What do you do with a roo that won’t do?
While the typical backyard chicken keeper has a flock comprised solely of hens for egg production, eventually everyone has to consider the above question. What do you do with a rooster that you don’t want to keep? Perhaps one of the chicks you bought as pullets was mistakenly identified, or you put some fertile eggs under a broody hen and hatched some boys. If you’re not prohibited from keeping a crowing rooster you might have gotten one or more on purpose to protect your hens and provide fertile eggs for breeding.
Theories vary widely as to how to raise and handle a rooster so that he won’t be aggressive and attack his humans. The following is based on my opinions and my experience with keeping chickens for the past 10 years
It seems that a rooster’s temperament comes partly from nature and is part a result of nurture. I’ve seen cockerel chicks that practically strut out from their eggs and have an assertive attitude from that day onward. They dislike being handled by humans and rule the brooder over the other chicks. They’ll grab all the treats and face off bumping chests with their nest-mates. Not every aggressive rooster starts off like this. Some won’t start acting unmannerly until they’re grown, which might be a surprising shock since they’ve been even-tempered up until that time.
I think that it’s easier for a docile roo to turn aggressive due to rough handling than for an aggressive one to be re-programmed to be nice. Many roosters will attack out of fear and it’s difficult to regain their trust.
Some people will say that you have to assert your dominance over a rooster, and that begins even when they’re chicks. They’ll say you’re not supposed to pet or play with them or they’ll lose respect for you. These people have a long list of do’s and don’ts for raising roosters, including not letting them crow, eat, mate, or dance in your presence. And when these (frustrated!) roosters display aggression you’re supposed to hold them down on the ground or carry them around until they show promise of cooperation.
I’ve been raising chickens (and other things) for long enough to know that there are a lot of different ways to have success. While I have respect for other ways of raising roosters, for me the above methods are far too troublesome. If I had to keep my guys from engaging in all these natural behaviors I’d be spending all my days chasing roosters around the yard with sticks and never have enough time to complete all the other chicken chores. It makes me think of the old country saying “Don’t try to teach your pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig.”
While I know that roosters have only tiny brains in their craniums I figure they’re smart enough to realize that I’m not in competition with them for their hens. I want them, and all the animals in my care, to know that they can trust me to be a non-threatening presence, to be the Bringer of Good Things for them. To remember that they are always handled with kindness and consideration by me.
My boys and I do like to hold and pet our chickens, especially when they are adorable baby chicks. But we know that kindness to animals means to treat them the way they want to be treated, and if there’s a bird who shows it doesn’t like to be held we won’t force it. Our cockerel chicks receive the same amount of handling as our pullets and over the years we’ve only had a few that turned out to be aggressive. Of those I’m convinced it was already in their nature. One was a Blue Andalusian, another a tiny Silver Sebright, both breeds with feisty temperaments. Most of the other roosters we’ve raised have all been non-aggressive towards their humans. Many will allow themselves to be handled, even by my boys, while others prefer not to be touched.
Personally, I will not put up with ANY aggressive behavior from my roosters. I will say, only half-jokingly, that the best way I know to make an aggressive rooster turn out nice is a nice long soak in simmering broth. The reason for this is simple mathematics.
It makes sense that approximately half of all chickens hatched are roosters. Yet even in a mixed flock the ideal ratio is 1:10 roosters to hens. And there are many flocks that have no roosters at all. So perhaps there are “job openings” as flock husbands, breeders, and pets for a mere 10% of all the available roosters. The other 90%, in my opinion, have their purpose on a plate.
Therefore, why should anyone put up with an unruly rooster? Unless he’s once saved your children from a burning building or is currently pooping genuine gold nuggets I see no reason to keep him around, threatening you and your children with his spurs, beak, and wings. With all the other roosters lining up for work, many of them with impeccable manners, why not save one of them from the chop and send the aggressive one away? Every day you can find posts online offering nice calm roosters “free to forever homes”. Even if you plan on breeding chickens it’s not wise to use an aggressive rooster in your program since that trait can be inherited.
Certainly it can be a difficult decision when you’ve raised a rooster from a fuzzy little chick to a handsome adult. And for many people the idea of personally processing and eating a chicken, especially one they’ve known from hatch, is absolutely out of the question. There are indeed other options, and every chicken keeper should have an answer acceptable to them for the question of “what do you do with a roo that won’t do”. Those options include:
- Keeping him confined in his own secure enclosure
- Giving/selling him to someone else WITH FULL DISCLOSURE of your reason for doing so and no restrictions on what they’ll do with him
- Paying someone to process him for your table or pet’s dish
- Learn how to process chickens (It may not be as awful as you think. Personally I found it rather empowering to have mastered this basic human survival skill.)
- Try some of the methods others suggest for re-training an aggressive rooster (just keep him away from children, the elderly, and the weak, a once-aggressive rooster cannot be trusted)
I myself have always kept roosters as part of my chicken flocks. They are handsome and personable and I think they help make for a more balanced chicken society. We are fortunate to live in a neighborhood with no restrictions on keeping roosters. Having moved here from a noisy Miami suburb I find that I prefer waking to the sound of crowing rather than a lot of other more objectionable noises. It’s interesting to watch the roosters as they interact with each other and with the hens. While I’ve found them to be alert for danger, making the special call to warn of hawks or dogs none of them have risked their lives to defend their flock. And they seem to offer no protection from nighttime predators being as blind as the hens are after dark. Instead, my flocks have to depend on me to keep them safe behind secure fencing and coops. Still, it’s touching to see the way the roosters will cluck to their hens, the same way a mother hen clucks to her chicks, when a special food treat is given. And because roosters are the minority in the flock, they seem to stand out in their uniqueness.
There are a lot of good reasons to keep roosters, and a lot of good options if you’re faced with the decision of what do you do with a roo that won’t do. I recommend that every chicken keeper take the time to consider what the acceptable solution would be for them, and do it before you get emotionally attached to a rooster or physically harmed by one.
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