by Linda Benson
I really enjoy watching animals. I love to watch horses, dogs, cats, and yes, even chickens as they go about their daily lives and relate to each other. I could probably spend all day sitting in a chair outside, just watching.
But alas, I was across the canal with my wheelbarrow, cutting blackberries, when a very big drama played out recently at our house. All I had left was the pictures to prove what happened. But as a good animal observer, it was fairly apparent to me.
"Your rooster," my husband hollered to me, "is chasing Dory all around and pecking on her."
Uh oh. This was the confrontation I had been dreading. The rooster is a new addition to our flock. For a year, we'd had only laying hens, which had all gotten along quite nicely without a male, taking dirt baths in my flower beds, following us around the yard for treats such as left-over fruit and vegetable scraps (they love watermelon) and of course laying big brown eggs.
But since a couple of my hens had become "broody" (deciding to set on a nest instead of laying eggs,) I've had to either: buy fertile eggs for them to hatch, or buy new-born baby chicks and place them carefully underneath mama (and then cross my fingers that she'd accept them - she did.)
But this process would be so much easier if the hens just had a rooster (and then the eggs would be fertile and they could hatch their own.)
So - meet Rusty. He is a Welsummer Rooster (yes, spelled with only one "L") and he was four months old when we got him, just learning how to crow. Now he is five months old, and has pretty much figured everything out.
Our hen Dory (she is an old heritage breed called a Silver Gray Dorking) has been the lead hen for the past year. Similar to a wise old mare in horse herd dynamics, she has made the decisions for the flock, kept watch for predators, made the alarm sound when a large bird flies overhead, and pretty much been ruler of the roost (in lieu of an actual rooster.) And I knew she wouldn't give up that position easily.
So when my husband called out to me, I instantly knew what had happened. And the power shift did not go easily, because both Dory and Rusty had blood on their combs, which means they got into a nasty fight. And Dory (dear thing) had lost. Not only the fight, but her position as leader of the flock.
In fact for one entire day, she was extremely scared of Rusty, and every time she saw him, she'd fly up to sit next to me, for both moral support and safety.
And I watched them both closely for a couple of days, because although the balance of power had now shifted, I didn't want the young rooster (or anyone else, for that matter) to continue to pick on Dory, who obviously got the worst of the fight.
What was interesting was watching Dory's body language that second day. Just as horses will show submissiveness to an older horse, or to the herd leader, by posturing or mouthing like a baby, every time the rooster came near her, Dory flapped her wings slowly in a submissive gesture, as if to say "all right, you're the boss now."
The drama seems to be over for now, and Dory (a very people-oriented hen) is hanging out with the rest of the flock again. They free-range all over our property during the day, so they can basically go wherever they want (but stay in a safe pen at night so predators won't get them.)
But Dory still comes and sits next to me from time to time, as if sharing girl talk. "He's a big meanie," she says.
"Yes, I know," I tell her. "It's a macho thing."
What does all of this have to do with wild horses? Well, this:
Wouldn't you like it if the BLM would release some of those thousands of mustangs they are holding in corrals across the west, and allow them to free-range on some private (or government) property with viewing stands set up so people could watch them? They have wildlife viewing places like this for elk - I have been to several of them.
Would you stop at a place like this and just sit for awhile and watch horses be horses, in natural surroundings? I would. I would! Doesn't this seem like a good solution, at least for some of those horses? Let's talk about it!