It’s that time of year again where many small-scale poultry keepers are hit with the sudden realization that the cute little fluffball they purchased is beginning to show signs that he is indeed a rooster.
For some, this can be upsetting news – especially if owners weren’t prepared for the possibility that one of their chicks was going to end up being male. Many people automatically assume that the only option is to get rid of the rooster, or resort to culling a healthy bird. The truth is there ARE ways that you can deal with your unexpected rooster kindly and with respect. For those who don’t know what to do with their boys, below are a few different options that are worth considering.
The KEEP YOUR BIRD option: Try to keep your rooster. Young roosters may seem aggressive at first when their hormones spike, but many will calm down and become great additions to your flock. If you have a few hens he will be able to help protect them from predators, sound the alarm to danger, lead them to the best treats, and help settle pecking order disputes. If you have multiple roosters and a bit of extra room, you can even set up a rooster-only flock. Without hens in the mix roosters do not generally fight and can form strong bonds with their brothers. Consider a flock of free-range roosters to help control your insect populations around the yard, or act as a home security system by alerting you whenever there are strangers or trespassers on your property.
A few things to consider when deciding to keep your birds:
Ensure you have enough space for them. If keeping them with hens you will want to ensure that you have at least 6-10 hens per rooster, and this ratio can vary depending on flock dynamics, temperament of the birds, and stress. Watch for signs of over-breeding on your hens. Coops and runs should be big enough to provide plenty of extra perches, areas birds can get away from each other as needed, and free of tight spaces where individuals could get trapped/bullied by other more dominant birds.
Check your town ordinances. Not every town allows roosters, but some towns might have special exceptions depending on your property size and location. Properties existing in agricultural or rural zones are usually ok to keep roosters without any additional requirements.
Consider the noise factor. Roosters can be LOUD and often at very inconvenient times. If you like being on good terms with your neighbors, ensure there is plenty of distance between your coop and dwellings to prevent the noise from being too excessive. Trees, shrubs, privacy fencing, and foliage around the chicken run and between property lines can help dampen the sound to more tolerable levels. Keeping your roosters closed in a secure dark coop at night will help reduce late night and early morning crowing. So-called “No Crow” rooster collars rarely work to keep a rooster's crow under control.
If your rooster is aggressive towards you or certain family members try working on behavior modification or adjusting the coop situation to make it easier and less risky to manage your bird. Many roosters go through a “terrible teens” phase when they begin to reach their adult size and plumage. These behaviors are driven primarily by hormonal impulses. During this phase they may vocalize more often, chase and attack their caretakers and other animals, and may appear to be very rough and aggressive in their pursuit of mating hens. To get through this, try to spend as much time with your rooster as possible to build a trusting relationship: offer treats, pick him up and hold him regularly. Do not kick, scream, run away from, or hurt your rooster. Consider setting up a “time out” pen for your rooster to give your hens a break from him and allow your smaller human family members a chance to view and interact with your rooster while being safely separated.
A word of caution regarding "Mean Roosters" - Unfortunately despite our efforts, some birds may display outwardly aggressive behavior toward their human caretakers or other animals - especially children. Roosters often see small children as a threat to their hens, especially if the kids are drawn to chase/pick up your other birds. In some cases it may be best to consider keeping your rooster enclosed in a separate area that is inaccessible to children to avoid potential injuries and trauma. Roosters can inflict serious serious injuries, especially to the face and eyes as they jump up to fight against perceived threats.
Consider reaching out to a rescue sanctuary to learn how you can improve your coop, or set up a rooster-only flock. There are many ways to keep roosters successfully and peacefully without having to get rid of them.
The REHOMING option:
Find a new home for your rooster. If you’ve done everything you can to try to keep your roosters, the next option you may consider is looking for a home for your pet. Keep in mind, that like you there are likely many other of people in your area who are currently struggling with what to do with their birds. It is a sad reality that there simply are not enough “good homes” for roosters out there, and those people and places offering sanctuary to them are few and far between.
When considering trying to find a new home for your rooster, please keep in mind:
Nearly all sanctuaries that deal with roosters are perpetually at capacity, and you most likely will not be able to find one willing to take your bird. IF you do manage to find one willing to take your bird, be sure to make a sizeable donation, and give extra bags of feed or treats when you surrender your bird.
