November 06, 2021
As Melissa and I drove into town this last week we were surprised to see a chicken standing in the middle of the road on the other side of the four-lane divided highway. At the time the bird was in the center of the lane and since it was rush hour the cars were whizzing by on either side. I decided to try and turn around and see if we could get the chicken off the road to keep it from being hit. As we drove up to the area where we had seen the chicken, we noticed it had attempted to get back off the highway and had been run over. It was now ranked among the armadillos, possums, and squirrels we often see lying at the side of the road.
When I looked the chicken up online, I found the Barred Plymouth Rock (Gallus gallus domesticus) is an American breed of domestic chicken. It was first found in Massachusetts in the nineteenth century, and for much of the early twentieth century was the most popular chicken breed in the US. It is a dual-purpose breed, raised both for its meat and for its large brown eggs. It is resistant to cold, easy to manage, and a good sitter. Plymouth Rock chickens come in several varieties, but the most common is the Barred Rock. Barred Rocks have a unique look, complete with black and white stripes that lets them stand out in a mixed flock. These large and hardy birds are ideal on small farms because they are gentle yet highly productive. Barred Rocks can weigh up to 8 pounds (3.6 kilograms). Cocks have striping of equal width while hens have wider dark bars. This was a cock who had drifted away from a local flock.
I had a friend who lived in a very affluent community who raised chickens in her back yard. Her property backed up onto a designated green space and she had made a pathway for her chickens to go through the fence, allowing them to become free range chickens during the day. She also raised several roosters to escort the flock of around 20 hens. When I visited, I would often hear the roosters crow. When I asked how she was able to raise chickens in the city, she told me she had been raising chickens for 40 years, and they had been grandfathered (grandchickend?) in. Since her neighbors had all moved in after her, she guessed they knew what they were getting into.
Thoughts: I was able to answer another age-old question when I saw the chicken on the highway. Why did the chicken cross the road? It did not. It only made it halfway then turned back. You do not need a rooster for your chickens to lay eggs, and the hens will lay just as many eggs whether there is a rooster or not. There are some benefits to having a rooster, as it offers significant protection for the flock. The rooster will guard against predators and sound the alert if there is any perceived danger. Another advantage is allowing your hens to live as normal a life as possible with a rooster in the mix. Roosters break up hen fights, find and give treats to the hens, encourage egg-laying, and even monitor the nest boxes. All animals, including humans, succeed best when life is normal. Normal has been hard to achieve during the pandemic and the resulting stress accounts for much of the craziness we see on the nightly news. We need to relax, take a deep breath, and get to the other side of the road. Do the work. Follow the science. Change is coming and it starts with you.