Monday, April 28, 2014

Dear friends and neighbors,

The first chicken I ever got came free with the purchase of five pounds of chicken meat at a market in Caracas, Venezuela when I was five years old. My poor mom got suckered into buying ten pounds of chicken so my brother and I could each have a free baby chick. She got the last laugh though. A year or so later when we moved, my mom gave our chickens to the church janitor for his Sunday dinner. I’ve loved chickens ever since.
You may have noticed that chickens have been in the news quite a bit lately. The ASPCA just made the biggest cockfighting bust in U.S. history, seizing 4,300 chickens, mostly roosters, from a large network of criminals who were breeding them and running illegal cockfights in New York.

Working in the shelter where the roosters were being cared for reinvigorated my fascination with these fierce, awesome birds. Walking through the shelter was like a trip into a Dr. Seuss book. There were roosters of every size and color. Bright green roosters. Red, white and blue roosters. Big, round, fluffy roosters. Ity-bity, teeny-tiny roosters. Roosters with tall, crazy tail feathers. There was even a rooster that stood three feet tall, whose feet were almost as big as my hands.

As amazing as roosters are, most people don’t know much about them beyond that they crow at the crack of dawn. So in honor of all the thousands of amazing roosters I met in New York, I give to you: Ten Things You Might Not Know About Roosters.

  1. Roosters aren’t really driven to kill. Like many animals that live in groups, roosters have a social structure with a hierarchy. There’s a rooster at the top, a rooster at the bottom, and everybody else is jockeying for position. The higher his position, the better access a rooster has to females and food. Fighting between roosters is about establishing and keeping position within the hierarchy. Two roosters fighting in the farmyard usually ends with the loser running away to lick his wounds while the winner enjoys the fruits of his victory.

  2. Roosters take good care of their hens. A rooster will pick up and drop food, while making a food call, called ‘tidbitting’, to let his ladies know where the food is.

  3. Roosters are jealous. If another rooster tries to attract hens by tidbitting, the top rooster will chase him away.  If your rooster is aggressive towards you, it’s often because he thinks you’re trying to attract his hens away by giving them food. Start hand feeding him and he’ll come to realize that you are not a threat, because another rooster would not share food.

  4. Roosters are clever. A low ranking rooster will wait until the bigger roosters are not paying attention before he tries to attract hens with his tidbitting dance.

  5. Roosters start crowing BEFORE dawn. Roosters’ internal clocks tell them dawn is coming in an hour or two and that’s when they start crowing.

  6. Roosters crow all day. While it starts a little before dawn, roosters have a lot to say during the day as well. They crow to claim their territory, to scare off predators, in response to strange noises, and anytime another rooster crows.

  7. Roosters can peck, but it’s their spurs that do the real damage. The spur is a long claw that points backward off a rooster’s leg. When he fights, he jumps in the air, flips his feet up, and thumps forward with his spur. And he does it REALLY fast.

  8. Roosters are brave. A rooster ready to fight is afraid of nothing. He puffs up his neck hackle feathers, stands as tall as he can, and starts a dance of anticipation. He’ll attack a man 20 times his size without thinking twice if he feels his flock is threatened.  The phrase ‘get your hackles up’, refers to someone getting ready for a fight, and originates with roosters.

  9. Roosters get modified for illegal fighting. A rooster raised for fighting will be fed steroids to make him bigger. His comb and waddle will be removed as they are considered to be too easily injured. Before the match, he may also be plucked from the waist down and given a shot of performance enhancing drugs. His spur will then either be sharpened, or cut off and replaced with a sharp blade called a gaff, to make him more deadly in the ring.

  10. A rooster can live without his head. Well, at least one rooster could. Mike the rooster had his head cut off as he was intended for dinner on September 10th, 1945. But instead of becoming dinner he became famous because he just kept going about his business. Mike the headless chicken lived for over a year without his head and made it into the Guinness Book of World Records. 
All my best,