Last Tuesday was a crazy day which ended with me having two bruised knees and feeling like I ran a marathon. This day was to include having Elvis and Presley neutered along with bringing home a pot belly pig that was showing signs of aggression. The night before the big day I put Elvis and Presley in separate carriers so I didn’t have to worry about chasing roosters around at 5am. Chickens are quite sleepy in the evening so it’s easiest to catch them during this time. The first rooster I caught was Presley and it’s fascinating to hear the sound they make when they think they are being attacked as it’s a very specific sound used to raise the predator alarm. Now travelling with roosters early in the morning is quite an experience because my volunteer Sarah and I got to enjoy 2 hours of crowing in a confined space. As soon as we arrived we took Elvis and Presley straight to our Veterinarian who was performing the surgeries out of the Courtney Veterinary Clinic as it required gas anaesthetic. After we left them in our Veterinarian’s care we had a few hours before we would meet the new pot belly pig so we decided to go have something to eat. We had breakfast at “Rawthentic” which makes really good raw vegan food. After that we spent some time at the Marina and I must say that Courtney is a very pretty town with all the water and mountain views!
Now for the not so fun part as I knew crating this new pot belly was not going to be a walk in the park. This pig , known as Charlie, had suffered through years of abuse and later found himself with someone who had the best of intentions to provide him with a forever home but it didn’t work out that way. The problem was that Charlie had a very solid foundation of why he should fear humans which manifested into aggression that proved to be too much for his new caregivers. Even though they did try everything they could to correct his behaviour, his fear shown through aggression, proved to be too much for them. Now I had been dreading this day because ONE he was afraid of people and TWO he was not fond of confined spaces as he had been sleeping outside even though he had access to two shelters. For our first attempt we put the crate at the opening of his pen and I was hoping we would be REALLY REALLY lucky and he would walk right in if we threw some treats into the back. But who am I kidding, pigs are smart and he knew something was afoot. After about 10 minutes of patiently waiting for him to walk into the crate, with the bribery of blackberries and apples and no success, we had to move to plan B. Now going back to the pigs are smart thing, you really have one good shot to get them into a crate and if you blow it it’s going to be a hundred times more difficult. So for our second attempt, which was a three person job, Sarah and his caregiver had to hold the crate in place and not allow him to escape as I stood in the pen with Charlie. As soon as Charlie’s front legs were in the crate I attempted to push him in but he quickly turned his body to prevent me from doing so. I’m not sure how much time passed with me keeping him between the sorting board and the crate but it felt like an eternity. This was now a battle of strength and I was determined to win because I simply had to. I had made several attempts to push Charlie into the crate, while bracing the sorting board with my knees, with no success. When I was about to give up and every ounce of strength was almost gone Charlie tried to turn and I took that opportunity to grab him by his back end and push him in. I still don’t know how I managed to do it because I literally had no strength left but adrenaline is a wonderful thing and it gave me the extra umph I needed.
Once he was in, we needed to get him into the van and fast. With pigs being a prey animal they will look for any kind of exit in an attempt to escape so Charlie was trying his darndest to open the crate door. We quickly loaded him in the van and much to our surprise he managed to shove his very powerful nose through the side of the crate which in turn blew the two plastic handles off the side - luckily we were standing right there so we were able to fix it before he made his escape. Hence why a crate with the top and bottom bolted with screws is a must with pigs and I’m currently on the hunt for. After this attempt we then closed the back of the van and made it appear that all the exits Charlie could exploit were no longer available so he quickly settled down and laid down in his hay for the journey home.
During the time we were getting ready to take Charlie home we received a call from our Veterinarian that the rooster surgeries were more difficult than originally anticipated. We made the decision to only complete Elvis’s surgery and wait the two months before we would know for sure that it was successful and he stopped producing testosterone. I’ll spare you the details but rooster neuters or “neusters” as we like to call it (a term created by our veterinarian) is far more difficult when they are over 12 weeks old because a roosters testicles are internal. Also due to the invasiveness of Elvis’s surgery he needed to be on oral painkillers and antibiotics and if you’d told me two years ago that I would be giving medication orally to a rooster I would have told you you were nuts!
We have three resident roosters at A Home for Hooves – their names are Elvis (a Rhode Island Red), Presley (a Plymouth Rock) and Henry (a Cornish Cross). What I’ve come to learn about roosters is that they get the short end of the stick! Recently, in a two-week period, I was contacted about taking in 11 different roosters which I was unable to help with. A difficult reality of sanctuary life is that you need to know when you have to say “no” due to capacity and safety reasons.
