Wednesday, June 5, 2013

What Do You Do with these Roosters? Or Extra Chickens? Or Old Poultry?

I see on the Facebook pages that the honeymoon is coming to and end for a lot of new chicken owners.

Discoveries are being made.

  • Straight-Run means you are almost guaranteed to get roosters in the mix. Even all roosters.  Straight-Run chicks are cheaper because there is no guarantee on sex.  If you want all hens, you have to pay the extra bit of change - and, even then, no guarantees.  It's hard to sex day old chicks. 

  • Hatching eggs are Straight-Run with a hey-nonny. You are never going to know what you're getting. No lie. I've had hens hatch seven roosters out of eight eggs.

  • Not all varieties of chickens are the same size.  Huge Buff Orpingtons are not going to fit well into that cutesy, li'l chicken coop or chicken tractor you spend hours designing and building.  Some of those adorable chicks are turning into feathered rhinos.  They just don't fit with the others.

  • Not all varieties of chickens are the same temperament.  Some are sweethearts and some are just plain bullies.  Although it's pretty much a given that your established chickens will loathe and hate any newcomers. Blending birds of different ages is very difficult - the one exception being those that are hatched on site and that are under the care of a Mama hen.  All my mamas, banties being the Outstanding Mothers of All Time among chickens, have kicked ass on anyone who threatened their chicks in any way - and, after due time in the flock with Mama on guard, these young'uns tend to be accepted.  Not that they won't be bullied by everyone else ... they will.

So you head off to the local chicken swap to see if new homes can be found. I've rehomed hens and roosters to new homes where they were sure to be treasured. I've rehomed hens and roosters to new homes where it was pretty clear that they were going to be dinner. 

In times when chickens were as common as backyard gardens, a lot of today's concerns just weren't the problems that they are now.  For starters, roosters were an expected part of the backyard flock.  What about extra roos?  Well, kids, they were Sunday dinner.  In a typical farmyard and kitchen, young roosters were culled and eaten as soon as they were full grown, or close to it.  Same with old hens that no longer laideggs regularly, any chooks that got injured or caused barnyard stress.  It was a full cycle.  
Farm wives maintained their flocks, often relying on the foraging and garden scraps to keep the flock fed, and used the "egg money" from selling extra eggs for the little niceties that they otherwise couldn't afford - sewing notions,  and such (perhaps giving rise to the notion of "pin money").

At the rate this is going, there's going to be a huge need for a local rooster-and-unwanted-chicken refuge, unless folks want to get together and arrange either a home butchering operation or an occasional group-processing order at the meat processing plant in Suffolk.  If you are buying chickens at the supermarket, then I strongly suggest that you consider processing and eating your own unwanted or unneeded poultry.
For those who tell me that they just couldn't possibly butcher their chickens - 
but eat chicken purchased from supermarkets - 
this is what a "free range, cage free" factory chicken house looks like inside. 
You tell me which is more heartless?

And,to answer the question, no, I don't eat my chickens.  I have in the past, just as I've eaten supermarket chicken for years, but I no longer eat them or any other meat if I can help it.  Of my five hens, only the two youngest are laying regularly.  We still have plenty of eggs.

Because my flock free ranges the farm, each year we lose a few to "natural causes" (dogs, hawks, possums, you name it). Usually it's the slower, older hens that can't move as fast to escape, but not always. Actually, usually it's my very favorite hen. That makes me so frustrated.

 Overall, I'm fine with knowing the old girls, now long-time friends of mine, will be taking up space in my life and poultry budget for a few more years.  

But if you are a small space, urban chicken farmer - especially in a neighborhood where roosters are not allowed, choices sometimes have to be made. 

And you should not beat yourself up about it.

But, bear in mind that it's always worth checking in at your local Chicken Swap to see if you can't find a new home with another farm. keeps an event calendar of state-wide Chicken Swaps (which include many things besides chickens).  You may find a home for the poultry you can't keep - and come home with some other surprises!

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