It was a hot day. I knew that but i didn’t yet realize how hot. When i walked outside to fetch the dogs the air hit me like an oven door opening. I glanced at the outdoor thermometer on the porch and swiveled my head around to look again. It was 110 degrees. At first, i thought it must have broken. I searched for places where the mercury may have bled out of the tube, indicating that the thermometer was rendered useless and no longer read an accurate temperature. There were no such places. I grabbed my phone, “siri, what is the temperature outside in this location?” The phone was silent for a moment and then replied, “the temperature is…one hundred ten degrees.” I hurried to get the dogs inside the house. They had drank only half the water in their bowl but they were panting heavily, standing together beneath an oak tree. I rushed them inside to the cool air conditioned structure and put them in their crates where they could lie down. Then i headed to the chicken pen. They stood huddled in the darkness of the coop, mouths open, panting heavily. They had knocked over all the water containers and been without liquid for who knew how long. I grabbed the water containers and ran to the house where i poured filtered well water into each one. Then i ran back to the pen, water containers under my arms. I hurried into the pen. I didn’t want to let the cooler air out of the shady part of the coop so i didn’t open the big door. Instead, i reached through the chicken door and attempted to place the water dispensers down against the wall so that the chickens had access to water. Suddenly i felt a sharp pain in the back of my hand. A moment later i knew it wasn’t an overzealous thirsty hen. It was ira. He had trapped the skin on my hand between his beak and was thrashing his head back and forth in an attempt to pull it from my bones. Amidst a string of expletives i yanked my hand free and drew it back into the daylight. He had ripped the skin and the wound was both bleeding and turning purple. It became almost immediately infected despite my treating it with silver and tea tree oil. I would battle that infection for about a week before the area healed and a faint pink scar was all i had to remember it by. However, at that moment i had used my last ounce of patience with this rooster. Everybody had told me to let him reach maturity, let him reach an age when the hens would have him and he’d calm down. I did that. I put up with having to bring a weapon with me every time i fed or watered the flock, and having to fend him off in an attempted fight to the death every time i cleaned the coop. I put up with watching my back and cleaning the coop in choppy increments, stopping at times to fend off Ira with the chicken door insert, for months. When the hens would finally have him he was no less homicidal. If anything, he became more possessive and aggressive. He was also pretty rough with the hens. Nobody had taught this guy about cuddling or foreplay. He simply grabbed the hens by the back of their necks, swung them around, mashed their faces into the dirt, and thrust his hips like there was no tomorrow. If a hen got away from him while he was doing his dance so to speak, he wouldn’t rest until he’d caught her again, but not to finish his dance…he would recapture the hen only to punish her for escaping him. He would not try to mount her this time. Only throw her around, peck her, and kick her about the head. The hens would run behind Rosie, my biggest chicken with deformed feet, and she would squawk loudly, warning him to leave them alone.
I was beginning to realize that ira would not have a permanent place with us on the homestead. I had kept him to protect the hens from predators but it seemed i had closed their most dangerous predator in the pen with them. Some of the chickens began developing bald spots where ira had pulled the feathers out of the backs of their necks. That day when Ira took one more chunk out of my hand it was just that last drop of rain needed to start a mud slide. I had had enough of Ira, the homicidal teenage rooster, and i told him so. I said, “You’d better grab a hen and **** her now cuz by sundown today you’ll be dinner. That’s it! I’ve had it! You’ve got to go!” As i gathered the supplies i figured i’d need to transport him i said, “you’re gonna be some coyotes dinner tonight ira. I’ve had it for the last time! We’re not doing this anymore! I’m not going to fight you to the death every time i have to put water in the coop and the dance we go through every time its coop cleaning day is just plum ridiculous! You are clearly not growing out of this. I’ve done all i can do. You try to kill me when i’m feeding you, when i’m watering you, when i’m moving, when i’m standing still. You are clearly not the cute little chick i nursed from the brink of death on my chest for warmth when you were little. You are a full grown homicidal little ******* and you’ve got to go.”
