Monday, September 21, 2009

Sunshine the rooster -- a rescue tale with a happy ending

Meet Sunshine --

a cross-breed rooster (probably Leghorn x Buff Orpington) that we rescued in 2005.  If he looks a little ragged  and henpecked -- well, you should have seen him the day we got him.  He was a whole lot worse back then.  This bird has been through a lot in his life.  Here is his story:

In the fall of 2005...  

My neighbor Bob from down the road stopped by and asked if I wanted a chicken. Seems this rooster had turned up at his brother's place and was being chased by the dogs and pecked by other chickens, until he finally squeezed himself behind some hay bales in the barn and hid.  His brother didn't need a rooster, but neither did he want to eat him or see him be killed. Could I please take him?   How could I say "No" to a story like that?

He gets his name

Bob had the chicken in a sack in the back of his pick-up truck and said the bird was pretty wild, so I didn't get a look at him until I put him into an empty cage.  Man, was that rooster in sorry shape. Most of his feathers were missing or broken, his comb, face, and back were all bloodied up, and he was absolutely terrified (can you blame him?)  From what was left of his feathers he appeared to be white with golden shoulders. I immediately thought of the John Denver song, "Sunshine on My Shoulders " (which, by the way, was written here in Minnesota) so I named him "Sunshine."

A bird with a serious social problem...

Sunshine spent that winter living in a cage by himself, both to heal and because he was so terrified of the other chickens. I speculate that he was somebody's "Easter chick" who imprinted on humans, then grew too big and noisy to keep, so they dumped him "out in the country" to fend for himself. Which he did not do very well.  Had we not captured him, he would never have survived a Minnesota winter. 

Sunshine was definitely a young bird from that year's hatch -- you could tell by the short spurs on his legs, which had not even grown in at the time I got him.  As he got to know me, he became tamer, and I was able to take him out of the cage for some attention and exercise. 

In the spring of 2006 a predator killed the old rooster in my flock, so I thought maybe Sunshine could live with those hens. Total disaster! They chased and harrassed him until he hid in the corner or in one of the nest boxes.  They saw him as an intruder to be driven away.  So it was back to the cage again. I hated that, because he was a big bird who needed to get out and stretch. In order to give him some freedom, I let him run loose inside the goose pen when the geese were outside free-ranging. 

The happy ending....

By the end of that summer, those roosterless hens were moulting and growing new feathers for winter. Sunshine had gotten to know them through the chicken wire door, and was no longer afraid of them. Plus, fall is the season when breeding is over and birds, both wild and domestic, are beginning to flock.   Could the hens accept Sunshine now? 

I gave it a try and.... YES !!!!! This time, there were no fights. Having been deprived of sex all summer, those hens were more than ready to accept a new rooster.  Sunshine began to flap his wings and strut like a rooster should.   And that's when I found out that Sunshine was what I call a "dancer" -- a rooster who struts and shows off and courts the hens gently, rather than chase and rape them like some roosters do.  He still looked pretty straggly in places, but he eventually lost his old battered feathers in the fall  moult and, as the new ones came in, was even more beautiful.

Then he became a father!

In the spring of 2009, he sired 3 chicks, two hens and a rooster, shown half-grown in this picture, with the barred bantam hen named Spunky who hatched them.   The white one in the upper right turned out to be a male that my grandson named Star.  (The others are both hens, named Snowball and Maggie.)   Star is almost full-grown now and so far, he gets along fine with his father and the rest of the flock.

Then he crossed the Rainbow Bridge in 2009 

Sunshine died peacefully in his sleep during the winter of 2009, "Crossed the Rainbow  Bridge," as some people say.  Star, his son, became leader of the flock, and his 2 sisters inherited thier mother's colored-egg-laying ability -- Snowball lays olive-green eggs and Maggie lays light blue ones. 

(This story was originally posted on my eBay blog in September 2006.  It was moved here and updated when eBay decided to close down their own blog platform.)

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