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  • Joe Detelj

Bach, Butterflies, and a Rooster


This past winter was not particularly severe, yet I could see it take its toll on our old rooster. Incredibly, the old geezer has been with us for well over a decade which is really ancient for a chicken. He happened to be one of our many fortunate accidents. Ordinarily I buy replacement chicks that are sexed. Females, or pullets, lay eggs after approximately twenty weeks from hatching which was my intended purpose. Males, or cockerels, do not lay eggs at maturity, they fertilize them, a better deal it seems to me from a biased perspective. Chickens do not form bonded pairs. If there are several adult males they will fight relentlessly until a dominant rooster prevails and reigns over his harem. The lesser males lead a beleaguered existence . Nature is generous but not kind, unless we humans are included in the mix and that can be an iffy proposition.

As there is no functional purpose for squabbling male redundancy, few cockerels can look forward to a leisurely life as the cock of the walk. Sunday diner is the more likely destiny for most. So, as this relates to our flock, it happened that I purchased a late bloomer, or the sexer had an off day as this is apparently not a zero defect process -- though remarkably accurate most of the time based on my past experiences. After several weeks there was no mistaking the fact that there was an odd fellow in the flock. Intention went out the window because I was now faced with reality and not perceived purpose. We kept this guy even though our Rhode Island Reds were not good setters and we would not be hatching their eggs. Bacon, sausage, and pancakes were to be the eggs future mates.

Clearly, our boy had won the chicken lottery big time. He kept the hens content and maintained order in the court yard. He was vigilant and warned of any passing change. A sound remarkably like ours for hawk, though extremely drawn out would upon an aerial inspection reveal a circling red tail. A comical Chinese fire drill followed with mad dashes for the safety of the coop, and akin to the lore of the captain and his ship, the rooster was always last critter in, and with a strut that oozed defiance for the hawk.

Over time the rooster gained squatter’s rights and just belonged . He took his place along with the other creatures who have found a haven at Dreamcatcher Farm. Not unexpectedly, I found him hunched over in the corner of the coop at the beginning of our crazy summer-fall-spring. His job was finished, he was now going to be placed under a bush, undisturbed where no hawk was going to chase him again. This passing poses a question in regard to his replacement. Conventional Ag economic thought as advocated in the Ag colleges and through their extension agents holds that if the animal does not return an income above its cost of production then it should not be on the farm. If the return is a penny or two, then add thousands. To my mind this is a calloused calculus that favors maximized commodity production above any other consideration. It is the rationale behind the removal of tree lines and the consequent pheasant habitat destruction and a host of equally mindless economic enhancements.

This all brought to mind a feature I had recently seen about a biologist who was heroically working to preserve the Mexican forests that serve as the migratory home for the Monarch butterfly. The cash calculus is operative there also as logging is threatening these miraculous creatures existence. When questioned about the superior human requirement for the timber resources, the biologist gave a provocative response.. He said, in effect, we could survive without Monarchs, and we could survive without Bach, Beethoven, or Shakespeare, but we would be much less human without them. I also believe we could exist without Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan, or Patsy Cline. We could maximize production without any need for e.e. cummings, John Steinbach or Barbara Kingsolver. You could easily name your own choices to make my point and change it frequently. Our capacity for choice is guided by many considerations and that quality that moderates economic maximization is what separates us from bees, locusts, and a pack of jackals.

So in the end, the choice is no choice at all. I could enable the production of more stuff, future land fill if you will, or get a replacement rooster whose contribution to the farm has no economic value, and is therefore priceless.


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2160 Hoffa Mill Road, Lewisburg, PA 17837 

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