The life and times of Rooster Joe, the coolest chicken ever. RIP, my friend. I miss you…your happy crow…your magnificence!
It was a sad day, March 5, 2016, when our much-loved Rooster Joe passed from this chicken-life to the grasshopper-filled, racoon-free Happy Hunting Grounds for chickens. We all had our personal moments of silence and remembrance that day, and in the days following. Maybe even a tear or two. Ahhh…but I speak for myself.
For a chicken, you say?! Absolutely! And, I am, in NO way, ashamed to admit it! Let me tell you about this incredible bird, who came to our family, made his way into our hearts and graced our barnyard with his presence for NINE special years. That’s right! Nine. So, listen now, my friends……
Once upon a time, in a hatchery in New Mexico a wiggling chicken egg cracked open. Out of it emerged a wet and bedraggled-looking chick. This chick was a reddish color when he dried out and fluffed up, having parents of two red-colored chicken breeds: Rhode Island Red and New Hampshire Red. The hatchery had created a chicken variety called Production Red, called that because of, you guessed it, its phenomenal ability to produce copious amounts of big, beautiful brown eggs of the most delicious sort!
Back in Montana, a family with three boys, had ordered 25 Production Red pullet (girl) chicks from this hatchery and were anxiously awaiting their cheeping arrival in a box, delivered by their rural mail lady. They were looking forward to big, brown, beautiful eggs for their ranch breakfasts, and since these three boys were growing fast, their parents thought this sounded like a grand idea too!
Now, in March, in Montana, the weather can be cold, so the hatchery in New Mexico checked the weather before mailing this box of chicks. They decided that they should add a couple more chicks to the box for added warmth–the more chicks in the box, the warmer they will stay for their journey. This little red chick was put in the box with the little pullets (girl chicks) to help keep everyone warm.
So, on a March day in 2007, a cheeping box arrived in Montana at the door of the the house with the three boys. Everyone was very happy, including the chicks, which all survived their journey from New Mexico to Montana in fine shape.
The chicks all grew and grew. Five months later, the littlest boy got to gather the very first egg from the pullets. He was so excited as he carried the new egg up the trail to the house, that he tripped and fell. The Very First Egg dropped…and well, you know what happens when eggs drop. Splat! The little boy was very sad, but his parents assured him there would soon be many more…and there were!
Well, since the story is about the little red chick, we’ll get back to it. Well, the little red chick grew and grew and turned into a fine-looking young rooster! He was very proud, he began to crow and he acted tough too, sometimes, as roosters will do. Roosters can be mean, and this one thought he would try that a few times. It didn’t work so well with him, because, well, you see, the parents of the three little boys had grown up with mean roosters and would not allow one to mean to their own three boys. Disciplinary action was taken whenever this happened (we’ll leave it at that!), and so he learned to be nice instead of mean.
Also, the oldest of the three boys was very kind to all animals and he would hold the rooster and pet him, and he came to love being petted and held and pampered. The rooster learned that is was more fun to be petted and held than to be mean. That is when the family all knew their hearts had become attached to this young, fine bird and so they named him Rooster Joe. Because, you see, he was no longer just “a chicken” or “the rooster”. He became somebody.
During Rooster Joe’s first summer, he grew a beautiful comb and was so handsome! That is the first (digital) picture of him… (That was nearly nine years ago, you remember!)
His comb was never more glorious than this summer, because, as you may know, it gets really cold in Montana in the winters and, while hens will put their heads under their wings when they sleep at night to keep them warm, roosters don’t do this. So, their combs can get frostbitten, even in their chicken house, and those parts eventually fall off. So after the first winter, his comb looked like this:
The part that hangs down under a rooster’s chin is called a “wattle”, and they love to have it petted. Rooster Joe loved it too! So he got a lot of wattle-petting. A wattle feels warm and soft and kind of silky…it is not creepy at all like it might seem when you look at it.
Rooster Joe was now two years old and he was turning into a splendid chicken specimen. His plumage was sleek and lush and beautiful. And, his tail feathers! Oh, my!! They simply gleamed in the sun!
He would strut around the barnyard, watch over his hens and crow a lot, as all roosters do. It was wonderful, and everyone in the family loved to hear him toot his horn!
When a hawk flew over, he would stretch himself up very tall and do his warning call to the hens, who would dash for cover. He knew that hawks sometimes love a chicken dinner! Nothing missed his watchful eye. Rooster Joe was turning into a grand bird, but more than that, his personality was something his family appreciated more and more. He would not run away when his family came near, and he let them pick him up and would cluck his satisfaction. He never failed to bring a smile to any one of his family members when he did this.
When Rooster Joe was two and half years old, his family moved to a different ranch and they brought him along, of course. They also brought all of the hens that they had at that time. At the new ranch, Rooster Joe had to learn a new farmyard, which he quickly established as his kingdom. He would cluck to his hens and scratch on the ground, calling them over. Sometimes, they would all come running like a bunch of silly little chicks! It was very fun to watch.
