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Fare-thee-well, Dapper Dan.

Fare-thee-well, Dapper Dan.
October 14, 2008 Mary Jo

It is with a heavy heart that I report the loss of our valiant rooster, Dapper Dan. Our handsome guy, with his melodic crow, had fallen ill in recent times and this weekend succumbed to the promise of a peaceful sleep.

It is yet another farm-sponsored reminder that we are firmly entrenched within the dancing rhythms of the circle of life, a fact we’ve faced many times now, but that fact has not made the passing of Dapper Dan any easier to digest.

I had campaigned vigorously for a rooster amongst the flock, for a number of reasons. There are the practical ones that buffer the threat of predators, which we’ve seen plenty of. A rooster, being stronger and more aggressive, will sacrifice himself for his ladies if necessary to keep them from the jaws of harm. True chivalry. Roosters are also reputed to be quite capable of keeping the flock from straying too far, corralling everyone in before dusk, and lending a general order and authority to the organization that gives everyone within it, feathered or not, a sense of peace. While it bristles a bit with my feminist tendencies, I recognize that nature has not yet embraced these ideals, not by a long shot. I trust there’s a wisdom in this far greater than what I can fathom or pass judgment on, so I tell that She Voice to sit down and shut up.

Security and protection of the flock are valid, practical reasons for keeping a rooster, it’s true. But for me, they were secondary. Really, for me, it was the romance of a rooster that sucked me in. The crowing (yes!) and the stately carriage, all puffed out and self-confident, are emblematic of these beautiful birds, icons of the farm and the pastoral idyll. It went without saying, really. We’re going back to the land, to establish some roots and connect deeper with nature? Then we’re gonna need a rooster. And Dapper Dan was our guy.

He brought with him, like all the poultry we’ve struggled to nurture this year, a whole bag full of lessons for us.

First off, there really can be only one boss. Even with a flock of our size, more than one rooster in our henhouse meant lots of competition and aggressive behavior. If you’ve been journeying with us for a while now, you may remember another rooster that joined us for a bit: Gordon Lightfoot. He was my little grey guy as a chick, and spared from the chopping block as a cockerel (immature rooster) because we were soft-hearted. He was sent to join the ranks of Dapper Dan and His Harem, with implicit instructions to act as second-in-command. (his smaller size and crooked toes made him a less-desirable contender for the #1 position) Time and less competition for food certainly worked in his favor, however, and he soon grew strong and confident, and perhaps a bit restless as Assistant to the Manager. We soon learned he wasn’t alone: a Cuckoo Maran, masquerading as a hen at butchering time, soon revealed his true nature, and some spurs as well. And there was one more, a multi-colored who-knows-what-breed-this-is, much less what sex, bird that we had put on probation at butchering time, lest it had ovaries and potential for delicious eggs. It didn’t. He was referred to as The Clown. Suddenly we found ourselves with FOUR roosters (Dan, Gordon, The Cuckoo, and The Clown) and so much testosterone in the air, you could almost cut it with a knife. There were crowing competitions, games of strength and cunning, games of prowess with the ladies (poor ladies) and all sorts of wanna-be-alpha-male foolishness. The three posers, including Gordon Lightfoot, were swiftly dispatched, or, if you’re Isadora, sent to live on another farm.

Lesson Two: How to Deal with Bullies. This is a post I’ve had rolling around the inside of my head for awhile now, and I’m so saddened that it is now coming out in this context. Of a dead rooster.

Perhaps due to some leftover angst from the days of Rooster Competitions, Dapper Dan had just a little bit of those aggressive tendencies left over and opted to take them out on Isadora. Nothing too serious or threatening, of course, or he’d have been removed in a heartbeat, pastoral idyll or not. No, they were more like scare tactics, running towards her and scaring the bejeezes out of her, sending her running to me in tears. The poor girl would be happily playing in her sandbox (read: pile of dirt under a tree) and he’d come running toward her with a gleeful glint in his eye. Sensing a Life Lesson here, we sat down and had the important, inevitable talk about Bullies. And I’m something of an expert, I’d guess, having faced more than my share (it seems to me) as a little girl.

We walked through Stage One of the Bully Abatement procedures: Turn around, run TOWARD HIM, while hollering in a very firm, authoritative voice, “Don’t you bully ME, Dapper Dan!!!” That’s pretty hard to do, if you’re almost-three and pretty scared of this guy, so I accompanied her the first few times. It didn’t take long, though, for her to get over her fear, and soon she was referring to him disdainfully as The Bully and the tide had clearly turned. Perhaps a bit too much.

On to Stage Two of the Bully Abatement procedures: (you can follow along in your handbook) Take the high road, offer the olive branch, and see if there’s a friendship to be made from all this. Again, we sat down and I explained that she had done a great job sticking up for herself and standing her ground with The Bully, but that it’s not ok for her to become one herself. Now, she was to approach him with kindness, while saying, “I hope we can be friends, Dapper Dan.” Again, it took a few reminders, but soon she had dropped the Bully title, and was proclaiming Dapper Dan as her friend.

With a smile, I hung my hat and cape up with great satisfaction, until the next Life Lesson, when they’d be needed again.

And then the air around here grew painfully silent, except for the ever-obnoxious vocalizations of The Louds. (the guineas, as they’re affectionately called)

Dapper Dan had fallen ill, and had lost his crow.

I raced to my meager poultry library, and pulled out The Chicken Health Handbook, which details a myriad of poultry afflictions and symptoms, but is painfully devoid of treatments. So what do you do once you identify an illness? Call in the vet? Not financially feasible. Go pick up meds? Where, and what kind? Cross your fingers and hope for the best? That’s always an option, of course, but sometimes limited in its potency. I did have one tidbit of hope, some instructions a friend had passed on about mixing apple cider vinegar infused with garlic into their drinking water. Now this was right up my alley. So I tried it, and it worked! Within a few days, we again heard the throaty, albeit weakened, crow of Dapper Dan. Weeks passed, maybe longer, and again he fell ill. The meager plastic waterer I used for his past treatment was not practical for the size of the flock, as it needed to be refilled too frequently, and the galvanized waterer that was in use prohibited the use of the apple cider vinegar, as this would leach out undesirable toxins from the metal. So I set about a better solution, and placed my order from an online poultry supply company. I wasn’t too worried about Dapper Dan yet – he was still active, foraging with the others and getting plenty of fresh air; he was merely silent. This Saturday, however, he took a turn for the worst. His comb started drooping, and he maintained a position on the roost, while the others explored the bug-filled grounds. And Sunday we found that he’d had enough. Monday, of course, the new waterer arrived, filled to the brim with sorrowful irony.

It’s a long post today – part obituary, part What Do We Take From This, for posterity’s sake. I thank you for sticking it out. There are a lot of other posts you could be reading, with flashy or heart-wrenching or inspiring photos, which I too, like to pepper my own writing with. But not today.

Today, we honor Dapper Dan.

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