Thursday, 27 February 2014

Reached the Top – Butch and You

Some songs don't so much get stuck in my head as lurk in the background and wait for their moment. This week's hit is from the Disney Jungle Book: I've Reached the Top and Had to Stop...

Now, if this were a movie, the dialogue would be 'It's a guy thing.' In the testosterone driven world of livestock, its just the way things are. Once you reach the top, there is nowhere else to go except down – just hold on as long as possible until the newcomer knocks you off your perch (possibly literally).

All this was prompted by You, our Number One Cockerel. I will admit that it is confusing having a chicken called You when we also have a flock of ewes, but names here often happen by accident. We do a head-count on the chickens each night (certain idiot hens have been known to go broody and settle down any old place, rather than in the fox-proof hen house) and when we only had a few birds, that was easy. Then the count got up in the region of twenty and they will not stand still, so the process was to count by colour: eight white, seven brown, five black, etc... and You – the multi-coloured cockerel.

You is a splendid bird, mostly black but with iridescent blue highlights and golden-yellow flashes on his wings. The hens like him, he pays attention, he watches for predators, he doesn't pursue them across the paddock as if trying to emulate Usain Bolt but finishing with a flying ****. The competition is Mosaic, a mostly white chap with brown patterning, and a year or two younger. To be fair, some of the hens do like him, but he is inclined to the fast pursuit and sudden mount finish. (Or the sudden last-minute jink to a hen who didn't even know she was in the race.)

The relationship between You and Mosaic was simple – You chased, Mosaic ran away.
Not any more. You is getting older and slower, and now Mosaic has taken his chance. We have a new Number One Cockerel, and now You needs to learn the art of running away. That's not so easy for a bird who's been top of the pile for so long.

It's the same with Butch, the first lamb born here, a solid piece of proto-mutton. At one point we started to regret calling him Butch, because a vigorous and chunky lamb grew into a skinny, leggy sheep, but in his second year he filled out into a woolly tank and very much the alpha male. We have a small flock of rams and until last autumn, everyone got out of Butch's way.

Butch has a half-brother, Monk (very much the number two ram), and a son Pad (by Lily two years back) who has been working his way up the ranks. Butch and Monk have sparred all their lives, and Pad is not really a match for Dad (yet), but mistakes happen. Butch decided to take them both on at once.

The interesting thing is that when there is a change at the top, the former alpha male does not move down a notch or two, he goes to the bottom. Even the youngest ram, barely half-grown at nine months old, was suddenly prepared to (cautiously) test his horns with the Old Man, whenever Butch was prepared to come out the gorse clump he hid in.

When you reach the top, the only way is down. All the way down. There is no retirement on a golden-handshake pension, just a one-way trip to the bottom of the pile.


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