Thursday, October 11, 2012

Taming Russell

Taming is the wrong word really. But Russell the Rooster, who likes a good fight as much as his namesake Russell Crowe, has become difficult to live with and something must be done.

It started out harmless enough. Occasionally if I walked straight towards him, he would charge and flap at my legs. At first I gave him a boot or stamped at him, largely out of shock or gut reaction, but quickly noticed that just made him come back for more. I then tried the approach described by this blogger - not fighting back, ignoring him, showing that I had food so it was clear I was not a predator or another rooster. It made good sense to me and for the most part it worked. Until the last week or so that is. Spring has made Russell more randy and aggressive than ever and it got to the point where it was hard for me to get into the chook shed to collect eggs and put out feed. If he saw me walking towards the chook shed, he would RUN from wherever he was and chase me, flapping and kicking. It was worse if the hens were following me for food, as they do. When I let the birds out in the morning, it was previously easy to distract him with a bit of food and he'd do a funny little dance and cluck for the ladies to come over, forgetting I was there. Last week he just came out fighting. It's a good thing I'm always wearing jeans and wellies or my legs would have sustained worse injuries than a few little scratches and bruises.

So after talking with chook man Paul Healy about it at a Huon Eldercare fundraiser in Franklin last Friday night, I decided to try a more aggressive approach. I put David's large gardening gloves on and went to let the chooks out. As soon as I went into the shed, he flew at me and I copped his spurs in the thigh. Ouch. I held him with both hands gently but firmly on the ground in the shed. He struggled for a while, but eventually he was still. The hens were most perturbed and started up a chorus of loud clucking. Once he had been still for a few minutes I let him go and opened the door, half expecting him to have another go but he didn't. He shook himself off and went outside, doing that weird little dance around some food scraps again.

I wasn't convinced it was a good approach and sure enough last night I got the chance at a local business dinner to ask animal behaviourist Jade Fountain for advice. This is a lady who has trained dogs, chickens and even cheetahs - I'm not joking. Sure enough, I've probably just made the whole situation a lot worse because fear is half the problem. Apparently, I should offer him some food that he likes, protect myself with some kind of armour, not react and back away - basically he just wants me out of his space and once he knows I'll be leaving he'll be a happy chook again. Now I just feel plain depressed about it and don't know what to do. If I can't stop him attacking me, I'm afraid he's for the pot. That would be a great shame, as he's a very handsome bird and is doing the job I wanted him for - protecting the ladies out on the range and fertilising eggs. If you have solved an aggressive rooster problem before (other than by dispatching him), I'd love to hear how it went.

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