It took me a while to catch ira. He took another swipe at me, kicked at me with his feet, and then ran into the coop. I went in after him. Seeing that i had, ira grabbed the hens and began positioning them on top of him in one of the nesting boxes, burying himself underneath them. I had to gently lift the chickens away to get back to my beef with ira the rooster and each time i had a hen in my hands ira took advantage of them being full and grabbed more of my skin and thrashed his head about. The slimy little snake! I got all the hens away from him so he ran. I opened the door and let him out of the pen. I couldn’t have the coyotes finding him on our property, as they would be looking for more buffet dinner here if they knew it as a food source. I had plans to drive ira into the woods and leave him for the coyotes. These plans were complicated when i noticed ira climbing back through the horizontal bars of the cow gate to return to the chicken pen. Great. A rooster with gps. I drove him a little farther away this time. I returned to the property and went about the chores in the yard. Then i looked up from my task and here he comes climbing back through the gate, ready to pick up where we left off, ready to fight me to the death, pacing and jumping about, watching me with his tail feathers stiff and his head low, watching me always.
I knew what i had to do. I was going to have to kill Ira myself. This would be hard for me, as i was used to nurturing life and bringing things back from the brink of death, spending hours feeding small animals with syringes and administering antibiotics…keeping tiny animals warm and checking them for dehydration…i had never taken an animal’s life. I wondered if i had it in me to do it. I was not a mountain lion or a coyote. This was not my nature. Did i have it in me to watch the life drain out of something and know that it had been at my hand? I didn’t know. I looked around. The rooster had to die and i was the only one there to do it, so kill him i would have to. I grabbed Ira by the feet and flipped him upside down. He knew what i was doing. He fought me all the way. Even as we were nearing the side of the shed he kicked harder and thrashed more violently but i held on. His beak snapped open and shut as he reached for me. I had resolved myself to do it and so i did. But i noted how he fought harder the closer we got to the shed. He sensed his end was coming. He tried his hardest to win, and in the end, just to gain freedom. For a split second he stopped trying to kill me and tried to fly, but i never let go of his feet. It broke my heart to know that he knew what was happening to him. As ratchet and ugly as he was to myself and the hens, i wished i could have just tucked him into bed and watched him drift peaceably into eternal sleep like the doctors did with terminal cancer patients, placing the morphine clicker in the patient’s hand and putting a chair for family next to the bed. But ira was not a cancer patient and roosters couldn’t have morphine. As he died he made one last noise and for that split second he sounded as he had when he was a fluffy little chick, tiny and uncertain. This monstrous homicidal beast had made a plea for mercy and the noise would probably stick with me for life.
I did what had to be done, proving to myself that i had what it took to do it, but also cementing the idea in my head that i wanted to avoid repeating the task at all costs if possible. I would never again buy small chicks, always older ones that had already been sexed. I would never accept the incubators people offered me at discount or even no cost, because eggs might hatch into roosters. I would never purchase a replacement rooster for the flock. The homestead became an all-girl household. Ira’s comb turned purple and the eyes lost their bright vigorous hatred and became dull glazed orbs. He was bigger than i realized; almost twice the size of the hens. I gave him no funeral. I said no words. I felt it would have seemed disingenuous to speak about his life as i was the one to take it. Instead, i sat with him for a bit in silence. I remembered what he was like before he hit puberty. I hoped God would welcome him into heaven in his chick form where he could be mothered by hens and play with other chicks, before puberty turned him into a relentless death and destruction machine. I didn’t sleep well that night. Later the feed store told me they would have taken ira and given him a home amongst their flock. I didn’t think that was a good idea. They already sold some notoriously aggressive breeds. All they needed was the genetics of a super aggressive rooster in their chicks bloodline. Then the whole town could know what it was like to live with an Ira.
A week later i would find out that Ira was what was known as a “man fighter”. The roosters that farmers wanted to keep fought other roosters, but some roosters fought people instead. The guy said the way to tell if a rooster was unfixable was to put food down. If the rooster went to the food he would grow out of the aggression. If the rooster could care less about the food and never took his eyes off the person’s hand or leg, abandoning the food to attack the person, the rooster would have to be dispatched and brought to the kitchen. It would not grow out of the behavior. The guy said the worst thing to do with a man-fighter was to let him breed because the chicks would risk inheriting the trait or passing it down to their offspring. I knew what had to be done and i did it but my heart wasn’t in it.