Watching his slow moments the evening before, I knew something wasn't right. And...after years on the farm, you just know. Without any visible injury or sickness, he hung his head low as I left the coop.
Throughout the evening, I felt an anxious tension that lay heavy on my spirit. So I wasn't surprised as I cracked open the coop door this morning that I saw him. Laying in a heap under the roost, he lay cold and life-less.
In his reign, his beautiful red and green feathers boosted pride and health at The Britten Roost. Protecting his ladies, crowing with gusto at any sign of danger, educating fair crowds...he was one of the good ones. Big Foot had become the iconic rooster for our property. And, just like that he was gone.
Heading off to led a 4-H Poultry meeting, in my hurriedness, I scooped him up and dropped him into an empty feed sack. Without the fanfare, it hardly seemed like the right ending to a king, but the harsh reality of being on the farm. Even in this cold gesture, I knew his gentle presence was going to be missed.
It wasn't until I was back on my property that I could fully grieve his absence. As I worked later in garden snipping away at the tangled grape veins, I watched his ladies leisurely pecking the ground as they free-ranged. The snow-capped mountain image was sharp and the sun blazed brightly through the forest line.
Snip, snip; each cut sounded louder than the other. Though everything at a glance was normal, it wasn't. It was oddly quiet without him "talking" to his ladies. I found solace in my work today, almost a deep loss in knowing his absence created the silence. My checks, rosy by now from the brisk winter air, seemed to sting not from the cold, but from the emptiness.
Yes, just a rooster, many would say. But, our relationship stood really more for a time-honored tradition of respect between a farmer and a rooster. Big Foot was my farm icon. He was my rooster crowing on a fence post and he would be missed.
As I rounded up the hens calling out to them and rattling the metal bucket filled with scratch, I glanced at his predecessor, a smaller version of the king of The Britten Roost. As he stood there protected behind chicken wire from the ladies he would soon serve; I wondered if he knew of the "shoes" he would soon need to fill in the coming months. I began to think of the future and wondered if he would carry his father's gentle spirit or if I would be leery of stepping into the coop in the days to come.
It would take time to determine if he was friend or foe. Days before I could once again fill the morning air at The Britten Roost with a rooster's crow.