Winged Elm Farm

  (Philadelphia, Tennessee)
Farm Notes
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Ruling The Roost

The time of morning, just before sunrise, where the light is revealing the landscape, the animals are stirring but not up, the distant meow of our cat Mickey as he strolls up the hundred or so yards from his den to our front porch is my favorite time of the day.

Usually I’m dressed in shorts with my Wellingtons on my feet walking to the barnyard. As the buckets clang with spilling feed the chickens begin to flutter down off their roost with audible thuds. The hogs begin an unseen jostling for position at the feed trough signaled by grunts and snorts. My brain begins to kick into gear, fueled by at least one cup of coffee.

It is a good time to observe. And I observe the replacement rooster sneaking across the barnyard to snatch a bit of grain and a little love. This lasts about 30 seconds before the Cock of the Walk charges into him sending the boy into ignoble flight. Someday, and that day is sooner than later, the boy will have his moment.

Each rooster is kept on the flock for two seasons. Our current rooster was born in spring of 2010. In the fall of each year we gather up all the spring roosters in a pen. They get ample feed for a few weeks. And, then the literal axe will fall. But, before the slaughter date Cindy and I spend a few hours separating out two young cockerels that have promise. They match the confirmation we want for our breeding rooster. The culls get butchered, destined for gumbo or chicken and dumplings. The two we save are kept for an additional few months. At that time we make a choice and butcher one. The survivor becomes the “replacement rooster”. He is in training for the next year.

The replacement rooster leads a furtive existence, skirting the edge of the flock, dashing in for a quick (and I mean quick) romantic encounter. The rooster quickly and usually catches the boy and a sound “whupping” ensues.

In 2011 the old top rooster was butchered making way for the current ruler of the flock. A rooster, between 2-3 really comes into his own. He develops a magnificent deep chest, long spurs and beautiful plumage. Unfortunately for him his fertility drops 25% a year. So, by the third year he is firing blanks as often as hits, if you know what I mean. And that simple fact leads to the annual anointment of the replacement, like the corn kings of old.

It is sad to shuffle the boy off this mortal coil simply because he has difficulties in the … umm… you know, department. But, every year is the same, we are sorting out a couple for candidates for replacement rooster and promoting the current R.R. and preparing a sensational dinner of coq au vin with the “retired” bird. A dish, by the way, that was developed for the old boy who had lost his “crow”.

But, standing there in the predawn light, the old boy spots the young interloper, sprints the length of the run and vanquishes him in short order. At least for today he still rules the roost. I finish my chores and make it back to the house as Mickey arrives on the porch.

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