The oldest boy continued to hold and pet Rooster Joe and so he became even more mellow and lovable. His feathers were silky and lush.
Everyone who visited wanted to pet a rooster when they heard about Rooster Joe’s coolness, and they did! He loved it!
Now, Rooster Joe was still a rooster, and roosters protect their hens and their territory, so if someone came along that he didn’t like, he would still attack them. And, he always had a reason—-he wasn’t stupid! One day a naughty boy was visiting, and he ran screaming through the barnyard, sending the chickens scattering in every direction! Now Rooster’s Joe’s family never did this–they were aware of their animals and would never cause them any fright on purpose! This naughty boy had no idea! Well, Rooster Joe, who had not been mean in a long time, ran after that boy and attacked him! The boy screamed in terror….but the family didn’t really feel very sorry for him, because he was the stupid one. They did make Rooster Joe stop, but that kid was told he’d better stop disrespecting their fine, outstanding rooster too! And, he did!
At the new ranch, the family got some sheep. Rooster Joe had never seen sheep before, and they were much bigger than he was, but he still was King of the Barnyard!
The family had a lot of farm cats, but they never tried any monkey business with Rooster Joe! He patiently endured them and their crazy cat ways. There was even a fluffy black cat that would insist on rubbing up against him! Rooster Joe hated this, but there wasn’t a whole lot he could do about it, since the silly cat just followed him, and the other chickens, around just to rob some affection from them!
One very serious enemy of chickens is raccoons. Now raccoons look really cute and if you don’t care about what they do, you may even think they’re really cool. And maybe they are, sometimes, but if you want your chickens to remain alive and all in one piece, you do not much care for raccoons. They love chickens, but not in the way the family did. They love to eat chickens! And the new place the family moved to was near a river…and most rivers in Montana have lots of raccoons near them. So the family was very careful to be sure the chickens were locked up tight in their little house every night. You see, raccoons only come out at night, so that is when the chickens need to be safe. Raccoons have very sharp teeth, like a cat, and they use them for many things. They also have front feet much like little hands, and they can use them just about like you can use your hands. So, they can get into places that most normal animals cannot. Well, the chicken house had some chicken wire over the windows and a family of raccoons used those awful teeth, and those little, nimble hands (and their smart brains) and they managed to get into the chicken house in the night!
In the morning, the littlest boy went to let the chickens out, and oh…..he ran back to the house calling for the oldest boy, for he knew that he cared for animals a lot. He didn’t even call for his mom! Can you believe it?! They ran to the chicken house….so did the mom because this was very unusual behavior for the boys and she knew something was up. Oh, dear! That horrible raccoon family had killed all five of the hens, and Rooster Joe…where was he? He was standing there silently—the family saw that there was blood on his head, that it had been bitten by a raccoon and that he could not see! The mom carried poor Rooster Joe away and looked him over. Thankfully, that was the only place she could see that he had been hurt! But, raccoon bites are very bad and so the family didn’t know if he would survive. They could only care for him and wait and see. The mom washed the blood from his head and neck feathers and he tried to drink some of the water he was so thirsty! Well, Rooster Joe was tough, and he recovered from that horrible night!
But, the hens were gone, and Rooster Joe was sad. So a very kind neighbor lady gave the family two hens for company for Rooster Joe. He was happy once again…he had someone to protect and look after and to scratch around with once again.
Every night, all the chickens would go into the coop on their own. As it got dark, they would go “home” into their coop. Well, Rooster Joe ALWAYS waited until all the hens were in the chicken house before he went in! No one knew how he knew they were all in, because, you see, there were a lot of different hens the family had in the nine years they had Rooster Joe, and there were different numbers of hens at different times too. And, they never, ever all went into the coop at the same time. But, he knew! If Rooster Joe wasn’t in the chicken house yet, the family knew that not all the hens were inside for the night yet. How did he know?
Rooster Joe loved to crow. Not just in the mornings, but all day long. It was lovely and the family always liked to hear him proclaiming himself as King of The Barnyard!
There were often several kinds of animals living in this barnyard all at once, but Rooster Joe was always the King of them all!
One time, when there were some new hens, the family was gone late in the evening, and when they got home, they went out to the coop to close the door. Oh, no! Those nasty raccoons had been in there, and they had killed one hen and one hen was missing! Rooster Joe was missing too! They took flashlights and looked everywhere for a long time, but they could not find him.
Now, most animals can see really well in the dark, but chickens can’t. That is one reason that foxes and raccoons and weasels can all catch them so easily at night. The chickens cannot see, so they can’t really run away! The family always had a light on in the chicken coop, but that night, the door had been open, so if a chicken had gone out to escape the evil raccoons, they would not go very far before they would stop because they wouldn’t be able to see where they were going. So, the family thought maybe Rooster Joe had done that, and if he was in the dark somewhere, and okay, he would not move or make any sound until morning. But, they looked really hard and did not see any sign of Rooster Joe, so they were very, very sad. They tried to make themselves feel better by saying that at least he had died fighting off those wicked raccoons, and what a noble heart he’d had.
