Guest post by Rachel Meeker.
Every morning I wake up to the sound of a rooster crowing just a short stroll from my backyard bed in a vintage trailer. I am almost 3 weeks into my year-long journey volunteering on west coast WWOOFs (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms / Willing Workers on Organic Farms) and each day is still a surreal awakening.
A few weeks ago, I would have been hitting my snooze button to postpone my daily commute in LA traffic.
On the Sweet Pea Farm in Arroyo Grande where I will spend the next two months, George is the resident alarm clock. More punctual than the sun, George begins his territorial chant right before dawn. I have yet to find the snooze button for this particularly vocal alarm, but there is less need to postpone a commute when my new office is just 20 yards from my nomadic home.
Normally, my duties on the micro-farm would be dominated by picking raspberries, but because of the California drought the farm has reduced their thirsty berry canes and focused their resources on animal husbandry instead. Amidst drought conditions in the area, the Avian flu is devastating egg production in large commercial farms. Operations like the Sweet Pea Farm have an advantage because of their smaller scale, allowing cleaner conditions and more control over quality.
This makes the daily work of a rooster all the more important. George and his hens are a strong source of income for the farm, supplying their roadside stand and local customers with eggs in a market where prices are on the rise.
There are three roosters on the farm: El Patron, the resident “pretty boy” with iridescent green tail feathers, skilled at strutting and eating but not much else; Bard, the second in command; and finally George, the alpha rooster of the farm. George is the epitome of everything a working rooster should be. His cockscomb is a healthy scarlet but gnarled on the edges from establishing his dominance, which he relentlessly maintains. He has the speckled silver and cream feathers of a Bard Rock rooster and could easily blend in with the grey mass of hens but for his long tail feathers, slightly larger physique, and cocky attitude.
Like every newbie to the crew, George inducted me with his usual ritual hazing. Every day for a week, he would wait until my back was turned to launch his attack, perhaps when I was innocently filling a water feeder or collecting morning eggs from his harem of hens. Puffing his feathery collar like a predator from Jurassic Park, he would lunge at my legs and flap rapidly to create a powerful, intimidating sound as his wings beat the air around them. When I imagined my farm trip, I hadn’t anticipated starting each day in a cock fight.
After the first time George jumped me in the yard, the regular farm crew patiently explained that it wasn’t personal. George was actually a great guy who was just “doing his job”, making sure that his hens were safe and that he was the boss of the hen house. It took a few days of adrenaline inducing encounters but eventually George decided that I was worthy to rake his coop and collect eggs while he lurked in the background.
I admit, I have grown fond of this fierce little rooster. George has taught me that I should expect the struggle — a lesson that will serve me well in my next few seasons of travel. Waking each day to his rooster crow, I am grateful to learn another lesson on a farm that is intimate enough to give each animal a name.
Rachel is a life-long learner and full-time WWOOFer, currently volunteering on local farms as she travels along the West Coast of the United States. She is an amateur farmer, blogger, artist, and holds an MA in Religious Studies, as well as a BA in Sociology. Rachel currently lives in a restored 1972 vintage Boler travel trailer with her partner, Mau, and her two rescued cats, Sweet Pea and Loki.