In Praise of the Roo

8 Reasons Roosters Rule

by Laura Parker Roerdenheadshot

Should you have a rooster in your small flock or backyard farm? The question comes up a lot on forums. Roosters are noisy, are not necessary for hens to produce eggs, and many ordinances in residential neighborhoods forbid them. So unless you’re wanting to hatch your own eggs, which obviously requires them to be fertilized by a rooster, why would you want one or two (or ten) roosters?

  1. Roosters are the front-line of your flock. They not only will aggressively attack any predator that threatens your hens, they will also announce oncoming threats to their flock providing ample warning for hens to take cover. This role is essential whether or not you free range. When we had a weasel during the winter entering our coop every night, we lost nearly all of our roosters first, as they were the ones defending the hens. If not for the roosters, we would have lost another dozen or so hens in addition to the forty we lost.
  2. Roosters teach hens where to find food. If you watch a flock free-range, you’ll see group of hens commandeered by a rooster who will sound the dinner bell when particularly tasty treat is found. Interestingly, scientists who have studied this phenomena have noticed that hens will ignore a rooster’s call for food that they are used to finding on their own. They will only respond to calls for novel finds.
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    The hens were brought to these tomato skins, which were discarded after canning, by the white rooster in the foreground.

     

  3. The social structure of a flock is often correctly described as the “pecking order.” While plenty of drama is ascribed to the hens in a henhouse, it’s actually the rooster who creates and maintains the social order of a flock. Rooster-less flocks will have a lot more in-fighting among hens for social dominance to fill the vacuum created by the lack of a rooster. Hens in flocks without a rooster have been known to peck another hen to death. I suspect I’ve never had a hen-pecked hen in my flock because we’ve always had roosters to maintain a healthy order.
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This story-book moment accurately depicts a rooster’s attempt at dominance by finding higher purchase to crow from. But interestingly, I have never seen our most dominant roo do this.

4. We’ve all read the storybooks: roosters announce the morning so that the farmer  knows when dawn has arrived and it’s time to get up. It turns out that roosters anticipate the dawn, crowing in the dark. Only recently did scientists learn that the famous crow was not light driven, but rather based on an internal, circadian clock. By crowing just before dawn, roosters are thought to be announcing their territory and dominance just as other birds are about to become active. I learned during our most recent weasel-geddon that our roosters start crowing as early as 3:00 a.m.

5. If you want to maintain fertilized eggs for hatching, you’ll need 1 rooster per 12 hens to ensure each hen has been mated with sufficiently. This means for a flock of any size, you’ll have multiple roosters. It turns out that the most dominate rooster of the flock is the first to crow each morning, with the next in line and so on following. A group of hens becomes the favorite of each rooster. This daily roll-call, if you will, helps to maintain the flock dynamics and pecking order, ensuring a well-run flock where all members are accounted for and protected. Researchers also speculate that this helps females sort out dominance in potential mates.

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This medium sized Australorp is currently our most dominant rooster, commandeering a flock of 120.

6. Multiple roosters breed increased intelligence and fitness into a flock. Researchers have discovered that submissive roosters in a flock will use clever behavioral tactics to divert attention away from the more dominant males. The more clever the tactic, the more successful the rooster at breeding. If you hatch your own chicks from a flock with several roosters competing, over time it stands to reason you will be increasing the intelligence and fitness of your flock.

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A very unique scene of a group of juvenile roosters together.

7. Seeing the lowering sunlight hit the cerulean and magenta hues of a rooster on a spring pasture is a siren call to the imagination suggesting afternoons lingering on a Mexican patio or dining under a grape arbor in Tuscany. Or perhaps, our roos help us to appreciate and know deeper shades of simply being sure footed about our own slice of here and now.

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A Marsh Diasy rooster, originally from Lancashire, England. © Zophia Dadlez

8. And last, but not least: there is always the quiet thrill of collecting fertilized, warm eggs for an incubator or allowing a broody hen to hatch her chicks as mother nature intended. Watch this beautiful video. You might just want a roo or two (or ten), afterall!

 

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Do You Know Where You Are?

(And other thoughts on eating locally wherever you are)

by Laura Parker Roerden

What does it mean to be here? I mean right where you are at this very moment.

I can distinctly remember the first time I actually understood what being present to where I was meant deep in my bones. Like a lot of my epiphanies, I was eating when I had it.

I was in Positano, Italy, along the beautiful Almalfi Coast. I had sat down at a casual seaside restaurant, which had a patio that looked out on the colorful fishing boats moored in the Gulf of Salerno. I chose the restaurant for its post card view, so my expectations for the food were secondary.

I looked up at the fishing boats unloading and noticed the lemon trees hanging innocently enough above the deck.

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My first thought was: “What a nice way to bring color onto a patio.”

Then my food came: il pesce del giorno (the fish of the day)—a delicate white fish pan seared in olive oil with a very simple rosemary and lemon garnish.

I looked out. In the dirt that gathered in the outcropping of rocks that lined the coast, rosemary bushes were moving like fans in the breeze. They were growing wild in crevices and by the side of the road.

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Everywhere lines of olive trees were planted in terraces built to stabilize the sharply inclined hillsides prone to mudslides.

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I breathed in the sea air and took my first taste of the fish. I could feel the slight spray of salt on my skin—a grandular bitterness rolled on my lips mirroring the salty texture of the wrinkled skin of the fish on my plate. The low earthy note of the rosemary was balanced by the higher bite of the lemon, the soft flesh of the fish in contrast to its crackled skin—each distinct flavor a stitch connecting me more deeply to the very earth from which it had sprung.

I was eating not just any fish, but this particular fish whose giant eye looked up at me and was unmistakenly once alive and moving torpedo-like through the waves as one long muscle only hours ago.

In that one bite, I suddenly understood what it means to be nourished by a meal. How land, sun, and sea intermingle in this a kind of holy communion to sustain life. How we too spring from the salt of the earth.

We read a lot about eating local—how it’s better for the environment and our communities. It’s better for our bodies. But in that moment I understood that eating locally sourced foods is also better for our souls.

Environmentalist David Orr suggests that our modern malaise evidenced by high rates of violence, depression, and other maladies has at its roots our disconnection from nature. “We do not know who we are,” he offers, “because we do not know where we are.” It’s an interesting thought to consider.

Yes, it’s true: we are what we eat. But do you know where you are right now?

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