The Killing of Big Red?

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

I know I am going to get letters, emails and phone calls from Animal Rights protesters and I dare say the Police will be knocking on the door again. However, there are times when a man is pushed so far beyond his ability to manage stress that the story must be told as a warning to others.

Raw Kidney Beans contain a compound called phytohaemagglutinin, which is highly toxic to chickens. A chicken only needs to eat three or four beans to ingest a lethal amount of phytohaemagglutinin, which kills in as little as an hour and to which there is no antidote.

Now, having read the above couple of sentences you are probably thinking, "What the hell is Ken going on about?" Well, you need to know that such was my mental state a few years ago, the aforementioned information regarding kidney beans when discovered consumed me with a type of euphoria not too dissimilar I imagine to the feelings experienced by folk at the moment they discover they have won a couple of million pounds on the Lottery. With this newly acquired "Bean" knowledge I could now commit the perfect crime, I could kill next door's Cockerel without anybody knowing it was me or indeed how the crime had been committed. For the first time in 18 months there was light at the end of the feathered, squawking, crowing tunnel of insomnia.

September 2007

To fully understand the deviousness behind the planning of such an act and what lay behind the intent means we have to return to 2007 when my wife, daughter and Son had moved up from Leicestershire to the Peak District where we were fortunate enough to be part of a fantastic remote rural community. It was an almost perfect existence until three months after we moved in. Our neighbours, who were great people around the same age as myself and Helen, came round to tell us they were moving out to be closer to their elderly parents. They also, a few weeks later having sold the house, took time to warn us that the people buying their place had a horse so were going to make full use of the small paddock between our two properties that had hitherto been empty and unused. We concluded there wasn't much to worry about as we had owned ponies so knew things would be OK. And so it it was for a couple of months after Dan and Kathy moved in without any kids in tow. The horse turned out to be a non-issue as he was an old retired bloke just living out his days.

Once they had fully moved-in we had a couple of social "introductory nights" with the new people who seemed pretty decent and it was fair to say that with our perception of them being of similar ilk we thought we would get along just fine. However, all was to change just as the kids went back to school when, without giving us any warning at all, a half dozen hens along with a bloody big cockerel and associated coop appeared one morning about 50 feet from the bottom of our not overly-large garden. On discovery our hearts sank.

Uppers and Loud Yodelling Contest

Within 48 hours we knew that we had a serious problem. Firstly I have to say I have never, ever heard a Cockerel sound off at the volume that this one did. Even Bob the horse went to the farthest corner of the paddock when Rhode Island Red, or Big Red as we were to call him, kicked off.

It wasn't just the volume. it was also the frequency and length of the noise it made. You would have thought there were ten cockerels facing off on a "Rooster Very Loud Yodelling Contest." There was no consistency in the sound it made, or the regularity with which it made it. The sound just wasn't much like your traditional cock crowing, in fact the racket was a cross between a cockerel with a very bad cold, a wolf howling and a parrot squawking in a very high pitched way; and, added to that, when it did make a noise it looked extremely surprised that it had emitted such sounds so did it again as reassurance. The range of notes that came out were just bizarre, from Soprano to Mezzo, through Contralto to Tenor , just unbelievable.

Putting it into perspective, such was the din we endured during the following few hours I was, with that kind of childish bravado only men can come up with, threatening to shoot the cockerel that day with Helen countering, "Don't worry, it will calm down when it is used to it's surroundings and anyway where are you going to buy a gun or get a license on Sunday?"


But it didn't calm down. Well it did, sorry, but only between the hours of 7pm and 3am. I swear, on or around 3 when we were well into REM sleep mode, Big Red would decide that it was time to get up and indulge in much coitus. You would have thought that our feathered friends had been woken up by Butch the local fox with a few of his friends on a Kentucky-Bucketathon-Night-out. Thank goodness the kids managed to sleep through the din being on the far side of the house. However, 3 of the clock became the waking norm for me in particular, to the point where I was awake at 2.30 waiting for it all to start in anticipation. Our neighbours just had to be told, this could not continue!

