Henry the Rooster – A Chicken Story
GEORGE COSTANZA: “Do you think chickens have individual personalities?”
KRAMER: “I don’t know.”
GEORGE COSTANZA: “If you had like five chickens could you tell them apart by just the way they acted? Or would they all just be walking around? Bak, bak, baak, bak? Cause if they have individual personalities I’m not sure we should be eaten `em!”
– from Seinfeld
Chickens are really interesting creatures and are a lot of fun to raise. George Costanza’s concern resonates with many people raising chickens. Whether you have just a couple of chickens or a big flock , you will notice that they all do not act alike. Some are really shy, some are outgoing and brave, and some are high strung. You might think that the life of something as innocuous as a chicken would not have much of an impact, but when you are with them every day you can really become attached. Of course, you can avoid becoming attached to them, as many of the people who raise chickens do, and then there is a lot less drama. However, you would miss out on those who really have the personalities that you grow to love!
In 2007 or so, we ordered a batch of chickens to add to the small brood that we already had. We had several chickens we acquired earlier; 5 or 6 hens and a New Hampshire Red rooster named Donald. My wife liked to name all of our chickens back then so when the batch of chicks that we ordered came, they all received names. They were all female names for we had assumed, since we had asked for a straight run of females that the chicks would all eventually turn out to be hens.
As it turns out nobody is perfect, including the people who sex chicks and as the new brood grew we noticed that one of them was a little different than the rest. One chick called Henrietta was getting to be noticeably larger than the rest of the chicks and was also growing the familiar spurs that roosters have. Right before the pullets were fully grown into productive egg laying members of the chicken community, I was out feeding them. Suddenly I heard a faint crowing.
It was a sound that I heard before from Donald who was once known as Dorothy…before he grew up and we found out that he was really a rooster. By this time though, Donald’s crowing was very loud and pronounced and this was certainly not him. I realized who it really was and went in the house to inform my wife that Henrietta would have to be known as Henry from now on!
Henry, who was a Barred Plymouth Rock, grew to an enormous size. He had a large beautiful tail and a large red comb. His feathers were the normal Barred Plymouth Rock look except here and there were several purple feathers. Donald was king of the roost then and he did not tolerate another rooster in his brood. Donald fought with Henry and kept him in line. Poor Henry knew his place in the pecking order, and even though he was larger than Donald, he would back down and run. If Henry tried to have his way with one of the hens, Donald would come flying and Henry would go running!
(Click on pictures for better view)
This kept up for about a year. Donald would like to roost at the top of the barn on an old pulley system that was used to bring hay into the barn. From this vantage point, he was on sentry duty, guarding the flock every night. This was his downfall as one day a raccoon came in and took Donald from his roost. From that point forward Henry was the king. Henry came to dominate the brood, but at the same time was a really gentle bird. He was not tame enough to be petted, but he was never mean to my wife and I as some roosters could be. He also got along well with guests and other creatures on the farm.
As time went on we added more chickens to the farm and even started to sell eggs from our hens. Adding more chickens meant that we got more roosters. As Donald did before him, Henry worked hard to keep his place at the top of the pecking order. He kept the other roosters in line as Donald kept him in line. Henry’s crow was the loudest and neighbors a half mile down the road said that they could hear him! By this time we had built a couple of rooms in our barn with rods for the hens to roost on. As the chickens would go in for the night, Henry would be sitting on the top rod as king of the roost.
One winter it got really cold and even though we tried to save it, Henry’s comb got frostbite and he lost most of it. He was still king but he had a smaller crown. I was able over time to train Henry to feed from my hand and would give him treats like pieces of cheese or old bread that we give to the chickens. Much of the fun of having chickens is interacting with them. This is especially true when the entire flock comes running when you pull into the driveway!
A little over a year ago, Henry seemed like he was having more and more trouble getting his balance in the morning. He would swoop down from his perch when we opened the barn, but would not be able to walk for about a minute or so. This got progressively worse as time went by and we did not know what to do for him. We asked the vet, but she did not know much about treating chickens. We also looked online but we were not sure what was happening. It got to the point that Henry could be in obvious pain and we realized that it was his hips or his legs that were the problem. After a while Henry would just sleep on the barn floor at night. He still functioned and was able to walk, but every now and then he would have an episode where he would lose his balance and not be able to get up immediately.
