Monday, April 27, 2020

Me and Dave

Dave the rooster stood his ground, cocked his head and looked me in the eye. He took a step left, then another, and I held my line while I moved a few feet right, then stopped just about a foot past him. He fluffed his feathers, stretched his wings and went back to giving me the side eye. It occurred to me that chickens give the best side eye of any species, except maybe dinosaurs.

We stood and contemplated each other. I was patient. I could wait until he decided whether  he wanted to spend the day outside, soaking his battered bones in the sun, or hide in the laundry room, safe from his status hungry son and the dog that tore him up.

I wanted him outside, which made Dave want back in the laundry room. Because I blocked his route to his hiding place he went ahead and looked out the door, then back at me. Out the door, and back at me, you'd think he didn't have an eye on each side of his head. I didn't push him by taking a step toward him, if you step too far into a chicken's bubble, they'll come at you. Dave is a big old Dorking rooster with five, not four, taloned toes and  spurs the size of, well, my spurs. Even banged up like he is, I'm not sure the odds in a battle would favor me.

This is not the first time Dave recovered in my house with horrendous injuries from a predator. It's the second. The last time I kept him in a pet carrier for three days until he was more upset than hurt, and let him out. After that, Dave started hanging out with me and the dogs while I worked. Eventually his hens came along with and did their happy best to destroy everything I tried to plant. They also ate bugs like crazy, so we settled into an uncomplicated partnership.

This time, I couldn't figure out for the life of me what got him. His coop is varmint proof and he's been healthy for many months. Which is a good thing, because this time the wreckage about totaled him. Torn wings, a lame leg, bites on his neck and a chewed chewed up head and comb, told me he was done. So far, Dave's recovering in spite of my dire predictions.

My dogs guard him well when he's hurt and their sudden hostility towards a tenant's Labrador explained a lot. Dog friendly Dave's terrified screeching when he sees the Lab gave me the details. The dog and it's owner have a short time left on my place. I'm surprised the mauling didn't sway my rooster from his new life as a member of my dog pack, it seemed to strengthen it.

Dave feinted right, but I was ready for him and took a step closer as I cut off his retreat. He settled, then crowed, turned his back and I was able to guide him outside. I'm sure he'll be back tonight.

Friend and mentor, Tim Unzicker, once told me, "Each animal has a bubble around them and you need to learn how to manipulate the space, not dive into it. A horse will have a different bubble than a buffalo or cow. Figure out the bubble and you're in charge."

Through the years since, this bit of good sense stood by me countless times. I learned to move and separate cattle, llamas, horses, sheep, goats and chickens, on foot and on horseback. Each species has a different place in their bubble that will turn or stop them. Learning to work cattle taught me how to control them and Tim taught that to control the bubble meant to control the critter. My guess is Tim never thought I'd end up bumping a chicken bubble, but there you go.

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