Re Rustica

  (Squaw Valley, California)
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Chicken Language and Excess Eggs

Geese and chickens do not like to brood all their eggs, and usually abandon most of them.  This helps them ensure that they do not overtax their resources.  Another technique they use to ensure wise resource use is language.

If our birds ever want to brood their eggs into chicks or goslings, we allow them to.  The reason why they produce more eggs than necessary is much the same reason why humans produce more eggs than necessary.  A large flock is as hard to feed as a large family.

Chickens like to grow their population at a very slow pace – just like humans.  Growing at too fast of a pace means the risk that later generations may have exceeded the resource capacity of their home. 

When a flock of chickens grows too large, one of the minor roosters will take his hens and his roosters to a new home, much as bees will swarm.  But, head roosters are always looking for new resources for their flock, so this rarely happens.  A head rooster will claim more roosting space by singing in the environment: this “marks” the territory.  The birds associate the place with his song, and the effectiveness is similar to that of the chemical markers that dogs or bees use to claim territory, or the visual markers humans use. 

The head rooster is always traveling between his minor roosters to see they are taking care of his hens well.  If some of the hens are not eating, the minor rooster is punished and then all of the minor roosters’ hens (and the minor rooster himself) are shown to a new food source or the food source in that locality.

When an attack occurs on his flock, the head rooster will vigorously defend his hens, with the assistance of his minor roosters.  We have seen a head rooster defend his flock against a coyote, another defend against a mountain lion (with the help of his minor roosters) and against worse enemies than that.   They are very brave.

One or more of the minor roosters will stay back during such an attack and keep the hens away, or herd them to a safer place. 

One of the minor roosters always will stay at home and defend the nest area against attack.  This is usually the same rooster’s job every day.  When the flock is very large, the head rooster will require the help of a lieutenant to check up on all the flock.  This Second rooster will often rotate between a handful of the best roosters.

Hens have some say in who their roosters and head roosters are by bonding themselves to one rooster or another.  They can and do love all their roosters, but their greatest love is always for the head rooster, and then the second rooster, and so forth.

Hens are less vocal than roosters.  They will sing many songs, but they are usually eating.  Both hens and roosters have love songs, hate songs, songs of joy, happiness, sadness, fear, alert, and anger.  Only roosters have territory songs, mating songs and battle songs. 

The roosters will battle each other, but never injure each other.  They bounce up and down and try to jump higher, and then jump over their enemy rooster.  Ultimately, they make their enemy bow before them.  After that match is over, sometimes it is redone, sometimes another rooster wants to play.  Roosters will strut when they have beaten all the other roosters in their flock, or after defeating a real enemy.  After defeating a real enemy, all the roosters will sing a special victory song, which is a variant on the territory song.

Of course, our favorite rooster song is the “all’s well” song which is, in human music, a classic trill: CDCBC.  Sometimes it is emphasized, C’C’CDCBC, or when things are mediocre, CDC, or just CD.  The defining characteristic is the change from C to D.  When the roosters have a victory, it almost sounds like laugher, C’C’C’C’C’C’C’D’’C’D’C’B’C! 

Love songs are characterized by an upscale swing, B_C, and emphasized by shortening or repeating the B and lengthening the C.  Alarm calls are similar, B’D!  This suggests that in alarm, they seek their lovers to protect them.

When chickens mourn, they are silent.  When they are sad, especially after losing a battle, they sing a quiet D_C’B. 

When one of our favorite roosters, Poopy, got shot last year (we lost almost all our flock to criminals), all the chickens mourned for him.  Nobody laid an egg for a week.  We compared our notes and saw that when he came of age, egg production had increased more than 10% for several weeks.  The roosters also mourned for him, sulking at home.  Roosters are very important for egg production, both in protecting the flock and making them eat enough to be good layers, but also in motivation.  Poopy was always dancing with his hens and singing to them, and singing victory songs of encouragement to his fellow roosters.

When they hate something the roosters will click and growl and the hens cluck and growl.

When they are pleasantly surprised, they will peep like chicks!  Mother hens and father roosters will also speak “baby speak” to their chicks, and will fuss about them, clucking and clicking.  The roosters love to show chicks what is good to eat, sometimes demonstrating several times for their benefit, even pushing them back to “school” if the lesson becomes boring or repetitive.  As far as we can tell, there is no “hazing” of young roosters – they take their place among the older ones without ceremony or battle.

Our second favorite is the alert song: it tells us they are doing their job: it sounds like a car alarm alert, “bwoop bwoop!” (B’B_E’B’B_E) followed by a long lower note  C’C’B_B  It is similar to the “look at this tasty thing to eat!” song, B’D’C’B, and sometimes is accompanied by clucking, clicking or growls.

Roosters will share their adventures with their hens, re-enacting their battles.  After the magnificent defense against the coyote, one rooster pretended to be the coyote, sneaking up on several roosters pretending to be hens.  The head rooster then charged the “coyote,” and the minor roosters sang victory songs.  The performance was repeated several more times that day…and the next!

They all laughed for more than an hour, and danced until dark.  It was a chicken party!

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