It was November 2014 and Rhonda the Rhode Island Red hen was broody again. All day she sat on her eggs with steely determination. Rhonda is a chronic brooder and we’ve watched her for many years sit on eggs in desperation to hatch them. We’ve always agreed not to let our animals breed as I have a strict no breeding policy at Lefty’s Place – there’s enough animals needing homes and love in this world to bring any more into it. This particular time there was a problem. Arguments abounded in the household. One of us was vehemently against Rhonda having a chick and one of us was for it. Sadly, as I was away from home working for a few of those weeks, the person who wanted Rhonda to have the chick won out and “accidentally” forgot to collect the eggs. Late November 2014 saw a little ball of yellow fluff hatch open to the world and to Rhonda’s delight, she finally had a baby.
Not knowing if this chick was a male or female I named him/her, “Poppy Popeye”. This gave the option of either name being used when we found out what sex the little one was.
Rhonda threw herself into her mothering role with gusto. Her happiness dimmed my anger at the “accidental” hatching slightly as this seemed to be one of the most important things that had ever happened to Rhonda. Her life was consumed with her baby. She taught Poppy Popeye everything and kept him safe from the other chickens with passion. No one dared come near Poppy Popeye in the end because Rhonda’s attacks were less than pleasant. Sometimes I watched this duo with sadness thinking of all the chicks who never get to experience such a mother’s love, who never get to experience being taught how to be a chicken by their loving mothers. Rhonda’s love for her baby was no different than a human woman’s love for her baby – it was raw, real and unwavering.
It became apparent that Poppy Popeye was a male as soon as I saw his little comb growing in the shape of his father’s, Super Chicken’s, comb. He grew to be quite lanky and lean, he was definitely a rooster! His name was immediately changed to “Popeye” and he began to become a cheeky teenager.
As he grew, I realised that Popeye’s real mother was Pickles – she is a Leghorn/New Hampshire cross. Rhonda seemingly sat and hatched one of Pickle’s egg instead of her own, yet it made no difference to her, she still loved Popeye as her own flesh and blood.
Rhonda continued to teach Popeye the ways of the world until he was about 4 months old and then Popeye decided it was time to explore the world on his own terms. He started to try out his croaky crow. He and Super Chicken get along fine, there is no fighting thus far, they seem to just stay out of each others way.
These days, Popeye is the one chicken I have who refuses to go into the chicken run at the routine, expected time. Everyone comes running for their nightly feed, but Popeye has his own adventures to attend to. We have created a special little door for him to get back into the chicken run after the others are locked in. The worry lines on my face have become deeper and darker worrying about him each late afternoon. As he gets older, he won’t want to leave the hens and will go in with them at the right time and I look forward to that day.
Most roosters who are hatched into this world are killed, Popeye was extremely lucky that he was born into a sanctuary. Most chicken breeders slaughter their young roosters as there is no demand for them. Hatching school project roosters have such trouble finding homes and most are slaughtered. The egg industry has no need for roosters and all male hatchlings are either gassed or ground up alive.
Popeye is very lucky.
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