Rocky the rooster (cockerel) flies into the film Chicken Run and spends most of the story being cool, avoiding responsibility, and doing his best to impress gullible chickens before, at the crucial moment, deserting them all to head off cruising through the country lanes listening to Dion singing The Wanderer.
The typical male. Vain, boastful, lazy. And a coward and a liar to boot.
And to be honest, I’d always thought that that was pretty much the life of the average cockerel. Strut around helping yourself to the food before anyone else, fertilise chickens whenever you get the chance and generally act like the eponymous ‘cock of the walk’.
Except that it isn’t.
Yes, cockerels fertilise hens. They do it regularly, with little or no warning, and then they go off and do the same thing to another hen. And another. A good ratio for breeding is one cockerel to 25 hens.
But they also make sure the hens have a good safe spot in which to lay their eggs and, if that spot isn’t up to standard, they peck and scratch at the straw and grass until it is. They also check that the coop is safe and that it offers enough protection. (I once helped build a new chicken coop. When it was ready, the first bird in was the cockerel. He took his time, pecking and sniffing at everything. only when he was satisfied that it was safe could the others join him.)
And they watch over the hens. Study a group hunting and pecking for food and you’ll notice that the cockerel is always attentive to his surroundings, ready to take on possible threats, be they animal or human. He may not always be able to defend his charges – one cockerel I knew used to be chased off regularly by an old doddering mallard – but he’s always there looking out for danger, ready to do his best. And he doesn’t, repeat doesn’t, help himself to the food first. He stands back, lets the females in first and then, when they’ve had first go, begins to eat. He might be the leader but that doesn’t give him the right to food before the others.
In short, he’s responsible. And I think, sometimes, that it’s a lesson he might be able to teach a lot of other males who think that their duties end at the moment of conception.
© Nick Garlick 2017