Restoring the pecking order in a backyard chicken coop

    In the last few months I had some rooster problems. Any peace was interrupted by four roosters crowing loudly and constantly.

    Two were in my chicken yard, and the other two operated in stereo at my sister’s across the street. The sound of crowing outside the window awoke me at 4:30 every morning, and it felt like I was sleepwalking through most days.

    I’m surprised that I let it get so bad, but I guess this is human nature sometimes—in order to avoid dealing with a difficult situation you get used to all kinds of dysfunctional things. 

    Not only were the roosters bothersome on an auditory level, they also caused social problems. I had never noticed before how many common expressions originate with observations about chickens. Suddenly terms like “pecking order” and “henpecked” had new meaning. The roosters had it in for one of the hens in particular, and would go after her if she tried to get to the feed. Soon she grew frail, wouldn’t leave the roost, and her feathers began falling out.

    We needed to get rid of the roosters, and this wasn’t easy. It turns out that it’s rare to find a new home for a single rooster, and impossible for multiples—and we really tried. Eventually it became clear (even to a sleep-deprived brain) that they had to be killed. The plan was to then eat them, to save the whole experience from being just an exercise in fake farming decadence.

    I wish I could say this is what happened, but here’s the truth:

    This summer my house was getting repainted, a project many years overdue. A friend presciently observed that maybe it wasn’t a great idea to eat animals that had been free ranging on lead paint chips. It was a point that I hadn’t thought of, but deserved to be considered and ultimately heeded.

    Another good friend came over and showed us where the carotid artery is located on a chicken. A sharpened knife did the trick cleanly and untheatrically. There was no running around like a chicken with its head cut off, just sort of a gradual ebb.

    And it actually felt okay, after all the vacillating. To be totally honest, it felt way better than okay. I buried them in the garden, marked their graves with bricks, and have been sleeping soundly ever since.

    But I hope I won’t have to use my new skills again anytime soon.

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