Surviving Your Rooster’s First Mid-Life Crisis
I know. I get it. It’s been a while.
The thing is that I’ve been fighting this post for months. I won’t say that I’ve been busy. I have, but that’s not the most honest reason. Some of the reason could possibly be that I’ve been too tired. A large part of that is technically true and I really have been using the blissful downtime of winter to allow myself to rest and regroup. By “rest” I mean that I’m pretty much asleep as soon as I sit down in the evening. Not a whole lot of writing gets done when that happens.
If I have to give the most honest answer, it’s because I just didn’t want to. Because the most honest answer involves the sharing of feelings, the revealing of my most authentic self, and that is something that I very rarely–if ever–do. For the past week, this story has come to my mind and I can’t shake it. After sleeping (or more accurately not sleeping) and praying on it, I finally accepted that I need to be obedient to God and provide this teeny tiny peek into my messed up mind.
I envy those who can dance like no one’s watching. I am not that person. To fully go into the why and how would involve even more sharing and if it’s taken me fighting for this long just to throw this baby into the world, then prepare for more revelations somewhere around 2035…give or take.
Some of my issues (and there are many) stem back for more than a decade. Aw crap, actually two decades now that I’m really thinking about it. Even more so back when I worked for “a business of caring”.
The most important lesson during that formative time was this: if your manager ever encourages you to open up about yourself because it’s a “safe environment” know that they are lying to your face and that (as in a court of law) your words can, and absolutely will, be used against you.
It was that lesson that i’m trying to un-learn here with your help.
Let’s go back to the beginning. Or, actually, somewhere in the middle. In fact, let’s just pretend that this is Star Wars Episode IV. There’s a prequel and a sequel, but the driving force (heh, see what I did there) happens somewhere in between.
Last spring I decided that 2017 would finally be the year that I focused on selling products made from my alpaca fiber. I had been trying for years but since I work full-time and shortly before that had also been going to school full-time, it’s been tricky, especially when employers don’t want to share.
You see, I’ve always naively cooperated with my employers and respected their wishes. However, their wishes do not coincide nicely with the IRS guidelines that in order to be considered a farm and not a hobby that I must be profitable.
I could no longer put my needs last. I HAD to make a concerted effort for the farm to generate if not a profit then at least a cash flow. Combined with that stress, plus an overall lack of sleep, and then the excitement and anxiety of the unknown at my first farmer’s market, it’s fair to say that my nerves were pretty much shot that first market morning.
That brings us to our story.
I had been preparing all week getting items ready for market, which involved a lot of late nights. All waking moments not spent at my day job were spent feverishly working on spinning or felting fiber.
I promise that I’m getting to it. But I need for you to understand all of the pieces involved.
I had two roosters: Mr. Old Rooster and Yankee Doodle Doo (hatched on the 4th of July, thank you very much).
Mr. Old Rooster is a very good rooster. I have a few criteria that must be met in order to be a very good rooster. A good rooster is brave. A good rooster must be willing to defend his flock even at the expense of his own life. A good rooster is able to discern true danger and act accordingly.. A hawk is a threat. A strange dog is a threat. A plastic bag is not a threat. Any thing or person living on this farm is not a threat. I am absolutely not a threat so please don’t slash my face with your wicked spurs, thank you sir!
Above all, a very good rooster must put his hens first.
Years ago, I had another rooster who was not very good. If I am being generous, he was a mediocre-to-just-below-average rooster. He was brave and defensive and he didn’t attack people so on the surface he seemed very good. At the time, I thought he was very good but that was simply because I had never had a very good rooster for comparison.
You see, old-old rooster was selfish. I learned this years later. When placing fresh food in the coop, he would be the first to run to the food bin and the last to leave. He would crowd out the hens and engorge himself. No biggie, I thought, as all of the hens seemed to compete against themselves in the same manner. Fights among the hens were constant. It was never a peaceful coop.
Old-old rooster was retired (that’s what I’m calling it) and Mr. Young Rooster graduated to the status of Mr. Old Rooster.
Like old-old rooster, Mr. Old Rooster was the first to the food bin but that is where the similarities ended. He would rush to the bin, peck at a few crumbles to make sure they were safe, and then immediately step back. As he backed away, he would call the girls to the food. If he was excited about the food, you could hear it in his call.
“Ladies, I’ve checked everything out and it’s safe to eat. Hurry up and come and eat. They brought the good stuff!”
