When people talk about backyard chickens, they almost always mean backyard hens. Many people think of their hens as pets, and enjoy watching them scratch around their back yards, turning weeds and grubs into cruelty-free fresh eggs. Home-grown food is a beautiful thing, and providing a happy life for any living being is a kind and worthy endeavor, so I am not here to dissuade anyone from welcoming a few hens into their lives. But have you ever considered, where do all the roosters go?
Roosters are one of the most unwanted, unloved, and unappreciated creatures on our planet. They don’t lay eggs, so it is hard to justify the cost of their upkeep. They can also be noisy, aggressive, and even destructive, so some city ordinances and homeowners associations prohibit roosters. Since male chicks are unlikely to be adopted, most are killed soon after they hatch. The others are usually slaughtered for meat before they reach adulthood. If I wasn’t such an animal loving vegetarian, I might be okay with raising roosters for meat. But since I am, I much prefer not to kill my animals if there’s any other choice about it. While some people will keep one or two roosters in their flock, it is nearly unheard of to keep them all. In fact, it is so uncommon that I have only been able to find one non-rooster-killing homesteader in the whole wide web.
They may be hard to love, but roosters are far from worthless. They are exceptionally beautiful, often possessing showy, multi-colored feathers. Roosters are also valiant protectors of the flock. If kept with hens, they will raise the alarm when a predator is near, warning the hens to take cover. If push comes to shove, a good rooster will do battle with a predator, often sacrificing his own life to protect his hens.
The general consensus is that if you do decide to keep a few roosters with your hens, there should be no more than one rooster per twelve hens. Otherwise, the hens may be injured from too much mating, and the roosters may fight (think: cock fights). However, I don’t want to keep just one rooster for every 12 hens. I prefer to keep all of my roosters, and statistically that means about one rooster for every one hen! Although this is a very uncommon practice (almost nonexistent), I have developed a plan that just might work. Maybe it will be successful, or maybe not, but either way I expect to learn valuable lessons, which I can then share with you.
I will define success based on three markers:
- No rooster should become overly aggressive towards other animals, such that the life or emotional welfare of another animal is threatened.
- No rooster should attempt serious harm towards a human being.
- Rooster upkeep must be affordable, or offset by products and services received from the roosters.
My plan to achieve these goals is as follows:
- House roosters in their own coop and run, apart from the hens. Preliminary discussions with experienced chicken keepers indicate that roosters will be less inclined to fight if there are no girls to fight over.
- Provide ample space, food, and entertainment. Chickens are less likely to engage in shenanigans if they are happy, healthy, and busy doing something more interesting than pecking each other. I’m starting out with a much larger coop and run than they need, and I will move it every couple weeks to provide a continuous source of fresh plants and bugs.
- Select a docile breed, and certainly not one that was bred for cock fighting. Rather than choosing the best egg layer or the breed I found most beautiful, I tried to choose the friendliest chickens. Luckily, the Faverolles breed appears to possess very good egg laying skills, excellent winter hardiness, and beautiful feathers to go with their calm temperment. Many people say this is the only breed of rooster they trust with their children. I also love this because it is a rare heritage breed in threatened status. I hope to play a role in preserving them for future generations by starting my own small breeding program.
- Let no talent be wasted. Although they don’t lay eggs, roosters can still provide great fertilizer, work shifts on pest control duty, clear new vegetable garden beds, and clean up dropped fruits from the orchards. Many roosters, including Faverolles, grow long, colorful feathers which fall out naturally during the annual molting period. I plan to make art and jewelry out of these feathers, which can be sold to help pay for the cost of rooster food. Most jewelry feathers aren’t obtained in such a patient manner, so I look forward to offering a kinder product.
I’ve been told that even if I do everything perfectly, there may come a time when one or more of my roosters becomes unacceptably aggressive. If the health and safety of the other animals are threatened, then I will make the kindest possible choice. Maybe I can find a new home for the problem rooster, or rework his living situation. Even if all else fails and a life must be taken, at least it will have been a good life. Unlike the day old male chicks thoughtlessly massacred at hatcheries, or the adolescent cockerels slaughtered while their meat is still tender, these birds will have lived a long, full life.
I am in the process of building two movable coops in anticipation of the 12 baby chicks who are scheduled to arrive in the spring. Stay tuned for more chicken news!