The other roosters, spotting weakness, now challenged Henry for the top spot. He did not give up, although after a while he seemed to get tired of fighting and just ignored the other roosters. He became more reserved and developed a limp. He was not as active as he had once been and we really thought that we would lose him soon. One day last December a freak storm came through. It went from 60 degrees down to zero in one day and there was a fierce wind with freezing rain and snow.
My wife and I were both at work at this time and even though I left work early there was not much I could do to stop the ravage the storm brought upon our farm. By the time that I got home, the hoop house that we have had windows blown out and tables and chairs in our yard were wrecked and blown into a pile. The chickens wisely got into the barn and were roosting. I kind of assumed that the chickens would do this but I was worried about Henry all the way home. I didn’t know if he would have a chance in that weather.
When I got home I checked on the chickens and other animals and I could not find Henry. I looked all over the barn…no sign of him. I started to clean up the yard, assuming that Henry was gone. I noticed that the garage door had blown open in all of the wind and went to close it. There was Henry, in the garage, barely clinging to life. He was on his side and still breathing but not conscious. His toes were swollen to the size of cocktail wieners.
I put Henry in a box and brought him into the house next to our furnace in the basement. I thought that he had maybe, at most, a few hours left on Earth and wanted to give him some comfort before he died. Henry seemed to be barely hanging on. I called my wife to tell her the news, but she was not near her phone. She got my message about an hour later and called back. She said to bring Henry upstairs where it would be warmer. I did this and by this time Henry was awake.
We did not know what to do now. It was below zero at this point and Henry was still not well. If we put him outside he would certainly die. We then decided to take a large dog crate that we have and put newspaper in it for Henry. We put Henry in it and put the crate in our bathroom. For a few days we kept Henry in the crate, but it seemed cruel to do so. Everybody was telling us to put him out of his misery, but we held out hope that he would recover. We then decided to let him walk around the bathroom. He had more of a limp than before, yet he got around just fine. Even though he squirmed at first he got used to us picking him up and handling him.
He would stay in his cage most of the time and come out to eat or drink. We just started to leave the cage open. This led to coming home from work and finding Henry sunning himself in our living room and bedroom! We wondered what people were going to think about us having a chicken living in the house. Ma and Pa Kettle come to mind! We thought that in a few weeks the weather would be warmer and we could let Henry out again.
As it got warmer we experimented by putting Henry in the barn. The other roosters either did not remember who he was or did not want him back, for as I left Henry’s side, the other roosters pounced on him. I had to get him out of there. Other attempts at reincorporating him into the chicken population failed. I once found Henry hiding wedged behind a sliding barn door!
As we let him out more and more and the weather got warmer Henry figured out that he could wander to the front of the house and just avoid the other roosters. From this point on he lived with us and we would let him out during the day. After a while he would come to the door in the late afternoon and would want to be let back in so he could go into his cage and sleep. This became a daily routine. If we left the front door open to let fresh air in Henry would jump up the couple of stairs and come in himself.
Now, people who think it is weird that we had a chicken in the house should consider that he was much cleaner than many parrots and cockatoos that people we know have. He really became part of the family. I would come home from work and would call his name and he would cluck to let me know where he was. If we wanted him in the house due to a storm or other reason we would call his name and he would come. I would sometimes sit in our garage to rest after working on the farm and he would walk over sit next to me. My wife and I would let him sit on our laps at times as we watched television. Henry enjoyed being outside and even had a few hens that would come over and keep him company. He also very much enjoyed coming in at night and keeping us company!
Henry lived on with us for over 6 months. He limped a lot and by this time he was probably the oldest chicken that we had. Henry finally passed away 2 weeks ago today. A little over two weeks ago his condition worsened and he seemed like he had a stroke. On his last day he sat outside with us, eating some of the strawberries that we were picking. He was enjoying himself even though he could not really walk. He passed away later that night or very early the next morning.
As George had mused about, chickens do have their own personalities. Although I do still eat chicken I really cannot eat any that we have raised. Henry had a very gentle personality and the closer we got to him the more we became attached. The end of his life was tragic but it was bittersweet as we also got to bond with the kind old soul that Henry was. We will really miss him!