Today on the Homestead This Happened: RIP Flock Leader Jr and Chicken in my Hat

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Hello, fellow homesteaders!

Today was an odd day on the homestead. Morning feed time made me feel more like I was on a backstage tour of the circus instead of my very own barnyard.

We will get a sad bit of news out of the way first. Flock Leader Jr. appears to have lost his life to a wild creature from the woods. He was Flock Leader, my chief rooster’s, sidekick. They were both Leghorn rooster our daughter and son-in-law surprised me with after a visit to the Rural King store in our region.

I found a single bloody roosters footprint on top of the feed fridge that lay sideways in my tack room and about five feather on the ground. When Flock Leader Jr. didn’t show up for beak and bill county at feed time, I knew he was gone.

We are still living with about six inches of snow on the ground. I didn’t see any predator prints or a drop of blood anywhere else around. It was really weird. A daytime predator is rare. When I gave my usual speech to the flock that morning, warning them what to look out for and urging them to look after each other throughout the day, I told them the brief break in the weather (we hit double digit in temperature for 24 whole hours and many days of the thermometer dipping below 0!) would bring out some very hungry forest creatures looking to turn them into lunch. Yes, I talk to my critters…you don’t?!

At the time got Flock Leader Jr., we had just hatched our first clutch of eggs, some Bantam egg an Amish friend had given me when I stopped to buy horse feed from her husband. Due to some heartless antics by my much older brothers on our grandparents’ farm when I was only 8, I developed a chicken phobia that lasted until we hatched our first eggs.

flock leader jr as a cockeral

Photo above: Flock Leader Jr. as a cockeral – a young rooster. He is the yellowish chick furthest back the feed tray

I was playing in the dirt between the barnyard and Mom-mom and Popaw’s farmhouse when, for a reason that still baffle me, I evoked the ire of their flock. The chased me all the way to the concrete steps leading to the house. I screamed for help from my brothers, but they were too busy saddling up the horses to take some girls out for a ride and merely laughed and mocked my urgent pleas for assistance. Anyone who has older brothers already knows what cruel creatures they can sometime be.

That was then, this is now. And now, I hold and pet my chickens – and my roosters! I had hoped that hatching our own chicks and buying other as day-olds, would get me over my apprehensions and stereotyping all winged livestock (except my beloved Pekin ducks) as cold-hearted assassins. It worked, I love my birds. Although some will wind up on our dinner plates, I treat them all with love and respect and provide them will a freedom-loving free range lifestyle, plenty of good eats, and probably too many healthy treats.

My Pekin ducks a Rouen duck-and-some-other member of the coop tribe

My Pekin ducks, a Rouen duck, and some other member of the coop tribe hanging out in the shade last fall under Jovie’s supervision. They love spending time at our compost pile, which is located just outside of the photo border and where our friends park their camper – I believe they sneak them a few treats!

Roos often get a bad wrap, especially my Flock Leader. Although Flock Leader is apparently mean to everyone who isn’t me or standing right next to me, he does his job as the head honcho in charge of coop tribe extremely well. He, with the help of Jr. keeps all of their ladies, two California Sex Link rooster, and the ducks in line, never lets them stray any further than the barnyard, pond, and shelter house area, and do their best to protect them – as well as impregnate them to keep the flock population stable.

None of our roosters ever fought each other, they only engaged in some puffery and posturing. They all grew up together and that likely made them more accepting of each other, and the ducks and guineas they were raised with as well.

Some fellow homesteading friends are continually baffled at not only how our roosters get along, but why I keep more than one in the first place. In the past year, we have lost two roosters, Flock Leader Jr. and Sassy. If I had only kept one rooster from my hatchlings, my flock would not have been as protected nor would my flock population remained stable.

There is no guarantee that bringing another rooster, especially a mature one, into the flock, would have been accepted or survived. Finding a rooster is not that easy. Most folks only keep one and butcher or give away the rest. It could have taken me weeks or even months, to find another rooster, quarantine it for two weeks to make sure it was healthy, and the let it loose with the rest of our free range flock.

If the rooster had not been raised in free range style, it probably would not have the necessary “barnyard smarts” to stay alive – and I would be back to square one…again.

All I can figure is Flock Leader Jr. was doing his job protecting the flock and lost his life in the process. RIP Flock Leader Jr. you will be missed!

Flock Leader Jr walking about the barnyard

Flock Leader Jr. walking about the barnyard with some other members of the coop tribe. Flock Leader Jr. is in front of Bess, on of our mini donkeys, and Flock Leader is standing stoically behind him.

After my investigation of the evidence of the carnage was completed and I could not find my rooster to attempt to bury him, I went about my barnyard chores and the circus began.

First, my wonderful hubby Bobby did exactly what I told him NOT to do, and rolled a round bale out of the back of our Dodge truck (I was exclusively a red Firebird girl until we got our homestead, now it’s all about my Black Beauty – she has tires and not hooves but it still fabulous!) all by himself.

Rolling a round bale from the back of a truck bed to the front and pushing it off is not and should not, be the job of one person – especially when that person is my well above 40 ruggedly handsome older man!

I did not want him to further strain his back, this bad winter has really upped the firewood chopping, splitting, and toting chores, filling water tanks and taking them to the horse because our creek has turned into a thick bed of ice, and tractor riding to keep our ½ mile uphill driveway as clear as possible from deep snow and ice has not been kind to his back either.

When my Bobby’s does the work of two 20-something men, his back get sore, which I do not want, and then he gets fussy, which I really do not want to deal with!

I frowned when I saw the hay bale was no longer in the bed of the truck, but my angst did not end there. When I opened the double doors in the main barn, my arm full of small water jugs for the goats, I walked into the hay bale and dropped all of the jugs. This sudden disturbance of calm set the chicken and guineas roosting on the timber frames in the barn into a state of pure panic – which in turn flipped out four of the horses that were eating from the other side of the bale.

