Tuesday, September 2, 2014

cock-a-doodle-who?

So there is a funny thing about homesteading within city limits.  Okay, there are many, many, many funny things about homesteading within city limits.

But the one that is on my mind of late is compliance issues with backyard poultry ordinances.

Well, that and what happens when your oldest child turns 13 in the midst of all this.  Back to that in a moment.

Here in Portland we are allowed six hens.  Only six.  No matter whether they are laying or not.  And no roosters.  Absolutely no roosters.


In our efforts to raise a healthy, family-friendly flock, we were interested in finding breeds of chickens that were heritage breed and carefully selected for cold hardiness and with temperaments suitable for a family flock: gentle, social, and quiet.



We found an excellent source and are so happy with the chicks we purchased and have been raising. Problem was, the chicks only came straight run.  Which means there was no way of knowing if they would be hens or roosters ultimately. And slowly, over the past few weeks, we have begun to hear the vocal stylings of some of roosters down in the coop.  Like Peter Brady, they are coming of age.

It started as a strange squawk.  With a good deal of fluttering amongst the flock.  And then, making me think of what it must have been like to listen to me play the oboe years ago, and I am so sorry for that, there emerged closer and closer approximations of the famed cock-a-doodle-doo.  At first, this was happening at all times of day.  But as time passed and the calls became more complete and fully voiced, it was happening just when it is supposed to, at dawn.  Supposed to if you live on a farm, that is.  Surrounded by either no neighbors or at least neighbors who appreciate a natural alarm clock.

And so, these adolescent roosters?  They had to go.

It was time to get serious.  And figure out which of my little chicks had become hormonal teenagers.  Something I know a bit about in the human world.  But not much at all about in the world of fowl.

I did a bit of reading.  Googled: how do you tell the difference between a hen and a rooster?  It turns out there are no reliable visible signs and that the most tried and true method is by hearing them crow.  There are other ways, such as locating the pointy saddle feathers on the roosters



And what you would expect from hormonal males attempting to clumsily dominate the flock and take charge.  But this all seemed a bit vague to me.  I really wanted to put a feathered face to the crowing.  Problem was, they seemed to be on to me.  And they refused to make a sound whenever I was down in the coop area with them.

At Elliott's suggestion, we set up chairs.  And began: Rooster Watch, 2014.


At first, it was crickets.  Not a crow to be heard.


But then one morning I was in the garden and I heard them practicing.  I responded with my perfected hen call -- ahem, the one I use much to the amusement of my family and likely neighbors --which I often employ to bring the flock to me when I put them away in their coop for the night.  I can stand down by the coop and they will come from anywhere they might be ranging.  If I am loud enough about it.  Which is where the amusement of others comes in.  

It sounds a little like this:

Bawwwwwwwwk-a-bawk-a-bawk-a-bawk-a-bawk.

Well, it turns out this call of mine works to get hens to find me, and to get roosters to answer me.  Pretty soon we had a system going where I would stand out of sight, begin my bawking and the kids or Jonathan would stand down by the coop and watch to see who answered.

Possible Rooster was the first to respond.  


Which was not at all surprising to any of us.


Thus ensued some hilarious improvised bird banding.


Julia offered up her small rainbow loom loops.  


She thought it was funny to mark them with pink ones.

This one we are not sure about yet.  So we have marked him/her with a yellow rubber band.


And then, after all that rooster identification success, we hit another road block.  Once one knows who these boys are, what does one do with them?  They awaited their fate in a Conciergerie of my own artistic creation.



The Man Cave.  I know, it is awesome.  Even Nicholas was impressed by what I could do with two dog crates, a kiddie pool and some wire.

And our gentlemen seemed happy enough down there while we figured it out.





A good deal of head scratching later, and one birthday party for our own coming of age 13 year old in the backyard later...


...a party in which I amused myself/kept myself from tearing up by making mini pigs in blankets with lil' weiners...


During which I do think those roosters knew what was going on and were calling to all the large-footed man-children running about the yard that day and therefore ruffling their chest feathers and letting some rather epic cock-a-doodle-doo's rip, we realized that another problem with urban homesteading is that your neighbors are not likely the best source of information.

So what to do?  Jonathan called the farm where we purchased our chicks to ask if they had any ideas about what to do with roosters.  "It's been a very rooster-y year, I'm afraid," they told Jonathan.  "You may be stuck with Freezer Camp as your only option."

Then, by complete chance, we found a farm -- with the help of a friend who pulled into our driveway one day to check in on our bees -- that was willing to take any roosters off our hands.

And so, from time to time, a noisy bird has made his way by dog crate in the back of our Subaru to said farm.



I expected the kids to be quite devastated by this.  Which is likely why I had put off/dragged out this process for as long as possible.  But they seem to be taking it in stride as part of this process.



Remember Tiny?


Well.



So when our beloved Tiny grew big and started popping out a particularly fine and pointy comb and feathers and an impressive tail



And then began his vocal exercises:

Cock

Cock Cah

Cock Cah Doo

And by the time Tiny had emitted the full

Cock-a-doodle-doo

I had her, I mean him, identified, banded, and set inside the Man Cave while I focused my attention on another one that was beginning to respond to my call.


There's a lot of testosterone around here these days.  But we aren't planning on rehoming any of the humans.  Yet.

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