My garden lacks any shade at all. This is not a bad thing, unless I wish to do a little pleasant sit-down hand task like I wished to do on this sunny, hot, breeze-less evening after work. So, I made like any sensible animal would do and took my task (cleaning 50 heads of softneck garlic) to the shade found on the back deck. And being a civilized social animal, I filled a small tumbler full of rosé and sat down.
Number 2 Rooster Jellybean espied me as my butt hit the chair and came sauntering down the walk in his mincing, pigeontoed, not-quite-cock-of-the-walk way. Eyeballing any and all situations IS the Number 2 Rooster’s job, after all, and he was sizing me up to his advantage. Because it was after 5:00 and Chicken Happy Hour was in full swing (i.e., all poultry out and about) I watched to see what he would do. His thoughts were eminently transparent to me.
Some say it is wrong, verging on dangerous, to anthropomorphize one’s pets or farmyard creatures or, hell, the actions of any (other) creature living on earth. Dangerous to whom, I always wondered: even as a small child, I knew humans were animals…how we could ever think otherwise was a fight I fought until I won it (in my own head, anyway). Let’s just say this: it’s dangerous to NOT think that animals act as humans can. Whether it’s dissing the animals or not to put the anthro- in front of the word is the argument we should all have.
And so we have not-so-little Jellybean eying me from the side of the deck. “Both big humans provide food, but this one provides food 99% of the time if she’s got a bowl in her hands, as she does right now. Perhaps what she has is food,” is the way his thoughts turned, “and I will check,” thus taking a few pecks at the dessicated garlic leaves hanging over the edge of the deck, “and it is inedible, but the fact remains this human has a bowl in her hands,” and thus he began to do the call that mother hens and roosters do to let their charges know they have found food, please come running NOW.
And the nearby hens did. Notice the further-away hens did not: they can differentiate Jellybean’s from Number 1 Rooster Absolute Backyard God Mary Ellen’s calls. When Mary Ellen calls, the goods are usually there. When Jellybean calls, well. Dried husks is the perfect example. Those hens are not at all stupid. And sure enough: Jellybean jumped one of the chickens in range and whose back was turned. As Number 2 Rooster, the only option he has is crass subterfuge and then blindsiding a hen.
Ah, yes. Every time I look at the stats of how people find this site, it’s not at all surprising how often “barnyard sex” is a key search term. And indeed chicken romance isn’t candlelight suppers and (more) glasses of rosé . Almost all the hens rebuff Jellybean, even take him on in a fight, but if you’re jumped you’re jumped and the smarter hens just endure it with a ruffled resignation as they know it will be over soon. In this instance though Jellybean has climbed atop Emilie, a not particularly retiring doormat-ty kind of hen. So she squawks and Mary Ellen flies in to her aid.
So here we are. What I have just relayed in 500-odd words has taken place within 3 minutes or less. And in those 500 words and three actual minutes I think we can all see how I smirk at poor Jellybean as the beta male: in all honesty though he’s doing what he can. If things get too ugly, indeed, he’ll be dinner, but he’s wily enough not to piss off Mary Ellen too often, and so, he remains in the tribe. But yes, his stress hormones are almost always sky-high, and you gotta wonder what it does to him, much less for the general temperament of the rest of the flock.
And it’s my job as chickenherd to do just that: gauge the temperament and well-being of the flock. We have two full-sized roosters for a reason, and that reason is because we want farm babies. (And no, you don’t need roosters for eggs, just chicks.) The flock’s too large for Mary Ellen to mate with all the hens on his own, though I suppose he tries. He’s got a great easy-going temperament with both people and his charges, magnanimous even, and I always wonder if it was because he was alone to develop it, not having to battle someone for everything, during his formative year. If Jellybean ruled the roost, would he remain the furtive little bastard he is now?
A little social psy in any situation can’t hurt, you know, and it might even teach you something. It’s fun at least.