Yes, it is true, I finally got the courage to move Pirate out to the coop. I moved him out, then back into the garage, then back out to the coop, then back into the garage. While I was moving him around, he took a few minutes to declare his sex.
The turning point in moving past my paranoia happened when I purchased a rabbit cage. It is a perfect size for one chicken living part time and has wire all around so Pirate can dodge the pesky beaks of The Ladies. (Yes, they still take any opportunity to beat up on him.)
For the first week I put the rabbit cage into the chicken run and kept the cage door closed. Pirate had lots of free ranging time in the yard (during which he kept a close eye out for approaching hens and bolted when necessary) so when it was time to rest, he was quite happy in the cage. The Ladies tried to peck him but the wire did its job; he was allowed to eat and drink in peace. During this time, I would come out at night and place him inside the coop, behind a screen of chicken wire so he could get used to sleeping with The Ladies without getting hurt.
The second week I left the cage door open and Pirate would venture out on occasion only to be chased back into the cage. After a few days, JJ and Goldie Hen decided the rabbit cage would be a great nesting spot; they chased Pirate out and set about laying their eggs. Out in the open, poor Pirate was losing feathers daily, often to the digestive tract of Dom.
Then a deep freeze blew into Colorado and rescued Pirate from these hellish days. The temperature was so cold (zero to 10 degrees during the day and well below zero at night) I decided to lock The Ladies into the heated coop (otherwise the crazy ladies would walk around the pen tucking one foot up into their down then the other in an attempt to keep their feet from freezing.) But I knew they wouldn’t let Pirate eat or drink if I put him inside the coop with them so I moved Pirate and his rabbit cage into the garage.
Upon waking the next morning, we flipped the garage light on and within a few minutes, Pirate began a teenage-boy-sounding creaky, “Cock-a-errrr-doodle---ack.” Pirate declared himself a rooster; you can watch him chime his morning routine here:
After the cold days, I moved Pirate and the rabbit cage back into the run.
One morning, feeling a bit nauseous at what beatings might be occurring down in the pen, I went out to see how things were going. Pirate was out of the cage and, as soon as I walked into the run, he flew up to the top of my head. I brought him down into my arms and discovered the raw, bloody wounds that The (Not So Much) Ladies had left on his back.
Pecking order I understand, but when Pirate hides his head in a corner, not fighting back, and they continue to peck and tear at him, I just can’t take it.
So Pirate is now sharing his days free-ranging in the yard or safely away from dogs and hens in the Tractor; he spends his nights in the rabbit cage in the garage. And yes, I walk him to and fro each morning and each evening.
We are hoping that, given his newly identifiable sex, he will become more aggressive quickly and at least be willing to fight back. I have long talks with The Ladies telling them they might want to consider the future a bit before they beat up Pirate too much; he will want something from them someday and I think he has a good memory.