I had a discussion with our neighbour and owner of Big Red formerly known as Dan but now, as a result of our "heated chats," referred to as Daniel Tosser, Shithead-Jones, because despite all of our peaceful protestations he had told us unequivocally that HIS chickens were staying where they were, trotting out the ridiculous line of "This is the countryside, it is what chickens do."

So what does a guy do in this situation? Following advice I had talked, almost pleading with the owners but they were not going to budge so having looked online I phoned the council and they told me that I would have to put a case together keeping a record of detailed timings of when the cockerel crowed and how long it crowed for. Furthermore, if I could get some recordings over a few weeks of the noise said cockerel and his entourage were making, then the powers that be could look at it seriously.

Chickens and Children
The kids loved the hens but didn't take to Big Red1

On the Saturday my wife was taking the children back down to Leicester to see the mother in law for the weekend, leaving me we decided, to get on with the process of detailing every sound and movement the foul fowl were going to be making over the next couple of days. I waved all bon voyage and prepared for the task in hand. However the best laid plans etc. . . . . . as a couple of hours later I bumped into my neighbour whilst walking the dog and another argument ensued which put me in an awful mood.

Half a bottle of bourbon

Despite the earlier conflict my intentions later that evening were still on track. My recently purchased digital recorder standing by. I would have a few beers as it was the weekend and then get off to bed ready for the 3 o clock call.

I am not blaming my confrontation for getting involved with the alcohol, it was just one of those things. That said, drinking nearly half a bottle of Jack Daniels and four cans of strong larger does not put you in the right place from which to make important and astute decisions does it? Everything would probably have been OK but on this one occasion the cockerel, as if being aware that my family were away, decided to push things just a tad too far, and knowing full well that I was just about to collapse into bed around midnight started cock a bloody doodling like you have never heard it cock a doodle do before. Well sometimes it was cock a doodle and then a bit of doodle followed by a screech then, well you couldn't describe it in any other way than nightmarish. The bloody thing obviously had issues both mental and vocal. So it went on and on until 1 o'clock in the morning. Even shut up in the coop it sounded as though it was in the lounge beneath our bedroom. God, I have to do something I thought, but what? The first thing to cross my mind was just killing it, but I fought back the idea reasoning that I would be too obvious a culprit. I got out of bed and lurched over to the window and looked down at the coop, was the noise that bad? Was I making to much of it, was the rain exacerbating the situation so amplifying the sound? Back in bed, head sandwiched between pillows I tried to sleep but the sound just got louder. I had to stop it, so many nights so little sleep, something had to be done if only for this one night. But how?

You are not going to believe it because, helped on Mr Jack Daniels, I decided if I could not kill it I would gag the bloody thing, affording me at least a few hours kip then I could remove said gag before his nibs next door came down to let it out.

"Rubber band or Sellotape though, or was it to be Superglue?" I giggled. Much deliberation ensued accompanied by another large scotch as I sat at my office desk. It had to be Sellotape didn't it? Given that the bloody cockerel was clever enough to tell the time, getting a rubber band of it's own beak was going to be an absolute breeze. The rain continued but more heavily against the window as I looked through my drawers for the sticky tape. Yeah there it was, a full roll of that double wide stuff.

Wringing it's neck

Now, having wrung a chicken's neck before when my dad kept a few, I know the problems one can face. You are supposed to hold the Chicken by both legs upside down with one hand whilst keeping it's wings flat against it's body by pinning it between your one arm and your body. Then, using the other hand, do the business at the neck end. However, sellotaping the beak was another thing wasn't it? I giggled again, "this is bloody stupid," I heard my self say, hesitating about the whole thing but was then shaken out of such thoughts by another Howl of The Devil Rhode Islander. "Bastard thing," I muttered, getting into my jeans . I didn't care how many hands were needed, the bird was going to be silenced.

It was still hammering down as I went out of the back door into the darkness. Switching lights on or carrying a torch was a definite "no-no" as this was stealth stuff. I would, like a member of an elite SAS unit, achieve my mission purely by feel, instinct and cunning.

