The Mystery of the Golden Rooster, a Thrashing, Trashing Tale
Another story of life at Sage Hen Farm by the creator of Henderson's Handy Dandy Chicken Chart
One evening, toward the end of April, when I went out to collect eggs, I knew something was wrong in the hen house. I could tell by the turmoil the cocks and hens were making -- disturbed chicken noises, chasing, jumping, and thrashing about. I discovered a stranger -- a Buff Cochin rooster. When I spotted him in the far corner, I immediately knew he was not one of ours. He was a large rooster with golden feathes and he was fully feathered from head to toe. Even though we have never had Cochins, I know my breeds well enough to be able to identify him immediately with certainty. Some of his feathers were awry, and he was as agitated as the other birds, but he wasn't actively involved in a cock fight, unless he had been running from one, and he wasn't bloody. I had no idea how he might have gotten there, since we had been gone all day at work.
I told Margaret, and she was concerned about biosecurity. We had no way of knowing what diseases, ticks, lice parasites, or other spreadable ailments he might possess and might share. I decided to wait until after dark when things had calmed down before moving him. He was easy to pick up from his roost in front of a nest box. His puffed up feathering made him appear huge, but as I held him he felt a bit scrawny. I moved him to an unused dog crate in the garage. There he had food and water and more than triple the space that most factory hens live in.
We immediately started speculating on how he got to our place. The handsome cock could have been a neighbor's bird who just wandered over. He could have escaped from a passing vehicle. He could have been a drop off. Our chickens free range, so there is no mistaking we have chickens and it sure does look as though they are living a good life. And we may have gained a reputation. At least, when we have met fellow Lodidians over the years, we've been told, "Oh, you're the ones with all the chickens." Once several years ago two men, an elderly man and his adult son, pulled up in a van with three Blue Andalusian chickens that they hoped to unload -- and a sad story. They lived within the limits of a nearby village, and because of complaining neighbors, the old man had to give up his trio. We were obliging. Perhaps this was a similar situation, except the owners of an unwanted bird didn't ask. I didn't think it was too likely that the Cochin cock belonged to neighbors, but we figured we had better check.
It was a few days later before I got around to checking. When I did I gained a partial answer, but discovered an even deeper mystery.
It was late morning as I was tidying up around beds of daffodils when I saw a sheet of paper trapped in a nearby briar patch. It appeared to be a school assignment of the son of neighbors who live up the road. The paper was weather-damaged and probably not recent, but I thought returning it would give me an excellent opportunity to inquire about the rooster. The boy whose name was on the paper answered the door, so we settled that matter very quickly. Before I could ask about chickens, however, the boy's mother said she had something to tell me.
She told me that she had a story about one of our chickens that I might not be aware of. A few days before the driver of a garbage truck stopped in front of their house. He was concerned about what he saw in the camera monitor of the back end of the truck (I had no idea modern garbage trucks were so equipped). What he saw was a rooster thrashing about. He got out and tried to free the bird but was unable to. He ask our neighbor for help. Our neighbor called her father, who lives one house away, and with his assistance, he extricated the poor chicken. He was roughed up but looked uninjured. Our neighbor logically assumed it was one of our birds. Ours is the only free ranging flock nearby, at least the only one with fancy breeds, and this was no ordinary chicken. Further evidence was that the rooster first appeared in the truck's monitor immediately after it went by our house. Without a second thought, the neighbor's father brought the bird "home." We weren't home when he arrived, so he simply deposited him in the hen house. At this point, I interrupted my neighbor and told her, "Now I have a story for you. He's not our rooster." She laughed and said she looked forward to telling her father this extra twist to the tale.
We now had an explanation of how the rooster appeared in our hen house. Our neighbor's story, unfortunately, does not explain how, when, where, or why a Cochin rooster got into the garbage truck, nor who owned or was responsible for the bird. The driver appears to have been the only crew that day, and he would never have gone far from the truck. When the driver first noticed the rooster, the poor thing was thrashing about in the compactor, so I can't imagine he could have been there long. Did he jump? Did he get into a garbage can by mistake? Was this the result of a cruel act?
Shortly after that, I also checked with other neighbors -- got to meet some of them for the first time -- but no one is missing a fancy chicken or knows of anyone missing a fancy chicken. The Lodi Whittier library serves as a community center, and the librarian, who raises some unusual chicken breeds herself, and no one from the community had reported a missing rooster nor had heard of a grieving rooster-less family.
After close to a week, we determined that the rooster, dubbed Pantalons d'Or [French for pantaloons of gold] by Margaret, wasn't a major biohazard to our flock, so we released him. He only marginally got along with the established flock, but he accepted this new location as home. He didn't mingle with the flock, but he also stayed out of fights. He roosted in the garage, often on top of the dog crate where he spent his first days with us. I only once saw him sidle up to a hen and successfully mate with her. He spent a lot of time by the roadside, so perhaps this was a habit from his old days. If so, would this give greater credance that he might have jumped into a garbage truck or a curbside garbage bin on his own volution?
He seemed to be almost limping at first, but we decided that it was just his odd gait. He had a very upright posture that seemed to be forward leaning. He may or may not have been smart enough to come in out of the rain. During more than one rainfall, when the other chickens had gone inside, we noticed him standing lonely under a black currant bush that didn't seem to be keeping him very dry or near the garage, but not in the garage.
His diet was mostly what he could find while free ranging. After about a week, he became brave enough to come into the hen house to compete for chicken feed from the feeders. He seemed to be gaining weight, but when I picked him up, he still seemed ever so scrawny. He kept getting better looking every day in many ways, but he wasn't able to keep his hind end very clean. That probably should have been a warning sign. You may have noticed that I've been referring to the cock in the past tense. He suddenly died in June, after less than two months in our care. Many of our chickens have taken on a posture of hunching up and not moving very much just before they die. Old Pantaloons took on that posture, and within a couple days, I found him one evening dead, just inside the hen house. On the edge of our property in the woods, there is a pile of rocks that a previous owner must have created while clearing the field. That's where I've taken many chickens that have died on their own and were thus questionable for human consumption. The spot, overlooking the creek as it bends through the trees, seems an appropriate sacred space for birds to return to nature. I took the golden bird there, thanked him for his short time with us in which he gave us pleasure, and departed.
We had no need for another rooster or a Buff Cochin, but we did enjoy our mysterious dear Pantalons d'Or. He was more of a beautiful, mobile lawn ornament than a utility chicken. Unlike most chickens, it certainly can be said, he gave me a story.
This page written and maintained by John R. Henderson [jrhenderson9@ gmail.com]. Last modified on June 18, 2015.