The Old Broke Rancher On the Cock of the Walk

Old Broke Rancher Masthead
Rooster crowin'

As I put him to bed the night before, I thought he looked a little peaked. So when he was not with his harem, early the next morning, I suspected the worst. I found him cold and stiff on the floor. That was somewhat of a shock. As I was forced to reflect on his life while burying the rooster, the bigger shock was that I found I was sad at the arrogant little SOB's passing.

If he had been a human being, he would have been insufferable. He had a distinctly haughty air about him and a slow, deliberate gait that exuded high self-esteem and a generous evaluation of his own merits. Indeed, only the blind would not admit he was a pretty boy. When he showed his hackles and puffed up with his pride, he was, by any standard, a fine specimen. I believed him to be a Lavender Orpington, a rare breed of cold climate chickens that would suit a ranch like mine.

We came by him quite by accident. We purchased his harem in the usual way, to get a few eggs in exchange for a few crickets and hoppers, which we had to spare. Gradually, it became apparent that one of the hens was not like the others, which was to say it wasn't a hen. As it grew, it started to look funny, and behold, she grew into a rooster. 

I should say now for the benefit of any city slickers reading that no self-respecting ranch anywhere, but especially in Montana, is complete without a cocka-doodle-doo to ring in the morning.

This is the same noise that most urban centers try to outlaw by banning flocks with roosters in them, but I find that I've grown to love the sound. It could be a form of Stockholm syndrome. As far as it goes, I had met my fair share of noisy roosters over the years, but he took the cake. He was the Dizzy Gillespie of roosters.

Rooster

His job around the ranch was to announce the coming of dawn, or high noon, or any other event of the day that required a little pomp. His brood of hens, meanwhile, produced the eggs.  

Country folks gladly trade the tiny red spot in their eggs, for the joyful noise that a rooster makes. It is odd to me that city folk think the red spot in the egg is cause to throw the egg out. They never ponder which comes first, the spot or the chick?

Though he could not speak a word of English, we nevertheless succeeded in establishing telepathic relations.  

"Hello, Mick," I would say of a morning. I called him Mick because his walk resembled that of the lead singer of the Rolling Stones, except, if anything, with a bit more strut to it.  

He once indicated to me that "look, you've got one wife, and she can hardly stand you. Me, I've got eight, and each one of them worships me. Now, just who do you think runs this ranch?" 

This was a common refrain with him. It seemed that I failed to hold a candle to him in various ways, not the least of which was personal beauty. He also considered himself to be the better warrior of the two of us.  

Rooster spurs

He would show me his weapons of choice, the sharp, long spurs on his heels. They were often used to keep one of the ranch cats away from his harem. My poor big border collie also got the business end of them, once as she was minding her own business, just sauntering by, as dogs do, and that arrogant monster just attacked. The pup was more surprised and embarrassed by his hostility than hurt. Border collies are a little timid themselves, but to be subdued by a chicken? I mean, that's embarrassing. But, even I had to admit he was pretty formidable, when he jumped at you, from yards away, spurs first. I'm sure he thought he'd subdued me too. 

But the fact was that I provided them, his girls, with their daily ration of victuals. I'm not sure how he squared that with his understanding of his supremacy. He probably thought he had arranged it somehow, and that I was in thrall to him, my svengali. I never mentioned to him that I had seen his warrior kind, reduced to feathers blowing in the wind, by foxes, coyotes, and even the lowly weasel a time or two. 

For that matter, I don't think he ever realized how close I came to putting his ass in the slow cooker and making some stringy chicken tacos out of him.  

chicken tacos

Instead, I built an enclosed area, I referred to it as a run and which I bet he thought of as a palace and a seat for his power. He inside the safety of his run, was a brave defender of his girls. A mighty gladiator!

His greatest joy in life, was when the ranch big dogs were on a chain, and I could open the run gate and allow his flock out to scratch. This happened only after the other denizens of the ranch, the humans, were up, and about. 

Let it be noted chickens get up early, earlier than I do for sure, and I get up early for a human. But, that, and humans require coffee in the morning before they become human. So his limit on the space he was allowed early in the day is one of the things he constantly complained to me about. He and his girls wanted out to scratch earlier than I ever let them.  

He had no fear, or concern, for fox, or the coyote. I knew better, however, and always locked the flock back into their run at night.   

He lived a long life, my guess is four years, which is about as far as his kind makes it. The longer they live, the longer those spurs get and by the end they were long enough to put the eye out of a bear. I am confident that he announced the coming of nearly 1500 dawns and crowed a million times besides. 

I never let on, at least around him, that I considered his crowing to be music to my ears. If he'd have caught wind of that, he would have become unmanageably precious. As it was, he was already a vicious, jumped-up little street-fighting tyrant, but he did have a beautiful singing voice.

We live in the sticks, and I am surprised that no predator ever got him, that he lived out his days and succumbed to the natural end of a long life. I am reminded of an evening when, from the kitchen window, I saw a fox mark the corner of my chain link run as his territory. Smelling the birds inside but unable to get at them, the fox finally thought, "aw, piss on it," and did so before slinking off into the sunset. 

Safely enthroned inside, probably asleep, the brave warrior never knew the difference. "You're welcome," I muttered as I watched, wondering if our telepathic bond extended between the kitchen and the henhouse.  

He never did thank me, but I'm not too big to admit I kind of miss him.

Fox

Gary Shelton was born in Lewistown in 1951 and has been a rancher, a railroader, a biker, a teacher, a hippie, and a cowboy.  Now he's trying his hand at writing in the earnest hope that he'll make enough at it to make a downpayment on an RV.  Hell, scratch that.  Enough to buy the whole RV.  He can be reached at [email protected] for complaints, criticisms, and recriminations.  Compliments can be sent to the same place, but we request you don't send them - it'll make his head big.

Leave a Comment Here

Robert (not verified) , Thu, 12/02/2021 - 05:20
Funny / YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE ROOSTER ARE HILARIOUS ( BUT PROBABLY SPOT ON !! : ) HAVE A GREAT DAY !!!,......
James Taylor (not verified) , Thu, 12/02/2021 - 11:55
Back in my youth (40s - 50s) we had hens mostly for eating and a feisty little Bantam rooster who was a pet. Used to ride on my shoulder as I walked to town. lived a long life but finally met a possum that took him out.
Your story brings back memories every time.
John Murray (not verified) , Tue, 12/14/2021 - 13:09
I had a big Rhode Island Red rooster once and he lived very much as you described your rooster did. I loved his singing and I wanted him to live a long life. However he made a bad error in judgment when he attacked my grandmother one day and I reacted with a 2x4. He ended in the crock pot. I still miss old Waldo to this day!
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