Small flock chick­ens are never bor­ing.  If you’ve never kept them, then you prob­a­bly haven’t spent evenings like I have, sip­ping wine and watch­ing Chicken TV, as well call it—the antics of the chick­ens as they hunt for bugs, flap their wings and take dirt baths behind the lilac bush. Recently, the chicken drama here has ranged from slap­stick to tragedy, with a good deal of mys­tery in-between.

The ker­nels of dis­con­tent and upset in the coop began way back this past sum­mer when Edith went broody and hatched a lit­tle grey chick we called “Baby,” since we have zero chicken sex­ing skills. After Edith and Baby’s mater­nity leave in a sep­a­rate coop and rein­te­gra­tion into the flock, chick­ens did what chick­ens will do and tried to peck at Baby to ensure she/he knew she/he was at the bot­tom of the peck­ing order.

Baby and Edith were inseparable–and of great inter­est to the other hens.

Despite her diminu­tive size, Edith was Baby’s fierce pro­tec­tress. She and Baby cruised around the run as if teth­ered side-by-side. When any of the other chick­ens approached the pair, Edith would puff out her chest and chal­lenge the offender. Not even the enor­mous rooster T. Boone Chick­ens would cross Edith in her height­ened state of mater­nal fierce­ness. At night, Edith would tuck Ricky under her to keep him warm. When he grew too large to sit on com­fort­ably, they sat side-by-side with Edith’s wing cov­er­ing him.

All of this we/them drama did not make for a quiet and happy coop. The chick­ens seemed out of sorts. They had dif­fi­culty set­tling down at night. In the morn­ings I would find them churn­ing around in a state of agi­ta­tion. Egg pro­duc­tion dropped to near zero.

Baby grew at an amaz­ing rate. His/her fuzz was replaced by feath­ers and brown mark­ings. He/she grew speck­led feath­ers along the head and shoul­ders. Baby looked like a chicken assem­bled from spare parts.

Baby grew at an amazing rate.

Edith and Baby grad­u­ally started expand­ing the dis­tance between them as they mean­dered among the rest of the flock and Baby began the process of nego­ti­at­ing his/her place amongst the chickens.

It was dur­ing this ado­les­cent phrase that I started hav­ing grow­ing sus­pi­cions that Baby was a rooster. There would be no eggs from this chicken.

Unlike other chick­ens I had inte­grated into the flock, Baby would aggres­sively chal­lenge hens twice his size. Even though he would get a good solid warn­ing peck and would retreat, Baby would advance again. And again.

Things were heat­ing up. There was def­i­nite dis­cord in the coop. There were no eggs for days and days.

We re-named Baby Ricky Ricardo. Then Ricky fig­ured out he was a rooster and had an idea about what roost­ers are sup­posed to do. This is where it gets bad.

In the coop he would try to mount the hens and there would be peck­ing and noise. When the chick­ens were on walk­a­bout and he tried to mount a hen they would run away. Ricky would give chase. There was a lot of run­ning around because Ricky didn’t give up. He just kept chasing.

Ricky Ricardo looked as if he were assem­bled from spare parts.

The yard was lit­tered with feath­ers. The hens were exhausted. Ricky was frus­trated. My dozy lit­tle flock had turned into a churn­ing mass is discord.

Frankly, I was sur­prised that T. Boone Chick­ens, the only other rooster, didn’t put a stop to all of Ricky’s shenani­gans.  He would just watch curi­ously when a hen ran by with Ricky in pur­suit. His lais­sez faire atti­tude may be due to the fact that T. Boone can­not run and can only walk with a limp due to an eagle attack a cou­ple of years ago that nearly killed him.

Then one Sun­day the chick­ens were on their after­noon walk­a­bout while my hus­band and I raked leaves and worked on tidy­ing the winter-ravaged gar­den. Sud­denly, Tina Turner ran by squawk­ing, with Ricky Ricardo in hot pur­suit. She ran this way. She ran that way. Ricky was like a marathon sprinter. He wasn’t giv­ing up.

Exhausted, Tina finally wedged her­self between the house and a trel­lis. The posi­tion was awk­ward and Ricky wasn’t able to mount her, so he began peck­ing at her and pulling out her feath­ers. Tina was mak­ing fran­tic, dis­traught sounds.

Harry held Ricky off with the han­dle of the broom while I extracted Tina from behind the trel­lis. I was mov­ing to put her into the coop out of harm’s way when she sud­denly pan­icked and broke free, run­ning to the woods. Ricky darted past my hus­band with the rake and took off in hot pursuit.

Tina again sought refuge, this time under a shrub in the woods. Ricky com­menced peck­ing at her and pulling out her feath­ers. I think he intended to kill her.

I pick up Tina to put her into the coop. She was so pan­icked that she started squawk­ing. Ricky then came after me with Tina in my arms.

Of course, I did what any­one would do, I screamed like a lit­tle girl. “EEEEEEEEEE!”

Harry, fig­ur­ing what the prob­lem was, started yelling from across the lawn some­thing like, “No, stop! STOPSTOP!”

I ran. Tina got loose. Ricky fol­lowed her again. This time though Tina headed deep into the woods and eluded me, Ricky and Harry with the rake.

At the end of the day Ricky non­cha­lantly wan­dered back into the chicken coop with the other chick­ens while Tina Turner was still hid­ing in fear. She spent the night out­side. Thank­fully, she was well-hidden and sur­vived until morning.

The next day dur­ing walk­a­bout, Tina retreated deep into the woods to avoid Ricky’s atten­tions. When it was time to go home to roost at sun­set she started timidly approach­ing the coop, only to have Ricky chase her away.

Here is where I faced a dif­fi­cult and per­haps life and death deci­sion. This was not the first instance of overly-aggressive behav­ior on Ricky’s part. Do I let the chick­ens work it out, risk­ing Tina Turner to injury or per­haps death? Do I allow Ricky Ricardo to ter­ror­ize a docile hen because he is just fol­low­ing his roost­erly instincts? If I inter­vene, what do I do about Ricky? Would any­one want a mean rooster?

There is more to this story…to come.

Robin

Garden and food writer Robin Ripley is co-author of Grocery Gardening. Her new book, Wisdom for Home Preservers, will be released later in 2014 from Taunton Press.

Bumblebee is about her life in rural Maryland, her garden, cooking, dogs and pet chickens. She also blogs about food and chickens at Eggs & Chickens. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook. Thank you for visiting.

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