Apparently, Bobby could only get the hay bale to drop from the trunk and flip it over one time putting it right where the gate SHOULD have been! I had no idea the gate was left unlatched, let alone wide open, when I took the latch off the barn door and walked a step inside to open the inner gate.

Once the danger warning was emitted by the flock members in the rafters, the horses took off in all directions – including towards me and the open gate! Thankfully, the horses all adhere to my commands, with the occasional exception of Harley, and stopped just a few feet outside of the entrance.

The fun did not stop there, fellow homesteaders, not by a long shot. I walked back to my feed and tack room, basically a big deep stall that I converted to my work and storage space. I keep my natural livestock first aid and medical supplies, saddles, tack, feed, etc. in there.

I keep the feed fridge locked and all medical supplies, natural or manufactured, under lock and key as well to prevent the animals or children from getting into them. I also keep potable water, antibacterial wipes, and a human first aid kit in there as well.

Before I even got to the feed and tack room, with more small jugs of water in my arms, I was met by the mini donkeys and the pony – Bandit. Yep, they escaped the pasture yet again. Every time I think I have found the last spot in the fencing addition around the barnyard we made to create ample access to the main barn, the ornery trio proves me dead wrong.

The trio was apparently jockeying to be first to feed today. The mini girls, a mother and daughter, run every time they see my Jovie coming. Being a blue heeler, she lives up to her breed and nips at their heels (and sometimes mine, too!) to get the girls back where they belong…as quickly as possible.

At first, Bandit was oblivious to Jovie’s antics, but he has since learned to high tail it at the first whiff of her scent. Today on the homestead, Bandit went running up the hillside that runs along the back of the barn and tried to cross back over into the pasture at the wrong spot. He looked like he was playing a game of Chinese jump rope, by the way he got his two front hooves tangled between two lower strands of barbed wire angled to run along the hillside terrain.

Now, I loved playing Chinese jump rope at recess when I was a little girl, but I can guarantee you untangling a frantic pony while his adopted momma, a 20-year-old quarter horse named Smoke, tried to get through the same fence panel to comfort him.

I figure I stood nearly on my head, on a steep hillside slant in at least six inches of snow, for about 15 minutes to get his legs out and finally back down the hill and into the pasture gate.

Foolishly I thought the barnyard circus experience had drawn to a close…wrong again. As I gathered up my empty water jugs, one of the California Sex Link chicken flew onto my back. I wasn’t sure who was on my back at the time, but figured it was a sex link. One of the them usually ends up on my shoulder or head trying to get far away from Jovie when she decides to herd the flock after putting everyone else where she thinks they belong.

I reached over my shoulder to remove the chicken before it got all tangled in my hair. My efforts were futile. I ended up putting both arms behind my back to get its feet out of my hair as gently as possible – for both our sake.

Once it was finally freed, the sex link plopped right into the hook of my coat. Well, Bobby’ coat.

I ALWAYS put my coat in the exact same place every single time I take it off. But, last night, my daughter borrowed my coat when she ran out to spray PAM on the television and internet satellite dishes to prevent the snow from sticking and kicking out the signal.

My daughter neglected to put my coat back where it belonged – some thing apparently do not change with age, so I grabbed Bobby’s farm work coat. He might just have lost it. The coat is an ugly color, torn, stained, an old (not in a cool vintage kind of way) but man, is that thing warm!

So, in 3 degree weather, I took off my gloves and Bobby’ old coat and removed the chicken from its hood. The California Sex Link left Bobby a little surprise inside the hood, so I added laundry to my growing list of chores for the day.

At least the journey back from the barnyard was uneventful, I suppose I should be grateful for that much!

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Tara Dodrill
About Tara Dodrill 31 Articles
Tara lives on a 56 acres farm in the Appalachian Mountains, where she faces homesteading and farming challenges every single day. her homesteading skills are unmatched, she raises chickens, goats, horses, a wide variety of vegetables, not to mention she's an expert is all sorts of homesteading skills such as hide tanning, doll making, tree tapping and many, many more.

6 Comments

  1. Sorry you lost your rooster. This past week I lost 3 chickens to neighbors dog. Chickens keep flying over the fence. So now I’m working on a more secure area for the ones that are left

    • Nancy,
      Thank you for your kind words. I hate to hear about your loss as well. Living on a 56-acre homestead, we haven’t had to worry about neighboring animals, but have had mink, hawks, coons, coyotes and possibly even a bobcat lurking about. Our chickens are big flyers too, they like to spend their days in the barn rafters. Have you tried bird netting over their living area, or do you free range too?

    • Kate and Greg,
      Thank you for your kind words. It always hurts to lose an animal, whether it was a pet or barnyard livestock. I take the responsibility of caring for our animals very seriously, whether they are kept for meat, eggs, work, or pleasure. I just feel such a sense of failure when we needlessly lose one. Thankfully, whatever got Flock Leader Jr. has not been back.

    • Well, Larry, thank you so very much for the compliment. I didn’t think I had heard of Hank the Cow Dog at first and Googled it, then the name seemed to ring a bell and I went to the bookshelves in the grandkiddos playroom and looked and sure enough, I have a Hank the Cow Dog book! Every year I take my mother to the library book sale – for $3 you get a cool burlap very large tote bag, like gym bag dimensions, and get to fill it up with as many books that will fit… it’s awesome! Every kid I know gets new to them books and usually I find at least a couple cool American history books, gardening books, and crafting books for myself. Thanks to you, the grandkiddos will be enjoying a reading of Hank the Cow dog when they come over later this evening!

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