Lying face down in next door's muddy and decidedly sodden paddock reinforced the fact that I had drunk far more that I should have. I was convinced the box hedge at the bottom of our garden was much lower. "Obviously not," I chuntered to myself getting up on all fours and trying to focus on the outline of the chicken coop. Standing now I moved forward hunched slightly like the Super-Ninja I was, my enemy's Cock a doodle-bark-squawk, getting lounder and louder. He could obviously see me coming. Bloody hell! He was going to wake Mr and Mrs Tosser I thought so, rushing forward with a new urgency, I got to the coop just as the clouds cleared a little allowing natural moonlight to illuminate the field. I was there ready and armed with my tape.

Whilst bending down slightly out of breath and reaching for the latch that kept the little door in the coop closed, Red, to my surprise suddenly stopped crowing. He just stopped completely. I waited, breath held, senses straining. Had he heard me? I put my ear to the side of the Coop but the rain began to fall even heavier drowning out any sound there might have been. Sod it, I thought standing to my full height and reaching for tape, it will be breakfast time at this rate. With or without the element of surprise I was going in, it was now or never.

Silence him, now!

Tape in hand, I bent down and in one movement had flicked the latch, opened the little door and thrust my hand into the coop grabbing wildly at anything that moved. The whirlwind of escaping chickens, straw, chicken shit and feathers that ensued had to be seen to be believed as I grabbed here and there in total darkness hoping against all hope that I was going to get a hand on Big Red. Another hen shot past. Bugger me, there were more chickens running around the field than there were in the coop now. It was all going terrible wrong, it was carnage. Panicking I grabbed and missed several times grabbed again at what I thought was the bigger of the remaining birds and then, slipping and falling back as I did so, pulled my victim out into the open. It WAS Big Red. I had him by both legs. We fought and he flapped, he fought back and I started to flap for many minutes, "for Gods sake, give it up will you " I shouted and then, with a final flourish of his wings, he did give up exhausted with his little beak half open and his head resting on the ground. Now I am sensing that you the reader are starting to feel a little sorry for the cockerel? Well stop right there because the look in that animals eye was not one of defeat but one of arrogance and determination. It was a look that said. "Just you wait. If I live, I will crow again and I will crow louder and louder until you either go mad or move house!" So now WAS the time to silence him and I have to be honest and say I thought seriously again about wringing his neck. Instead I sat down and just wedged Red between my thighs so he couldn't move his wings and could only just move his legs and then, before he could do anything I wrapped the tape around and around his beak. Just like a bloke wrapping birthday presents, badly , sticky side up or sticky side down, I didn't care; and there I left him, sat sitting on his lonesome.

Covered in mud and now very cold and suddenly very sober, I trudged my way back to the house not even bothering to deal with the impossibility of rounding up the hens. Back in the luxury of my lovely bed and with no crowing, I slept through only to be woken by a phone call from the kids at around 10am. Bliss!

That day, following the Big Red incident there was no angry neighbour banging my door, no police calling me up to issue an arrest, and strangely no crowing. I occasionally looked out towards the coop to see if he had managed to get his sellotape off but he didn't appear. The only real action was the now fully "free range chickens" were still outside of the coop and running and doing their thing around the periphery of the field. Maybe the neighbours were away I pondered, whatever the situation I was not overly bothered and set about doing a thorough tidying of the house in readiness for the family return the next day. I would have a couple of beers and an early night and that is what I did, I went to bed around 10:30 and fell into the most glorious deep sleep.

Big Red wasn't dead, he hadn't left town, he hadn't been stolen and had not been eaten by a fox. Neither did he have sellotape around his beak anymore because at 3 O'Clock that morning and obviously with belief in the adage that "Revenge is a dish best served cold," he heralded his beak-freedom with 6 hours of his finest and loudest tunes.​

That morning whilst at the Real Food Shop and before I went to pick the wife and kids up from the station, I was surprised at how cheap raw kidney beans were per kilo!

Serious stuff

Complaints of nuisance from cockerels crowing have been increasing for a few years now exacerbated especially during the last few months, with more and more city dwellers moving to the country in order to emulate Felicity Kendal and Richard Briers (The Good Life) and escape the rat race and associated risk of COVID. However as a result of little or no practical experience in poultry husbandry on their part, complaints of noise made by cockerels, smell and an increase in rats appearing as a result have gone through the roof. It is important to point out that you do not need a cockerel for you hens to lay eggs. Having more than one cockerel will only result in an excessive increase in noise as they are very territorial.

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