Some people who take in roosters may also be using them for food for themselves or pets, you need to be prepared to be OK with this.
Be careful of individuals who may be looking for free roosters to use in cruel and illegal cock-fighting purposes.
There are many roosters out there looking for homes, don’t expect to find a new home for yours very quickly, and have a backup plan on what to do with your bird if you cannot find someone to take him.
If your rooster is particularly aggressive and has caused serious injury toward a human or other animal, rehoming is NOT a good solution, as this simply passes the problem along to the next person and could set you up for liability.
The DONATION option:
Wildlife Rehab Facility - Donate your rooster to a wildlife rehab as food for animals in need. Many wild animals need meat to survive, so by giving your bird away as a feeder you may be helping to spare the life of an animal who’s survival plays a critical role in a fragile ecosystem. Although this option may not seem “fair” to the rooster we must remind ourselves that it was us humans NOT nature that brought domesticated chickens into this world. The poultry industry has destroyed countless acres of wild habitat to make room for their production. By sacrificing these birds back to saving the lives of wild animals we are in some way giving back what we have already taken. Food Security, hungry families or pets - Although not all breeds of chicken are ideal for human consumption, there are still many families out there who will happily take free chickens to feed to themselves or their own pets. There are many farms that offer "rooster drop-off" days, where you can take your bird to be processed regardless of age or breed.
The EUTHANASIA option:
If you have exhausted all other options for your rooster, you may be left with no other choice but to euthanize your bird. It is never easy to consider killing a healthy animal, but it is a decision nearly every person who works with animals must ultimately make to prevent prolonged neglect or suffering.
If you aren’t going to use your bird for food for yourself or your pets, you can have a veterinarian humanely euthanize your rooster. This allows your bird to die peacefully without pain or trauma. For some animals, this can also be a way of putting them to rest free of further stress, hardship, or an uncertain future.
If you already eat chicken in your diet you may consider slaughtering your bird for your own food. If you’ve never killed or processed an animal before it is HIGHLY recommended that you consult with someone who has experience in doing this to ensure that you do not prolong your bird’s pain or suffering in his final moments of life. By doing this you can ensure that he only has “one bad day” after the months and years of kindness you’ve already offered to him, and he will give back to you by providing a meal for your family.
NEVER DUMP YOUR ROOSTER INTO THE WILD!
Regardless how you feel about the circle of life, you should NEVER release your rooster into the wild. Not only is it illegal to release domesticated animals, it is also cruel and inhumane.
Chickens can carry and spread many diseases that do not originate in wild bird populations. By setting your bird loose you may inadvertently introduce disease or other parasites to an environment that could impact wild bird populations. Additionally, domesticated chickens are defenceless against wild animals and will ultimately meet an untimely death at the jaws of a predator. Although you might try to convince yourself you are giving your bird “a chance to survive” the reality is that you have just ensured their suffering and death – and it is rarely quick or painless one. If your bird manages to evade predators, there is an equally likely chance that he will die of starvation from failure to find adequate food, or suffer exposure from the harsh elements without the security of a shelter. Releasing a pet into the wild is considered one of the cruellest ways to get rid of an animal.
So what does CROC do with extra roosters? Here at CROC I maintain a mix flock of poultry. While I appreciate and love our birds, I am in the position of needing to house and care for predator and prey species side-by-side. As such, I am never without a "use" for extra birds produced by my flock. Raising and processing my own birds for animal feed helps to reduce reliance on outside sources of meats, keeps the carbon footprint of maintaining my animals low, ensures that my meat animals are free from any medications or unwanted chemicals, and allows me to ensure that any animals raised for food are kept in humane conditions and live a comfortable life until their very end. Read the related article "Keeping Predators and Prey" for more information on this aspect of my operations.
In a perfect world there would be a happy home waiting for every rooster, but it is a sad reality that the poultry & backyard chicken keeping trade produce way more birds than there will ever be permanent homes for. It is our responsibility as animal caretakers to look out for the safety and welfare of these magnificent creatures and ensure that we are prepared to do what is necessary to treat them with kindness, compassion, and respect for however long or short their lives may be.