Where the boys are

As all flocksters know (or learn very quickly), girl chickens lay eggs and boy chickens, well, crow. A lot. Unless you are breeding your own poultry, or enjoy the surround-sound farm experience, roosters are often an unwanted byproduct.

Some people ‘solve’ this problem by ordering pullets only from a hatchery. This doesn’t change the roosters’ fate, just moves it up on the calendar and into industrial hands. A quick search on sexing day-old chicks brings up some very graphic and disturbing videos of standard industry practice in culling unwanted male chicks.

Male chick disposal at a commercial hatchery.
Male chicks awaiting disposal at a commercial hatchery.

Like other industrial livestock practices, this one seems to shock and overwhelm people to the point of disconnect. No one wants to be responsible for the cruelty perpetrated on our food animals, but on the flip side, not many want to pony up the cost of ethical meat. Sadly enough, more searching on this topic brought well-intentioned but misinformed claims that buying sex-linked or auto-sexing hatchery chicks would somehow ameliorate the unwanted (I almost said ‘excess’ but nature intends the male/female ratio to be about even.) rooster issue. Sex-linked breeds take advantage of chicken genetic quirks to create cross-breeds where males can be told apart from females at hatching by down color. Feather-sexing is another method used to sort hatchlings, but takes skill to learn.

A chick sexor at Welp Hatchery works to separate the males and females using the feather sexing method.
A chick sexor at Welp Hatchery works to separate the males and
females using the feather sexing method.

Again, while convenient for producers and breeders, this still moves the responsibility for dealing with chick culling to the hatcheries.

Generally speaking, egg-laying breeds and most dual-purpose breeds don’t make the most productive or edible broilers/roasters. They aren’t as efficient at putting on weight as their freaky cousins, the Cornish Cross, but are very tasty when butchered right about crowing age. For profit-oriented producers (including so-called pastured poultry and free-range eggs), feeding these boys, even to this early stage, hurts the bottom line.

But a backyard/small-flock keeper can utilize these guys in a humane and respectful way by planning to raise and butcher them as part of the cycle of responsible, sustainable livestock management.

Four young roos that didn't make the cut as breeding stock.
Four young roos that didn’t make the cut as breeding stock.

Not sure if you can make the leap from flock keeper to flock eater? You have options…

With the rise in popularity of urban chicken keeping has also come the realization that most people are far enough removed from our agricultural roots that we have a hard time killing a food animal. Luckily, organizations are stepping up to fill the educational gap with hands-on culling classes. It’s also possible to connect with experienced people via Craigslist or a county extension class.

These guys went to auction this week.
These guys went to auction this week.

At Seven Trees Farm, we are raising some of our extra cockerels for dinner and the freezer. We also take advantage of our local auction yard to sell unwanted chickens without much hassle. Most of these are purchased for meat by bargain-hunting foodies, so it’s not a reprieve for the birds, more of a convenience for buyers/sellers who want to avoid Craigslist shenanigans.

This roo will be around for awhile since he's cute, friendly, and most-likely has the genes for olive eggs.
This roo will be around for awhile since he’s cute, friendly, and most-likely has the genes for olive eggs.
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