She was not what I expected. Walking toward my car in her high heels and bleached blond hair, she motioned us to the garage in back. I shouldn’t have been surprised at this point because just a few minutes before I had driven right past her house. I didn’t think the naked mannequin for sale by the side of the road with arms flailed out in odd contortions had much to do with our destination. Certainly, the Google Maps was wrong. In my imagining mind, heirloom chickens were sold from a rustic barn on acres of land, with windmills and sheep dotting the landscape. Furthermore, the woman who would sell the rare breeds would not dye her hair.
But anyway, there we were. Two hours away from home on a hot August day, staring at some chicks in South Jersey, when we find out we are in for another surprise. She had forgotten to mention on the phone that these chicks had not been sexed. (to clarify for the non chicken owning reader: chickens can only be sexed the first 24 hours of hatching. If they are not sexed then, you have to wait for 6-8 months to confirm gender.) She tries to be helpful by repeating, in three different ways, that I have a 50/50 chance of getting hens. So probably as she had planned, I buy a few extra chicks to better my odds. I might as well be on the boardwalk.
We drive home and I suddenly recall every horrible, terrible story I have ever heard about roosters. They have spurs on their hind legs that can injure you! A farmer lost his thumb from being pecked by one! They will have endless sex with the poor hens, pulling off their back feathers, tormenting them daily!
So, over the next few months I try to be proactive. I call around a few places to find a home for the chick that has now grown bigger than all the rest. And I find out that many places will take this rooster–for auction. In a twist of unexpected events, my fear of the unknown has now merged with my conscience. I cannot reconcile my image as a humanistic backyard chicken caretaker with one who sentences to death a creature whose only mistake thus far was being born the wrong gender. So, to manage my anxiety, I do the usual. I google. I google “positive traits of roosters.” And I read about how they will protect the flock from predators -even sacrificing themselves! And they hunt out the best food sources, letting the hens eat first; and, finally, -this one got me–sometimes, if raised with human hands, they can be gentle.
There is no clear answer, I think, as I go out and give them some treats. Only time will tell. He has gotten so big now, that he looks just like those roosters in the paintings and on the kitchen cloths. Who knew there might be a dark side? But no matter, my conscience will not let me give him up yet; fear of losing my thumbs will have to be pushed aside for another day. There exists the possibility that this rooster can be different. I give him a little pat on the back. He might not be what I expect.