Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tough decisions

After living out here for a few months, we were faced with a dilemma: What do you do with a rooster who attacks everyone? The answer became clear to us fairly quickly. He should become dinner. It felt rather medieval -- like Nero or Caesar being judge and jury, pronouncing the accused "guilty as charged" and then sentencing them to death.

For the past three years we've been living with a ram who has beaten up other rams, ripped up woven wire fencing, rammed fence posts until they've broken off at the ground, rammed gates until they've bent into crescents, and finally, rammed people whenever we've turned our backs on him. He actually rammed me last year when I was trying to get a goat's head out of the fence bordering his pasture. She had stuck her head through the woven wire next to a post, and she got herself stuck. I cradled her head between my two hands -- one hand was between her head and the post, and my other hand was on the outside of her head, which meant my hand happened to be in the ram's pasture. He quietly walked up to the fence and just watched me for a few seconds, then put his head down, and before I could react, he rammed his head against my hand. Although that hand hurt, I thought he might have broken the hand that was between the doe's head and the fence post. Luckily it was only bruised, scraped, and swollen.

I don't remember what was the final straw, but at some point over this past winter, I decided I had had enough, and I said that he was going to be butchered this summer when we took the lambs to the processor. Being an older ram, his meat will have a very strong taste, so he's going to be dog food, since we feed raw meat to the carnivores around here (dogs and cats). The livestock guardian will probably be very happy to eat him if he realizes who it is, and I think he might. He's tasted that ram's blood before. We once tried to put the dog into the pasture with the rams, and this particular ram lumbered quietly across the pasture until he got close to the dog, then RAM! That was a mistake. The dog immediately went into self defense mode, and he probably would have killed the ram if my husband had not been there to stop him.

Today was D-Day, as I call it when animals are being taken to the processor, and this ram, along with three yearling lambs went down the road. Wanting to make use of everything (as our ancestors did) and wanting to use natural products as opposed to synthetics, we decided that in addition to having the meat processed, we would also have the skins tanned. That's why today was chosen as D-Day. The sheep were sheared seven weeks ago, and a couple different sheep farmers said that six weeks is ideal for letting the wool grow to a good length before processing. Having skins tanned, however, is not as simple as it sounds. We thought we'd bring home the skins from the processor, salt them (to dry them and stop bacterial growth), then box them up and ship them to the tanner in a week or so. Since most of you probably don't want details on the exact condition of the skins that we brought home, I'll just say that they were -- um -- "messy." So, we spent the afternoon cleaning them up before salting them.

I didn't really mind the work, especially since Mike did all the hardest parts, but it gave me a lot of time to think about how the older ram had been a pain in the ____ (whatever body part he rammed you in), whereas the lambs had just been unlucky enough to be born male at a time when we had more than enough wethers for wool. A lot of work on a farm allows lots of time for thinking and contemplation, and this afternoon's work was one of those times.

This evening, I looked out the back door to see roosters fighting, and this was not a little garden-variety spat. One of the roosters (the oldest rooster we have) had a very bloody head. The other one is the same rooster that killed his brother last fall -- and he was clearly winning this fight. I blogged about those two back then. We try to butcher young roosters on a timely basis so that they don't wind up killing each other, but when we saw those two always together, it seemed so sweet. We talked about how if we did butcher one, we'd have to butcher the second one too, because he'd miss his brother too much. Well, one day I looked outside to see them fighting. The next morning, we found one of them in the chicken house, not moving, although not dead yet. One of the challenges of a natural life is that nature is brutal sometimes, and when roosters fight, it's not a quick death. That's my Cain and Abel story, and I figured there's no such thing as friendship when you're a rooster.

I quickly called Katherine and told her to take the injured rooster away and lock him up in a coop by himself, so he could hopefully heal. He was not opening one of his eyes, and that's a bad sign. I am hoping it wasn't pecked out. Then I told Katherine to catch the other rooster and lock him up separately, so he could become tomorrow's dinner. Most of the roosters get along well, but this one is definitely a trouble maker, and he really chose the wrong day to pick a fight with another rooster. After spending an afternoon thinking about my role as "empress" of the farm, I was in no mood to deal with a rooster who didn't want to live peacefully with the other chickens.


Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

It's a good thing some of the males get nasty, because at least for me, it makes it much easier to decide to dispatch them!

Deborah said...

I agree. I did feel kind of bad for butchering the three yearling wethers, although I do think it was the responsible thing to do because I don't think that we should have more than 20 sheep in the space that we have.


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