Why Roosters Aren’t Always the “Cock of the Walk”

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Cock of the Walk?

Ann begins today’s post bemoaning the fact that we haven’t been getting our usual supply of chicken eggs from our friends Sandy and Stacey. The reason: their chickens are molting. Ann claims that she wanted to march over to these “normally-sweet hens” and “reprimand” them.

Although I do agree that we are suffering a bit from egg-withdrawal, I was surprised at Ann’s unsympathetic and somewhat callous response to this situation. Calling these hens inconsiderate because they are briefly denying us the pleasures of a cheese omelet or zucchini egg burrito was clearly uncalled for. Anyone who has had an intro sociology class would immediately recognize Ann’s rant as a classic case of blaming the victim. Chickens do not voluntarily submit themselves to the hell of molting. For more about why chickens molt and the unhappy consequences I recommend the ironically named web site, The Happy Chickencoop.

The blamed victim. Just in case you’re interested, eggs exit through the cloaca.

But I was even more troubled by Ann’s blatant gender bias. What about the males of the species? Do they not count? Just because they don’t produce eggs can we ignore their suffering when the molt curse strikes them? I think not!

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Chickens , which were originally domesticated about 8,000 years ago, are believed to be descendants of wild red junglefowl (Gallus gallus)

Roosters deserve much better than that. After all, chickens were originally domesticated not for their eggs but for cockfighting and their important role in early religious ceremonies. It was the males that did the heavy lifting, at least until the Hellenistic period (4th–2nd centuries BCE) when people began to eye them as sources of food, along with their eggs I suppose.

According to one source, even before cockfighting was a sport, the rooster

… was regarded as an admirable animal, drawing respect from men (author’s note: we’re not told if women shared this respect!). The fighting cock was a subject of religious worship. The Ancient Syrians worshipped the fighting cock as a divinity. The ancient Greeks and Romans associated the fighting cock with the gods Apollo, Mercury, and Mars.

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Could my sympathy for roosters run in the family? This is a photo of my father, circa 1935, with a “breeding” rooster that, according to my mom, he adored. For the record, there were no longer any roosters in the family by the time I arrived on the scene in 1943.

Cockfighting is still a major “blood sport” in parts of the world, although it is no longer legal in the U.S. In 2008 Louisiana became the last state to criminalize cockfighting – which means that it was legal for the entire time we lived in that state. Although to my knowledge no one in our family or circle of friends ever witnessed a cockfight, one of my LSU undergrads confessed to me that his family had a long tradition of breeding and selling top-dollar fighting cocks, and that business was good.

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I could go on about the legacy of the male side of the Gallus gallus domesticus species (aka chickens), but I think I’ve sufficiently made my point. Roosters are not just some abstract symbol you see on rooftop weather vanes. They’re magnificent feathered creatures that deserve our respect. Their spiritual significance to our ancestors as well as their innate cockfighting prowess, repulsive as it may be to most of us, means that the modern male chicken is genetically hardwired to be aggressive and the master of his flock, or as the saying goes, he’s the cock of the walk – at least most of the time.

Which brings me back to why molting can be particularly hard on male chickens. While there is precious little discussion on the web dealing with molting roosters, I did find one site, Chicken Secrets, that deals with this sensitive topic. Here’s some advise it offers to chicken handlers on what to do when a rooster is molting:

if he has any bald spots, you might consider keeping him separated (from the hens!) until he has completed the molt. He will return to the flock as a newbie and probably be the object of a lot of harassment. The hens will peck at him and draw blood if he has bald spots… Wait until he is again fully feathered to re-introduce him to the flock… He will still be harassed but the possibility of wounding will be lessened.

Can you image this beautiful, proud animal, this invincible fighting machine bred to be a flamboyant commander and defender of his flock, reduced to a cowering, emaciated shadow of himself that could be pecked to death by the very hens for whom he would so willingly sacrifice his life? Such imagery surely should touch a sympathetic chord in all of us. If nothing else, it should make us aware that a rooster’s life is not always a peck-nic.


Author’s note: In order to maintain the proper tone for the somber topic of this Andy’s Corner, I have repressed the nearly irresistible urge to insert chicken puns – that is, until the very end. 

Furthermore, convinced that roosters suffer enough already, I decided not to include a Thai stir fry recipe that features, and I’m not kidding,  boneless, skinless rooster breast.  It was a tough editorial call because I had to pass up the opportunity to name the recipe Cock of the Wok.

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