Yikes, one of my chicks is a cockerel! What do I do?
by Becky Flanagan
Remember when you bought your chicks from the feed store? They came with a 99% chance of being a hen. And, like most backyard chicken keepers, having hens was all that was in the plan. You imagined a small flock that provided your family with fresh, wholesome eggs each morning. What you probably did not imagine was that of the hundred chicks in the cage, you would go home with the one rooster. If you do indeed win (or, rather, lose) the chicken lottery and end up with a cockerel (a male chicken under a year old) on your hands, what do you do?
First, decide if keeping a rooster is even an option for you. Many suburban areas allow backyard chickens, but with certain conditions. These conditions often include a ban on roosters. If you can legally keep a rooster, there are some things to consider. Your rooster will be loud, and possibly aggressive, and the eggs your hens lay will be fertile. On the positive side, though, that rooster’s entire mission in life, other than populating your backyard with his offspring, will be to keep his flock safe (so that he can populate your backyard with his offspring). Also, one rooster per flock. If you already have a rooster, in order to keep peace, one has to go.
If your local ordinances do not allow roosters, or if having a rooster just isn’t for you, you have some decisions to make. Some may say, what decision, as visions of fried chicken dance through their heads. Other, however, cannot imagine eating the chicken they have raised and will want to re-home the cockerel. Be realistic about what is happening to all of those unwanted roosters. Most end up on a dinner plate. Even if you are not comfortable eating your rooster, perhaps you’re okay if someone else does. If your chicks came from a feed store, call the store and see if they know someone who will take your rooster. My local feed store will take back your rooster and will give him to people who humanely kill the animals for food. Finding a home for a rooster becomes more challenging if you are determined that he lives out his life free-ranging on a farm. Ask your friends in more rural settings if they have room for a rooster. The most important thing is to make sure your rooster will not be used for cock fighting. To avoid this, be careful about advertising a free rooster. Some people suggest charging a nominal fee for the rooster to discourage someone from taking the animal for fighting. Ask a lot of questions of before turning the cockerel over and insist on visiting the chicken’s new home.
Getting rid of a rooster may leave a space in your flock that you’d like to fill with a new bird. Chickens are not solitary birds and are said to do best with at least one other chicken. If you started with two chicks and suddenly find yourself with one, you will need to get a new pullet. Introducing a new chick needs to be done carefully. Do not underestimate the power of chicken pecking order. Only introduce a new bird after carefully planning on how this will be done and after the cockerel has been removed. Your sweet little cockerel will surprise you with his aggressiveness if you throw a new pullet in the coop. Establishing pecking order with pullets isn’t pretty either, but it’s a heck of a lot more gentle than when a rooster is involved. BackYard Chickens has plenty of advice on introducing a new chicken to your flock. Study up before taking the plunge.
The good news is that there are some things you can do to avoid getting a rooster in the first place. Obviously, buy sexed chicks instead of straight run. Sexed chickens have been inspected and have a high chance of being a hen. With a straight run, you pay less but have a 50% chance of getting a rooster. If even the 99% chance in of getting a hen when buying a sexed chicken isn’t enough for you, buy a sex-linked chicken. Sex-linked chickens are a cross between two breeds. The hens are born one color and the roosters another. So, from the moment they hatch, you know with certainty what you’re getting. An additional bonus, sex-linked chickens are usually hardy, egg-laying machines.