As the girls would gather around and eat, Mr. Old Rooster would pace back and forth, keeping a watchful and ever-vigilant eye. For while the hens were eating, they were not watching for danger. They were not worried, however, for Mr. Old Rooster was on duty.
It was Mr. Old Rooster who trained Little Black Kitty that smart kitties don’t even think about breathing in the same direction as the hens. And it only took one lesson because Mr. Old Rooster is a very good teacher.
It was Mr. Old Rooster who eliminated fighting between the hens overnight. The term “pecking order” comes from the hierarchy of chickens. Chickens at the top of the pecking order can peck at any chicken lower than them. And so on and so forth until you get to the the chicken at the very bottom who isn’t allowed to peck on anyone. This low-status chicken can and will be pecked to death. Literally. That is, unless you have a very good rooster.
When young chicks were hatched by broody hens, Mr. Old Rooster kept himself between the new mamas and babies and the rest of the flock in order to protect the littles from overly curious beaks.
Mr. Old Rooster is a very good rooster.
When one of those littles later matured into a beautiful young rooster, Mr. Old Rooster kept him in line and protected the hens from his advances. Mr. Old Rooster was a good mentor, though. He disciplined the young upstart as needed, but backed off immediately as soon as his lesson was learned. He was always fair; never vindictive, petty, or cruel.
And then three days before the farmers market, Yankee Doodle Doo overthrew Mr. Old Rooster.
For the next few days, Mr. Old Rooster seemed to be dealing with the changes as well as could be expected. He stayed back from the hens and seemed to occupy whatever space was on the opposite corner of Yankee Doodle Doo. As long as Mr. Old Rooster didn’t get too close to the hens, they seemed to have an uneasy alliance.
The morning of farmer’s market, it all changed.
Yankee Doodle Doo was no longer content to simply manage the controlling interest in ownership of the coop. He wasn’t going to stop until Mr. Old Rooster was dead.
Thankfully, it was stupid early in the morning and the chickens had just awakened and because it was barely light outside, I was able to intervene right away. I separated the two fighting roos. Sadly for Mr. Old Rooster, I didn’t have time to build him his own separate area within the coop because I had to hurry up and leave for market.
All I could do was to pull Mr. Old Rooster out of the coop and let him roam outside with the ducks until I got back later in the day. It was obvious that Mr. Old Rooster had just received the beating of his life from Yankee Doodle Doo. It was obvious that he was hurting. It killed me that there just wasn’t much that I could do for him.
I watched him as he hobbled over to join the ducks and then what happened next absolutely broke my soul.
I watched as Mr. Old Rooster desperately tried and failed to gather the ducks.
I watched as he found the pile of sprouts that I had put down for the ducks, pecked at them to make sure they were safe, and stepped back to call the ducks to him.
But the ducks didn’t come because ducks don’t speak chicken.
Frantic, he tried harder. More excitedly, he pecked at the sprouts. He made his movements bigger. More deliberate. Anything to communicate to the ducks that he found food! And it was good food! And he knows because he is a very good rooster!
But the ducks didn’t come because ducks don’t speak chicken.
HIs calls became louder. Faster. Plaintively calling. Begging. He picked up the sprouts in his beak and tried to carry them to the ducks. But the ducks didn’t–couldn’t–understand and ran away instead.
And so he chased them around and around trying to make them see that he had found them food. He was a good provider. He was helping them.
But the ducks didn’t come because ducks don’t speak chicken.
I watched Mr. Old Rooster deflate before my very eyes. This giant specimen of a rooster seemed so very small as he pecked half-heartedly at the sprouts. He took a few steps towards the chicken run. Yankee Doodle Doo was quick to intervene, reminding him that his services were no longer required and that if he valued his life, he would turn away immediately.
And so he did. Mr. Old Rooster returned to the ducks and again tried to get them to understand that he was working in their best interest.
His actions grew less frantic and much more dejected.
I could hear his voice in my head.
I’m a very good rooster. Please, I can still be a very good rooster.
But between Yankee Doodle Doo, who wouldn’t hear of it and the ducks who couldn’t hear of it, no one listened.
And in that moment, I understood that rooster. I was that rooster.
It all came crashing down–completely out of the blue–and I began sobbing uncontrollably.
I cried for the sad rooster.
