It was the day after Christmas, and Sarah Forstner and Dana Cumings were in Arroyo Grande placing a one-year-old, nameless black and white Americana in the care of Stan Broadfoot, who first contacted the couple on Craigslist for general information about rooster care.
Broadfoot bent down and placed his new fowl—which he later named Chief—on the ground where it proudly strutted toward the group of resident chickens that had just been released from their pen and were pecking around Broadfoot’s avocado trees.
- PHOTO BY MATT FOUNTAIN
Chief suddenly had it made: a caring owner, new digs, a harem of hens to preside over, and the only competition was a lone rooster a fraction of his size.
At first, the two roosters danced awkwardly around each other, until the smaller one suddenly jetted at Chief, who stood his ground, forcing the smaller rooster to back off. It was the blink of an eye, but dominance had just been established, and the two roosters went their opposite ways, chasing around some hen tail.
“Hey, you were right—that wasn’t bad at all,” Broadfoot said.
The afternoon sun began to set over Broadfoot’s rural five-acre property. They watched as the new flock scurried through his row of avocado trees, his dog Sequoia galloping curiously alongside.
“I can’t imagine a better home for this guy,” Forstner said.
Another day, another cock saved from certain doom.
Forstner said she’s placed more than 100 roosters in foster homes, but her Templeton-based nonprofit—the aptly named Save the Cocks—is just beginning to swell. In the last three weeks, Forstner has found homes for eight of the little dudes.
Many of the roosters are found at local animal shelters, where a vast majority will likely face euthanasia. Unfortunately, they carry with them the notoriety of being dangerous, annoying, and difficult to maintain. Not true, Forstner argues; they simply require care and attention as any pet would.
Forstner estimates that most discarded roosters face a bleak future because very few people can keep them, as many noise-related city ordinances prohibit the animals. And many who can keep them don’t, she said, because they haven’t realized the importance of having a male in the flock or for help with pest control.
“People are so animal-friendly in SLO County, and many keep hens for the eggs, but they have to remember that hens are only half the equation,” Forstner said. “[Roosters] are very magnificent, regal beings, and in China represent symbols of power. And talk about chivalrous!”
She added that males provide leadership and stability for a flock, noting that she’s seen time and again a rooster waiting for the females to eat before feeding himself.
Of course, you may have already noticed the tongue-in-cheek—or perhaps just cheeky—marketing campaign Forstner and Cumings have devised. T-shirts and wristbands bearing the ingenious “Cock Strong” and “Pro Cock Handler” have already generated interest throughout the community. (Looking to grab one? They’re available with a $5 donation at Bladerunner Salon in San Luis Obispo, the Lone Madrone Winery in Templeton, or from the group’s website.)
“It’s good marketing backed with a good cause,” Forstner said. “I thought, ‘We’re not PETA. So let’s have some fun with this.’”
One of the things that keep potential owners away from roosters is the early morning crowing. But Save the Cocks isn’t simply about finding those cocks room and board. The nonprofit provides the training new owners might not already have, so they can care for the animals properly and maximize their benefit to the land and flock.
After meeting the rooster’s new owners and determining that the home is a good fit, Forstner will administer some of the necessary adoption paperwork, including guarantees that the new roo won’t be used for cockfighting and that the owner will provide it good shelter. If it doesn’t work out, Forstner will take the rooster back or exchange it for another. The purpose of Save the Cocks is to ensure the well-being of the little guys, after all.
About a week after the couple introduced Broadfoot to Chief, Broadfoot told New Times the bird was holding up fine: He had adjusted to the transition and was ruling the hen house. There’s been no fighting, Broadfoot reported, as the smaller rooster has resigned himself to being No. 2.
“He took right over and fit right in. I couldn’t believe it,” Broadfoot said of Chief.
Forstner and Cumings recently fostered two more roosters—Phillip and Steve O—with Pattea Torrence, owner of the Old Edna Townsite, located just south of the San Luis Obispo city limits. Over the holidays, Torrance’s son Kienun and his good buddy Matt began researching roosters in the hopes of balancing out the cock-less flock at the wine tasting and bed-and-breakfast facility.
Torrence was hesitant at first, having heard stories about aggressive birds, she told New Times, but the youngsters took the lead in contacting Forstner, who explained the ins and outs of rooster care.
“Sarah guided us through the process and guaranteed that these two are nice and well-behaved—and they have been,” Torrence said. “It was just a fantastic experience all the way around.”
Staff Writer Matt Fountain is starting an organization to save the tufted titmouse. Send name suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.