Thursday, April 21, 2011

Charmed Life Chickens in Action

Just had to share this video of some of my birds, doing their thing in the chicken yard. My toddler and I took out some kitchen scraps and enjoyed watching them for a few minutes. We were talked into sharing our granola bar and banana by the very sweet and persuasive Roo, Malcolm. It's so hard to turn him down because every bite he gets or finds, he shares with his ladies.

The soft clucking you hear from him when my son throws down the granola bar is his call to the hens, letting them know he has foraged up some grub for them.  In this way, a feedback loop gets established--a good rooster teaches the hens that when he calls them, there is always something good to eat to share, and this means that when he calls them for other reasons (like when he thinks they are too close to other rooster's pen, or when he wishes to gather them for a free ranging forage run, or when he tells them to come to him because a hawk is flying over or a dog is nearby) he is likely to have them listen and come running. 

I love watching my birds interact with an eye to how evolution has shaped their behaviors.  In this case, the behavior of a "good" roo is such that his generosity with food and protection increase his likelihood of passing on his genes, by making the hens trust him and want to stay nearby, thus increasing his chances of access and success in mating.  A bad roo?  One who doesn't share consistently runs the risk of having hens that don't learn to come when he calls.  One who hurts the hens by being too rough or doesn't spend the time necessary to build trust, in my experience, has hens that do not stay close to him and in fact often attempt to put distance between him and themselves.  This increases their likelihood of being predated or mated with by lesser roosters who may exploit access to hens not in a tight harem near the roo.

Malcolm (which, ironically, means "Dove) is a joy to keep.  We have a mutual respect that I take care to preserve, and we've become friends over a long period of time.  I truly value his work in keeping my egg-layers and mothers safe, well-fed, and happy. He is exceptional with young chicks, never trying to kill them as many roos will.  He even tolerates an underling roo in the pen with him.  I kept the best cockerel (young roo) from his offspring last Fall, and Merle ("Blackbird") is coming along, learning from his father.  Because he is in the pen with Malcolm and his mothers and aunts, he seems to be learning how to be respectful and humble--something I require from my roos if they are to make the cut and be allowed to breed.

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