Saturday, March 26, 2011

Thoughts on Roosters

Malcolm, a gentlemanly Black Java
Well, I've put it off as long as I can.  One thing about raising chickens, and hatching your own chickens, is the that the rooster problem has to be dealt with at some point.  I'd be dishonest to say there aren't challenges to keeping chickens--just like any other animals--and it's best to have a plan going in so one isn't taken by surprise.  If one lives in town where there are rules about having only hens, it's especially important.  If one is keeping a flock with several hens, having a rooster can be of great benefit, especially if the hens don't have a peaceful coexistence or if one lives in the country where birds may range to forage, increasing their chances of predation by a hawk or other carnivore--we all know how tasty chicken is.  Roosters at their best are brave, selfless, generous protectors and patriarchs, treating hens and chicks with gentleness and care. A good rooster, like our Black Java Malcolm, is a joy to observe, leading his hens, and clucking sweetly and intently to them when he finds food he thinks they will enjoy.  He picks up bits and drops them in front of the hens, only taking one out of every ten or so bites for himself, a kind of offering that illustrates the best characteristics of a good Roo.  If a nest is left with eggs in it for long, he will actually sit in it, calling loudly to a mother, any mother, to come take care of the untended potential offspring.  And he is able to cover the hens (a nice euphemism for mating that I tend to use, like many chicken breeders) quickly and with a minimum of worry or stress to the hens, unlike some Roos.  His best quality is his grace at sharing his flock with me.  He is not afraid of me, but beither is he aggressive.  He has never given me any cause to worry about what he may do next, no matter what I am doing with the hens. This is the kind of Roo one is happy to keep.
Malcolm leading his ladies on a foraging run

But not all Roos are like Malcolm, and not everyone can keep Roosters good or bad.  One can always try to use Craigslist to try to find them a new home, but the truth is that most Roos end up as chicken dinner.  If you have the heart for it, young Roos make for good eating--they are tender and delicious, no matter how bad they may have been alive.  Today was the day we needed to downsize, after putting it off for a while.  I raised 6 Black Javas recently and 4 were roosters, only one of which was of sufficient quality to consider adding to my breeding program.  And I had one beautiful Roo that has gotten aggressive of late, treating the other rooster and the hens in his flock badly.  So today my husband and son reduced our flock size by 4.  Although culling birds for any reason is not a happy event, it can be done humanely and quickly, reducing stress to both the bird and question and the rest of the flock.  There is a great deal of advice online about how to do this, so I won't belabor the point here.  The bright spot in the experience is that I know we have created a more peaceful and natural environment for our birds (whose natural hierarchy includes only one or two Roos for 3-10 hens), and we have some VERY local, free-ranged, compassionately raised, sustainably harvested meat in the freezer, and we'll practice gratitude as we consume it over the next days and weeks.


  1. Such a rueful end for rowdy roos--but expressed so well. Thank you for giving the non-Malcolms space and time to grow.