Some years ago, at a particularly hectic time in our lives, we had a pair of chicks hatch who turned very poorly when only about a week old. We were struggling to care for them, had no idea what was wrong, and consulted our chicken-keeping neighbour to see if she had any thoughts. She very kindly offered to look after them for a couple of days, and brought them back from the edge of death.
Sadly, one still died, but the other, which she named Neo, did well, grew into a very fine cockerel, and somewhere around 2016, he beat the proverbial out of the alpha cockerel Party Pants and took the top spot for himself.
Roll on to the Autumn of 2020 and Neo was showing his age, whilst three lively young lads hatched just over a year earlier were jockeying for position to challenge him. Before anything could be settled, avian flu arrived in the UK, protection orders were issued, and we suddenly had to confine our birds to their shelter, and segregate them from wild birds.
Four cockerels, fourteen hens and a war of succession all in twenty-five square meters did not promise a peaceful time for the hens, so we put the three young lads in the greenhouse to settle their hierarchy. This also gave Neo a final peaceful winter with his girls, because even with the eye of optimism, he was getting old and shaky, and only holding on to his dominance by force of habit.
On the first of April (someone’s idea of a joke?) the avian flu restrictions eased. Our birds went out for the first time in five months, although we left the lads in the greenhouse for the day just to give the hens a head-start on the world.
On the second of April we had two cock-fights. Not some horrible sporting event to entertain barbarians, but three cockerels settling who gets to be Top Bird.
Yes, I know the arithmetic doesn’t add up, but that’s because a couple of weeks back we got a call from friends who run a small holiday complex on an old farm. Their pretty-boy cockerel just died – did we perhaps have a spare? We hadn’t given youngster number three a name (apart from in my head where he was called Drumsticks) because he was the bottom of the hierarchy. Now he has a proper name, half a dozen girls all to himself, and no competition in the business of being the chicken eye-candy.
So, on the second of April, the dominant one of the youngsters, with the snazzy purple sheen to his feathers – whom we call Purple Cock – was randomly assaulted by Neo, probably for looking at The Top Bird in a funny way. That, as it turned out, was a mistake of epic proportions, but it’s remarkably difficult to have the necessary conversation with an old cockerel: listen mate, you’re getting on, slowing down, time to retire gracefully and let someone younger take over.
Purple Cock beat seven shades of ow-that-hurts out of Neo, with us standing by to prevent serious injury. It’s not easy intervening in a fight like that – two cockerels hell-bent on flattening each other don’t care about collateral damage. In due course, we did separate them and Neo staggered away in the company of some of his girls.
Which is a problem.
Neo lost. Big time. Except Neo didn’t see it that way. Not in his head. And Purple Cock was mocking him by not running away.
Neo hunted down Purple Cock and got pulverised again. And again. And again. Much of the morning was spent breaking it up, even when Neo reached the point that he was so tired he couldn’t raise his head. Somewhere in that little bird brain, a whispering memory of his youth was uttering sweet stupidity – yes I know you can barely stand, you can’t breathe, you can’t see, but if you stagger around in small circles with your head between your knees, you can really lay a proper smack on that young upstart.
In due course, we put Neo into the greenhouse to get his breath back and hopefully give him time to properly process ow that hurt. We’ll let him out again in a day or two.
Meanwhile, Junior League, the number two youngster, took advantage of the fight and spent the morning hanging out with the hens, the other side of the field and well away from all the excitement. Somewhere around lunchtime, he ran into Purple Cock, still triumphant, and kicked the living victory out of him.
None of us saw that coup coming, especially Purple Cock.
Today, having had the night to contemplate the mistake and prepare for his comeback, Purple Cock has decided that victory is over-rated and that that dark corner over there looks like a perfect hiding place.
Life is full of surprises.
Now we need a proper name for Junior League.
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When I went to check on the sheep this evening, there were a pair of male blackbirds trying to hammer each other flat.