Why I love my rooster.

Stories from the farm.
March 30 2006 5:44 AM

Cock a Doodle Do

The story of Winston, the rooster who wouldn't die.

Winston the rooster 
Click on image to enlarge.
Winston the rooster

The thermometer on the side of the barn read 4 degrees when I came in at 6 a.m. to feed the barn cat and scatter some grain for the chickens. Winston, my speckled rooster, was lying on the cement floor, motionless. I'd never touched Winston, nor would he have allowed me to, but I moved closer. He didn't stir. I prodded him gently with the tip of my boot and there was a slight response.

I was certain he was nearly dead, and felt surprisingly sad. Winston looked bewildered and seemed humiliated. He had come to me almost two years before, from another farm, and he had a history. A hawk had entered the chickens' coop and gone after his hens. The other rooster, his brother, ran for his life, but Winston stood the predator down for a few precious minutes until the farmer got there with his shotgun. The hawk fled.

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Winston's honor and flock were intact but his left leg was mangled. From that point on, he limped like the war hero he was, adding to the gravitas he already seemed to bring to his life and work.

I bonded with Winston, in part, because I, too, had a gimpy leg. And he inspired me with his refusal to surrender his dignity or abandon his duties.

He crowed faithfully at 4 a.m., and then hourly, more or less, throughout the day. He followed his three hens all over the farm and the pasture, hobbling over quickly if they squawked or wandered too far or if a stray dog appeared to menace them.

He befriended Orson, my troubled, territorial border collie. I often would look out the farmhouse window and see, to my wonder, the two of them sitting side by side in the sunshine, gazing out at the valley below.

At dusk, Winston gathered the hens and escorted them into the barn, where they would hop up onto their roosts to sleep while he kept an eye out for foxes, weasels, coyotes, and, of course, hawks.

I'd named him in honor of the other Winston, for his stature and leadership and similar eloquence: His crowing could be heard far away. I worried that he was disturbing my neighbors, but they assured me they were happy to hear farm noises. His salutes seemed to bring back lost memories and mark their day in a comfortable way.

I would be sorry to lose him. But local farmers all agree: You don't call the vet for a chicken. I didn't have an ax, the surest way to kill a rooster swiftly, so I went back to the house for my .22. I wanted to make sure he didn't suffer.

Confirmation came from my farmer friend Pete, who's had chickens all his life. He happened to come by, and he walked into the barn to look at the rooster. "This guy is gone," he said. Fond as I was of the rooster, it seemed his time had come.