Henry came to us at just 3 weeks of age and he looked like your everyday baby chicken. The thing with Henry is that he’s a breed of chicken that is known as a broiler chicken which are raised for the meat industry. These birds have been specifically bred to grow at an extremely rapid rate of up to 1 pound per week. At just 8-10 weeks of age broiler chickens are big enough to be sent for slaughter. There is no sex discrimination for these chickens because you don’t really know if they are a hen or rooster at this age and to be honest it doesn’t matter. I had heard that these chickens grow insanely fast but to see it with your own eyes is troubling and heartbreaking. Henry’s diet is a fine balance between ensuring he has enough food and that he doesn’t have too much. Henry’s main goal in life is to eat and you can run into danger by restricting their food because their drive is so high that they will start to consume anything around them including their bedding shavings. Henry is just shy of his 4-month birthday but he is already massive. To put this into perspective for you, his movements remind me of a person that would weigh at least 600 pounds. I have been told by several people to not expect him to live past 12 weeks as he would likely succumb to a heart attack. So in my eyes every day at the Sanctuary is a blessing as he has already outlived his siblings and gets to enjoy an outdoor environment. My main goal for him is ensuring that he has an enjoyable and good quality of life that is not severely impacted by his mobility.
Now Elvis and Presley – these two keep all of us on our toes! These boys were part of a backyard chicken flock that were “supposed” to be hens. Once they reached about 4 months of age, and it was apparent they were not ladies, they came into our care. The first few weeks at the Sanctuary was quite blissful and we had no issues with them as they roamed freely on our property. Then came the raging hormone age of approximately 5-6 months and we now have your everyday rooster who thinks he must protect his territory. The funny thing with these two is that Elvis attacks EVERYONE except my husband and I, but Presley leaves everyone alone EXCEPT my husband and I. It’s like they’ve come to a tag team agreement for who attacks the humans on the property. Just to give you an idea, this is typically how Presley tries to show me he’s the boss – as soon as I turn my back on him I hear him running up behind me and he will do either of two things when I turn back around. One - he will stop dead in his tracks, turn 90 degrees and walk away as he pretends he wasn’t planning on an attack. Or - he will puff up his neck feathers (and this honestly reminds me of the raptors in Jurassic Park) and then attempt to attack me by hitting me with his wings and scratching my legs. He hasn’t been successful yet but this is because I am always prepared and have something to block him with. Are you wondering how I manage to feed everyone in their presence? During morning feedings they aren’t let out of their coop until I’m finished feeding everyone and during the evening feedings I’m able to preoccupy them with “hen scratch” which is a feed they are quite happy to scratch and peck at. I have done research in ways to lessen their aggression but none of the methods have been successful. Also people are often surprised that these two get along but this is because they were raised together and they don’t have any hens to fight over. Though they did attempt to steal the affections of my neighbor’s hens’ but this was soon shut down by their resident rooster.
My plans for A Home for Hooves is to provide a haven for unwanted roosters, as majority do not get to live out their natural lives, but at the same time not becoming a dumping ground for them either. Tomorrow we are taking the very uncommon step of having Elvis and Presley capronized (neutered) by our veterinarian in Courtney and this should result in them living in harmony with us and other roosters. The success of this surgery will pave the way for future roosters.
Now for the education piece! There are usually two reasons why I am contacted about roosters. One, these roosters are the result of people buying “hens” but at around 3-4 months of age they discover they have a rooster or roosters on their hands. Two, the roosters are dumped as their owners don’t want to deal with their “problem” and there is a good Samaritan trying to find them a home. The reality is, roosters are an unwanted by-product of the egg industry and they are killed as soon as it’s determined they are of no value. If they aren’t destroyed as a young chick then they grow up and soon find themselves in an unwanted environment. Here are the top reasons why roosters are deemed as unwelcome:
Life with a two year old is nothing short of amazing. They develop so quickly that you blink your eyes and there is a brand new person standing in front of you. One minute our daughter was a lump I could leave in one spot, to a toddler that is running around talking up a storm. Now imagine feeding time mixed with a tiny human, it makes for an interesting and sometimes frustrating daily occurrence. For some A.M. feedings I can sneak outside without my daughter waking up. These mornings are glorious in the summer time, with the sun starting to rise, a cool breeze blowing and oh yes the best part of all -
FREEDOM! On the days she does wake up, she is at least sleepy enough that she’s happy with me packing her around in the carrier on my back. So all in all, my biggest concern in the mornings is thirty pounds of dead weight on my back, but evening feedings are another story!