They went to bed thinking of how they would miss the wonderful crowing in the morning, the clucking and scratching, the warning calls to the hens when danger was near…it was almost more than they could bear to think about! Not only were they sad for Rooster Joe, they were really, really mad about raccoons, and their wicked beady eyes, and their sharp teeth, and their taste for chicken dinner!
Rooster Joe, and the other chickens, always stayed in the barnyard–they never came into the yard of the house, or on the lawn or in the garden and other places they weren’t welcome. But, the next morning, a sound woke up the family…it was Rooster Joe’s crowing!!! They were so happy! He was right outside the window, in the yard of the house…something he never did! He crowed and crowed and crowed for a long time…then he just went back into the barnyard. Do you suppose he was telling the family, “Look! I’m okay! They didn’t get me!” and “I’m still here!” The family was so happy that those evil raccoon hadn’t gotten him in the night, after all! Rooster Joe had NEVER crowed in the yard before that day, and he never did it again in his lifetime. What do you think about that?!
And, the family still has NO idea what happened that night, or where Rooster Joe was all night long. We will never know, will we?
The family got a Border Collie puppy that they named Tess. Tess was very small when she met Rooster Joe, so he was not afraid of her. But she grew up too, and got much bigger than Rooster Joe, but he still was not afraid of her. Tess is a very fun-loving dog and so she had great fun with Rooster Joe, by pretending she was going to get him. They would never have hurt each other, but Tess loved to tease Rooster Joe into “attacking” her. It seemed that Rooster Joe thought it was fun too, but it’s hard to tell with a chicken, because they don’t really act playful like dogs do.
Rooster Joe grew some mighty fine tail feathers! All roosters grow big, long tail feathers, but hens don’t. They were very pretty and just gleamed in the sun. He was magnificent!
The family had a dear friend who is an artist, and this amazing artist wanted to paint a chicken and decided to use wonderful Rooster Joe as her subject. One day, she immortalized him on canvas… She said she “Hollywoodized” him, but the family didn’t think so! He’s simply stunning! It’s HIM all right!
(Before we go further, let’s make something clear–this image is protected by artistic license…I’m just showing you what the artist did. Do not take this image from this page in any way shape or form. Or, Rooster Joe will haunt you…and peck out your eyes! Understood?! Thank you!)
Well, Rooster Joe got older and older, of course, and his feet didn’t work quite as well as they used to, just like happens to people. He could no longer scratch in the dirt to find things to taste, like chickens always do. So the family would throw him a big handful of corn from the feed room every morning when they let the chickens out. Rooster Joe learned to come right over to the feed room door when he came out of the coop and he’d cluck for his corn. Tess would often eat some corn with him, because, you see, they were good friends, and…well, dogs really like corn too!
Rooster Joe grew spurs on his legs too, like all roosters. When he was young, one of them got broken off, and it never did grow back very well. The other one grew long and curved and very wicked-looking, but he never used it on his family! Rooster Joe was now an “old man” for a chicken, but he still had his proud spirit and his fine crow, although he did crow less than he used to. He was still simply splendid!
(You can see that big spur in this picture if you look closely.)
The three boys were growing too, as boys are known to do. After all, it was now nine years, since that little egg cracked open in the hatchery in New Mexico. The oldest boy, that patiently taught Rooster Joe to love petting instead of being mean, grew tall and was now a young man! He was ready to graduate from high school, and he decided that Rooster Joe must be in some of the pictures, since he was such a part of the boy’s life. That boy still liked to pick up Rooster Joe and Rooster Joe still loved the attention and the petting….and that boy, who was now a fine, young man, was never ashamed to admit that one of his favorite things was a chicken–the coolest chicken that ever lived.
Now our story is coming to an end, because, you see, chickens can’t live as long as people and Rooster Joe was now very, very old for a chicken. He was tired, and many days his feet hurt, and his crowing was getting fewer and farther between. He just couldn’t do the things he used to be able to, but he was still happy and his family still loved him. They were very kind and made sure he was comfortable and always had enough to eat.
One fine spring day, the dad found Rooster Joe…and he had gone on to wherever it is that fine, noble, amazing chickens go after they pass from this life. The family was very sad, but they were also glad that Rooster Joe lived a very good life, and that he was happy when he died. They were very thankful for all the fun memories they had of him and his scratching, clucking, crowing and play-fighting with Tess. But mostly for his proud carriage, his lovable spirit, his funny ways, and his big, big, kind heart.
Rooster Joe will never be forgotten by his family, and they miss him dearly. Hens still scratch around in the barnyard, but there is no more crowing. No more clucking for a handful of corn. No more hawk-warning calls. Tess seems a bit puzzled by her friend’s absence–she misses their fun games. No more feeling his warm, silky wattle. And, no more, “C’mere, Rooster Joe! Let me pick you up!”
Even so, the family is so very glad to have been able to share nine years of their lives with this most amazing, incredible creature: the coolest rooster ever— the Unforgettable Rooster Joe!