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  • Writer's pictureChristina Swaan

The Story of Rufio

When one raises poultry, it is inevitable that you will have roosters - 50% of all chicks hatched are male. Roosters are amazingly beautiful birds, and great flock protectors. They will fight off predators, and protect their hens from any perceived threats - including humans.

In nature, Jungle fowl (the wild ancestor of domestic chickens) form groups that typically consist of a large number of females to a single dominant male and a few subordinate immature males. Young males who reach maturity may try to challenge the lead male for mating rights, or be chased away from the flock to find their own group. Hens have the freedom of choice to follow a specific male or escape from ones they don't like. The lead males are the protectors, and are often the first to lay their lives down to predators as a sacrifice to the safety of the group. There is always room for a subordinate male to take his place. The natural processes of disease and predation are generally how the ratio of males to females are kept in check, ensuring the health and peace within the flock, as well as creating genetic variety for the long-term success of the species.

In the comfortable confines of high-strength fencing and predator-proof coops, domesticated poultry are spared the stressors of natural selection. All birds are given the safety and security to live and eat and grow - but they also lack choice. They are at the mercy of their human caretakers to determine the best course of actions to influence flock health and compatibility. When lacking the outside influences of "the wild" the dynamics of a flock are hardly natural, and there can be cases where a rooster's deep-seeded desires to fight for survival, to take his mates, and to protect his territory runs into conflict with the preferences of those human caretakers around him... Unfortunately the most common approach to dealing with this is the culling of the offending rooster. "Rufio" - a mixed laced Cochin/Polish cockerel, with a strong dominant attitude and tendency toward aggression has been a challenge. I am no stranger to raising poultry, and I know that in many cases the entire purpose these birds serve is to be food for others... but with this one rooster I find myself questioning and resisting age-old wisdom and traditional methods for dealing with "problem birds." He has charged at me, jumped on my toddler, tried to fight with birds twice his size, has caused chaos among the flock, scared the younger hens, and bullied his brother into a state of neuroticism... yet despite this I continued to give him more chances, continue to feed and care for him, and continue to try my best to make things work In the year since his hatch, I have spend hundreds of dollars on building his own coop, countless hours working on taming him and integrating him into the flock, and patched many scrapes and scratches from his attacks. He has matured into a beautiful bird and while I still don't trust him around young children, he is gentler with his ladies and no longer causes the same levels of chaos he once did.

In celebration of Roosters everywhere who deserve a second chance, it is my hope that Rufio's stories can inspire others to care about the plight of these amazing birds, and find better ways to manage and respect them for the beautiful creatures they are.

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