First we get everyone’s food prepared and every time I have to remind her that I’m in charge of measuring. If she had it her way we’d have some very chubby pigs and goats. Now keeping a toddler focused on the task at hand is like herding a cat. Like this evening for example, she pointed out several piles of poop, on our way down to the animals, and each one required my confirmation that it was just chicken poop before we could move on. Another entertaining feature of a 2 year old is that they are like little parrots so everything I say and do is mimicked. If someone is misbehaving, as I’m going into their pen to feed them, and it’s met with me saying “Hey, that’s enough” this quickly results in a sassy two year old shaking her finger and saying “No piggy no”. It has also made me realize that there are certain words that I say A LOT care of my tiny repeater.
One factor that I am fairly militant about is that she understands to respect the animals space and that she can’t kiss, hug and pet all of them including wildlife. A few weeks ago she proceeded to chase a deer across our front yard and when I yelled at her to stop, she turned around with a toothy grin to say “I pet it mommy, I pet it”. One learning experience for me, as to why you never turn your back on a toddler, is that they can get into trouble in no time. Like the occasion I took my eyes off of her for two seconds to turn around and find her kissing Eugene on his snout as he pushed his nose through the fence…….this was both terrifying and adorable at the same time. Eugene was quite the gentleman about it but ever since that day I do not let her out of my sight which sometimes makes me feel like I have the attention span of a gnat.
Now for her favorite animal at the sanctuary - that would be Henry, our cornish cross chicken. She’s constantly trying to convince me, that Henry should come to daycare with her and that the centre console in my husbands jeep is for him to sit on to go for car rides. Even though I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve told her “No, that’s not happening”, she still asks at every opportunity. Henry is also quite famously known at daycare as “Poop Poop” and in all fairness he does do a lot of that.
Although it can be exhausting raising a toddler on a sanctuary it is also very rewarding. I am thankful to raise her in an environment surrounded by animals but I am SO looking forward to the day where I don’t have to watch her like a hawk!
On August 7 2017 I lost my father to a heart attack at just 62 years of age and my world was changed forever. He was found by his customer he was installing a septic for but there was nothing that could be done as he had long since passed. The coroner said he died as the result of an enlarged heart and arteries that were greater than 75% occluded. On this fateful day, I was taking my then 14 month old daughter out for a walk when I received the most devastating news of my life. Fortunately I hadn’t gone too far and was still in front of my neighbors house. Once I was in their driveway I just collapsed and completely broke down - I couldn’t believe what I had just been told and my world literally came crashing down. I was a self proclaimed daddy’s girl and this was the worst day of my life. My father was healthy, as strong as an ox and indestructible in my eyes. Losing that one person you have looked up to your whole life and who you go to for all life’s hard decisions is incredibly difficult to process. I don’t remember much of the rest of August other then the overwhelming love and support we received from friends, family and the community of Gabriola Island.
When this occurred I had been volunteering at the R.A.S.T.A. Sanctuary since June but I had to go on hiatus for the month of August due to the recent tragedy in my personal life. In September, I started to pick up the fractured pieces of my new world and returned to volunteering at R.A.S.T.A. Lucie, the founder of R.A.S.T.A., had recently been contacted by an individual who was hoping to find a forever home for their 8 year old retired sow. Lucie knew that I had recently adopted three pot belly pigs so while we were out picking strawberries she asked if I would be willing to take this pig in because she was at capacity. I had to contain my outburst of laughter because taking in a large pig was totally insane to me at the time. Trying not to be rude I told her I would think about it but I was already dead set that this was an absolute NO. The largest pigs I had ever been around were Prince and Pirate at R.A.S.T.A and they weren’t even full grown yet! And these two guys were fixed, had been raised in an amazing environment, were used to frequent human interaction and I only had 3 months of pig experience under my belt! That night I couldn’t get this pig out of my mind but I was convinced I couldn’t take her because I was honestly scared of what taking in a nearly thousand pound pig would entail. How would I care for her? What would happen when she went into heat? Would she attack me? What would I do if she got sick? I also had one family member that was convinced she would eat me if given the opportunity, though she did try to breed with me once when she was in heat but that’s another story. After the passing of my father I had taken a serious look at my personal life. I wanted to take part in something that would make a positive impact in our community and do something that would make my daughter proud of her mother. My father always believed in me and consistently gave me his unconditional love and support - I knew that he would be proud of me taking on this challenge and at this point I was determined to do it even though I thought the idea was ludicrous only a few hours earlier. After I was no longer on the fence and had firmly planted my foot on the other side, I made arrangements to go and meet this thousand pound pig. Her name was Debbie and she led me on the path of opening A Home for Hooves Farm Sanctuary!