In truth, I cried for the job of fifteen years that I had lost ten years prior; the job that I had worked when I bought this farm. It was the job where the loss of that income still haunts me to this very day.
It was the job that I was good at.
I cried for the loss of my identity.
I cried for the ten years that I’ve spent falling apart and no one noticed.
I cried for the years of compounded stress of daily wondering “is this day when I finally lose it all? Today? Tomorrow? How do I tell my family that I’ve failed them and that it’s all my fault?”
I cried for all of the wasted years in between where I couldn’t seem to find a place where I could use my skills and fully work to the best of my abilities.
I cried for all the years where I had been a chicken speaking to ducks.
I kept crying even as the ducks began to slowly gather around Mr. Old Rooster and he responded by strutting proudly, happy to once again have a flock where he could be useful.
I thought I couldn’t cry any harder, but I was wrong, for I completely lost control when God spoke into my spirit the words “I’m building a new flock for you too.”
Honestly, I’m not much of a crier. I get it; you have no reason to believe me right now. I never really have been a crier unless we’re talking about super-duper-sad tear-jerker movies where crying is the only acceptable response. Movies like Old Yeller or Toy Story 3.
But to be thrown headlong into a midlife crisis because a rooster was sad with a midlife crisis of his own? That’s next-level pathetic stuff right there. I don’t care who you are.
I’m going to fast forward a bit now and let you know that my earlier anxieties were completely unfounded as I had an amazing opening day at the farmer’s market.
The story of Yankee Doodle Doo and Mr. Old Rooster gets better because not even two days later, I had a lovely couple respond to an ad to purchase two-week old chicks from me. While they were picking up their chicks, they noticed how beautiful Yankee Doodle Doo was. And he really was a very handsome rooster. They liked him so much that they offered to purchase him too.
Yankee Doodle Doo found a new home where he could be the top (and only) rooster.
Mr. Old Rooster was returned immediately to his girls where I swear you’ve never seen such a happy face on a chicken in your life.
In the process I got to know Rick and Stephany and they told me about the conservation work they were doing with their property coordinating efforts with the Field Museum in Chicago to restore the very rare and fragile Black Oak Savannah ecosystem. Their story was amazing and I was honored to hear all about it.
And just like that my flock expanded.
You’re reading this blog post and I’m proud to have you as part of my flock too.
I’ve met so many amazing people on this crazy journey and I can’t even begin to express the fullness of my gratitude.
So many people that I’ve only had to meet once for them to become an instant and permanent fixture in my family. I have an amazing new job at Redd Remedies where I’m excited to go to work every day because I get to not only use my skills but I get to develop in ways that I could have never predicted. And they even speak chicken!
I”m truly excited for the future and what it holds in store. I can’t wait to meet more of my new flock. I bet they’re amazing. How could they not be? If you’re ever in the area or if you ever find yourself at the Kankakee Farmers Market, I hope that you’ll stop by and visit. Even if I haven’t met you in person yet, you’re a part of my flock even if you don’t realize it.
And if there is any part of this story that resonates with you, I want you to know that God has a flock for you too.
Whatever your situation, I promise you that it will work out. It probably won’t play out like you imagined and that is the best part!. Goodness knows that nothing about this farm is how I originally imagined. Not even kinda sorta.
I never would have chosen any of this for myself. I would never have asked for a 72% pay cut. Never in a million years would have I willingly picked that January where my electric bill alone for a single month was $900 but my income for the whole month was only $750. Who in their right mind signs up for that?!
But looking back, I wouldn’t change a bit of it. Because every single thing that has happened up until now has brought me right here, right now. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see how I got here and that twisted path is precious.
I trust Him when He says in Jeremiah “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
And if He tells me that He wants me to share the mortifying story of how I can’t handle being around a sad chicken because sad chickens are sad, well, I trust that there’s a reason for that too.
I can’t be sure of who this story is for. Maybe it’s for you. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s not even for me to know.
All I know is that if God cares enough about a sad little rooster in order to change his situation, He absolutely cares enough about you to change yours.
If you’re like me, you may not be able to see it as it’s happening. I couldn’t see how God was guiding my path, bringing me closer. I couldn’t see how He went before me, preparing a way for me that He had already checked out, ensured that it was safe, and that there was good things waiting. I couldn’t hear Him because He was speaking chicken and I was just a clueless, stupid, duck.
For God is a very good God.