Monday, September 8, 2014

Goodbye Cosmo

We are very sad to announce that Cosmo, the rooster, is gone.

Cosmo joined Several Gardens Farm as a young rooster back in 2003, as part of a group of bantam chickens given to us by neighborhood children. We did not know his age at the time, but we estimate he was between 7 and 12 months.

He was our faithful rooster for eleven years. Few humans could have show the courage, generosity or loyalty he did. He never ate anything until his hens had been given first choice. He never ran from danger until the flock had made good its escape. Then he would run screaming from his predator, diverting them from everything but the red comet of noise he could become.

He never knew how tiny he was. He took on fights with stray roosters in the neighborhood, with a huge drake duck, with his own evil and ungrateful son. Never once in his life did he win a fight. We often had to rescue him. But he was always gentle with people, to the point of letting kids pull on his feathers or cuddle him like a baby.

He never abandoned his hens, even if it meant being constantly beaten by another rooster, or stalked by a cat. He knew his duty. Once a foolish hen flew into the neighbor's yard and was attacked by their dog. Cosmo went in to get her. I went in to get him, too late for the hen.

This summer he slowed down. He became too weak to climb up to the perch and began to sleep in a nest instead. He stopped leaving the barn, except to eat, drink or sit in the sunlight. Courting the hens was ancient history.

Then about a week ago, he started wandering off. He had a very strong sense of place, and never left the yard, but suddenly he was showing up at the neighbors. He was losing weight, and looking wrinkled in his skin. His crop was never full any more, as though he had stopped eating.

I began to lock him up at night, which I had never done before. Then we locked him up in the days, too, as he couldn't stop wandering. But it was a strange wandering - he would sit still for hours, then walk off to the fence line, where he would huddle miserably. I began to make plans for his end of life. I could see it was soon. While it would have been nice for him to peacefully pass, I was getting ready to bring him a quicker ending.

Then one day, I let him out to sun himself and went away for a bit. I came back and he was gone. Three days have past and we haven't seen or heard him.

A rooster doesn't hide. Can't hide. I am certain if he were alive, Cosmo would crow. I have hunted down every rooster cry in the neighborhood. I've discovered many, well loved roosters that I knew nothing about, but none of the crowing is Cosmo.

I have to conclude he has died. I never believed that animals 'went off to be alone to die', but I can see the logic for a rooster. As head of the flock, most roosters have a huge investment in the chicks that are their offspring, and in the well being of the hens who care for them. A weak, old, disoriented rooster could bring down predators on his whole flock. Walking away, letting them catch him far from his family, might be a last service he can give to the flock he has cared for so valiantly and well. I feel guilty and horrible for letting it happen but there's a certain sense in it.

To his great credit, Cosmo has made me a lifelong fan of roosters. I will find another one - many roosters need homes. I will try to find one as gentle, brave and devoted as our Cosmic Cosmo, and I will try to let him be his own rooster, instead of making him fill the giant shoes of his tiny predecessor.