this was his moment. He didn’t hurt me, but it did give me a fright. After that we would have the occasional time when he would stalk me and try to attack without any warning. Not often – it went in cycles, but he was always able to be put in his place with a minimum of fuss. (Lola would also dance and pounce on my boots, and occasionally peck my hand quite hard, but it was fairly obviously just adolescent posturing, and manageable. And much less frequent.) But after a session of being put back in his place, Seb was quite conciliatory – would make the little wing-flip gesture that they do to signal their acceptance of someone’s authority.
We had thought the adolescent tantrums might calm down when the boys were finally allowed their harem(s). And it has with Lola – he’s an absolute darling, and super attentive to his flock. (Also disturbingly randy, but the girls don’t seem to be too worried by it past the actual moment of bonking.) But Sebastian was different. Partly because Lola toppled him from #1, and eventually decided it wasn’t enough just to chase him away: if there wasn’t a physical barrier between them, Lola would make a serious attempt to injure Sebastian. So Seb ended up living with Poppy, Saffy, Charlotte and Mirri by default – completely wrong, in terms of our vague breeding plans, but ok for a temporary measure. But his attempts to mate with his sisters were a bit rough, and caused the girls some distress. Poppy took to spending quite long periods inside the house, which wasn’t ideal. But we hoped it would just be one of those things that they would get used to, and come to terms with. Sebastian not being quite so aggressive and rough, and the girls just letting him do his thing and then getting on with theirs. (There really isn’t anything about the sex lives of chickens that makes me feel comfortable.)
But the last few days he had been quite rough – when he finished bonking, not stepping off and letting the hen (well, pullet – usually either Saffy or Mirri) get up again. He was staying on them, pinning them down. Even turning a half circle on their backs sometimes. It was not pretty.
And then yesterday afternoon he attacked Poppy.
We’d had a couple of run-ins earlier in the week, with him having a go at me on multiple visits to the chook run, despite the standard response from me. But this was even worse – he’d been aggressive with me every time I went in to their run that day. We’d had four or five sessions of him being growled at, faced down, cornered and picked up. He’d bonked all three of the pullets, and fairly roughly too. Saffy got the worst of it, and he’d grabbed her by the comb (rather than the feathers on the back of her head) and held on for longer than was at all necessary. But they were coping, and no-one was bleeding, so I stayed out of it. Actually I’d just put a new peastraw bale in their run, which the four girls were having great fun investigating. I was getting clothes off the line, when I heard the shrieks.
He’d pinned Poppy against the bale, and against the fence. I couldn’t see who it was at first, but I could see Sebastian had finished copulating, and was just standing on top of whoever it was. The I saw him having a serious peck at the hen he was on – not a gentle (for chooks) “Come on, get up, are you ok?” sort of peck, but a nasty series of “I want to hurt you, and there’s nothing you can do about it” bully pecks. Mirri was having a go at him, bless her. But that meant it must be Poppy under there, and she wasn’t moving. Which is when I started to run.
He had shoved her down so hard, her head was under the bamboo pole at the bottom of the fence. She was completely prostrate, and didn’t even move when I slid my hand under her. I could see she was breathing, but I thought she could have broken bones, internal injuries, anything. I scooped her up and tried to examine her, and eventually established that there didn’t seem to be anything broken, no cuts, no obvious injuries. But she hardly opened her eyes, and didn’t even make a noise.
That is when Sebastian decided to attack me again.
I could be charitable, and say he was trying to defend Poppy from a potential predator. But I don’t think it was that. He was just angry, and violent, and since he couldn’t get at Poppy any more, I was a good target. Especially as I was crouched down with my back to him, and with all my attention on Poppy.
I have never been so close to killing an animal in anger. He went for me, and I went after him, still with Poppy in my arms. The pullets all bolted for the house, so Sebastian and I just went around the yard until he tipped from vicious to scared. I had to fend him off with my boot quite a few times – not kick him, just extend the sole of my foot in his direction to prevent him hitting anything easily bruisable (although I have quite a few from his earlier attack(s)). So that’s when I put Poppy down, and grabbed him.
I though for a while he might drop dead then and there, he was panting so hard. But he didn’t, and I just held him still and told him what he’d done had just signed his death warrant. After five minutes or so I let him go, and stayed there to keep him away from the girls until it was bedtime. There was no more aggression, but also no signs of conciliation from him.
We (humans) talked about it briefly over dinner, but the decision was easy to make. He’d been given as many chances as we could give him, and his behaviour was getting worse. Much as I wanted a Dorking rooster to mate with Lily and Neroli (before it’s too late for them), I just wasn’t willing to let Sebastian anywhere near them. He wasn’t such a fabulous example of his breed that his genes were worth the risk of injury to them. And I would have killed any other sort of animal who attacked one of my girls. So this morning, when we were both awake and up by sunrise, we decided to do the deed.
We haven’t weighed them for about six weeks, so I’m not sure what his pre-bopping weight would have been. But he dressed out at 2.15 kg, and has a lovely long-muscled carcass. The other thing he had was the most enormous testicles.
Haven’t decided what we’ll do with him yet – possibly Coq au Vin again, or maybe jointed and used in a casserole (we just got the River Cottage Chicken & Eggs book, which has some seriously mouth-watering recipes).
Silly boy. He could have had a long and happy life as the flock rooster. He’d been so gentle and calm as a bub, and was never treated with anything but kindness. In retrospect, I probably should have made a concerted effort to stop any of the aggressive behaviour right from the start – various things I’ve read say that you need to stop them dancing around you, even when it’s just a game. But on the other hand, Lola was treated exactly the same way as Sebastian, and has grown out of his displays of monkey-wards aggression. (Fingers crossed he stays that way …)