THE COCK, a tough and impressive boss (#068)


A cock is the boss over a hareem of hens. This proud stately creature was once a tough independent bird. How he came to be a domestic pet is a special story. Draw closer and listen to my tale:

Like every other year all the people and animals from far and wide came for the party to celebrate that winter was finally over. The days were growing longer again; the trees would be once more turning green; the flowers were getting ready to flower; and the bitter cold would soon be over.

Because the cock was always the first to notice that the sun was rising earlier, he was the one who organized the party. He crowed to let everyone know that the time had come for the annual celebration and called upon people to bring fire with them from their homes to build one large bonfire. During the party he took on the role of master of ceremonies. With his broad chest, piercing eyes and bright red comb, the cock was the picture of authority and his voice’s large volume meant he could make himself heard better than anyone else above the sound of the talking, crowing, scratching and chitchat.

At first everyone stood around gazing up at the flames as they flared up high. But quite quickly everyone was so absorbed by the fun of the party that they forgot about the fire. It was only when they started getting ready to go home, did they notice that the fire had gone out. Most of the animals did not give the matter a second thought, but the humans were upset. They could not manage without fire. Fire was something precious. If it went out, lighting a new one wasn’t that easy. So now what?

Feeling responsible for this debacle, the cock went and stood on a large stone and declared with a voice hoarse from all the chitchat that he would go and find a new source of fire and off he flew. He flew over mountains and valleys, over rivers and marshes, till he finally saw smoke curling upwards out of the chimney belonging to a house on a large estate. He barged straight into the kitchen without knocking to the delight and surprise of a boy sitting daydreaming in front of the hearth before going upstairs to bed. Gallus was the only child of a wealthy couple. He had been born when his parents had more or less given up hope of an heir. As a result of which Gallus had been thoroughly spoilt. Nevertheless, the male bird with its proud red comb on its head made a deep impression on him and he set about preparing the cock a delicious meal. As he ate, the cock told endless stories about a big world, different in every sense from that of Gallus’s. He offered the cock somewhere to sleep, settled down in his own bed for the night and was looking forward to the next morning when he would show the beautiful bird to his parents. But as soon as the boy had dropped off, the cock quickly snatched a burning stick out of the fire and flew back to the party. On his return he was greeted by the people as a hero.

Gallus was very upset when he woke up the next morning to find the beautiful male bird had flown. Tears trickled down his face as he told his parents about the strange and almost magical bird. He did not know who he was or where he lived. “But,” he declared while stamping his feet, “I want him back! Whatever it takes!” His parents decided to go and look for the special bird, because their son always got his way.

“You said he had a loud voice,” said the boy’s father. “Then it has to be a seabird. They have to make themselves heard above the roaring of the waves.” So the family set off for the coast.        

“Is that him?” he asked, pointing to the great black-backed gull. “He’s tough and strong and has a loud call.” But the great black-backed gull wasn’t the bird they were looking for. “You said that he had strong feet and strong toes,”said his mother, “then he could be a marsh bird.”  So they headed off towards the lakes and marshes. There they heard the rough croaking sounds of the blue heron which flew above them with its impressive broad wings. “No, mother, this bird is both beautiful and stately in its way, but it’s not him,” answered her son.”

They moored their boat close to a cornfield where many birds were pecking away. “That must be him then,” said his mother triumphantly. She saw a beautiful, almost regal bird, glossy brown with a white ring around its neck, amazing red colouring on its face, a long and attractive tail, strong feet with large toes and a loud, raucous call. The son sighed: “This one is maybe even more beautiful than my bird, but it’s not him.” He stared despondently around, not knowing where else they could look.

All of a sudden Gallus heard the familiar sound of a hoarse dominating voice. He jumped off the boat and called out: “I’ve been looking for you everywhere and now I’ve found you. Do you remember me?”  When the boy invited him to meet his parents, the cock looked at him from one side and then walked stately onward as if the boy didn’t exist. Sweet coaxing words had no effect; tougher measures were needed to get the bird on board. The father enticed him with corn. The trick worked. Once the cock was aboard, they threw a net over him and set off for home. On the way they clipped his flight feathers to prevent him from flying away again. Gallus and his parents spoilt the cock so much that he quite quickly did not even want to leave! His flight feathers grew back eventually, but in the meantime he’d forgotten how to fly and could only manage short distances, fluttering close to the ground. But his proud strutting, his broad chest, his magnificent red comb and his loud hoarse voice remained. The cock remained with Gallus forever.

 

In the chicken family (Gallus gallus domesticus), males are called cocks and the females hens. Chickens belong to the pheasant family. They were already domesticated by humans some 4,000 years ago for their eggs and meat. In a brood of chickens the cock is the boss and among the hens there is a clear hierarchy. The so-called “picking order”: higher-ranking birds peck the head of lower-ranking birds; they also get the best food and the highest and safest roosting spots. The chickens are ‘nidifugous’: as soon as they hatch they can already walk and can find their own food for themselves. When first hatched, they nestle up close to the brooding hen to enjoy the warmth of her feathers. Chickens prefer to walk around on the ground, but when in danger they can fly well. Numerous animals prey on them.

Man is the largest consumer of chicken. As a result, millions of chickens worldwide live their short lives in desperate conditions. Hens are kept in the food industry for their eggs and cheap meat. Very few cocks become mature adults and are generally killed a day after they are born, because they have practically no economic value. Under normal circumstances a hen can live for anything between 10 and 20 years.