You see, as some of you may remember, I had this problem last year. The beautiful white rock pullet I bought turned out to be a white rock rooster, complete with crowing and aggressive behavior. Poor Gandalf the White became a most magical stew.
So it couldn't happen to me this year, right? I mean, pssssh, I got that crazy risk of roo realized and over with last year. This year was going to be different.
But then today, as I let my babies free range under the glorious July sun, I took a good look at Tater, my Buff Orpington.
I had to formulate a plan....and if you raise chickens, you should have a plan, too. Because roosters happen.
Here's what I look for:
1. Size: This is the biggest hint in my experience (see what I did there...). All 3 roosters I've landed were big as chicks; they grew faster and were larger than the other babies born on/around the same day. This trick isn't as helpful when you have a mixed flock...Buff Orpingtons, for example, are almost always larger than Wyandottes. My Easter Egger chicks were huge compared to the Rocks and Wyandottes. That being said, one of my Easter Egger chicks (guess which one!) was larger than the other...and they hatched on the same day. Bigger doesn't always mean roo, but in my case, all of my roosters were larger chicks.
2. Strut: This is another one you just kinda notice. Absolutely nothing scientific about a strut, I get it, but it's a real thing, I swear. Gandalf, my white rock (pictured in crock pot, above, and below, as a chick), held himself above the other chicks from the moment I brought him home. His neck was always high, his chest out. He looked proud 24/7. Conan wasn't as "proud looking" but was noticeably statuesque compared to the other chicks. I mean, look at him (second picture below) at 8 weeks. Proud little struttin boys.
4. Combs: This one is tricky. I have hens with huge combs. My roosters, however, develop their combs quicker. If you have a rose-comb breed, like Wyandottes or Easter Eggers, a rooster typically has a 3-row-rose comb (see giant, ironically-pink arrow in picture below). Single combs (one line right down the center) are harder to really peg as rooster or hen, but again, my roosters all developed their combs at a faster pace.
5. Saddle Feathers: That area of a chicken's back, right before the tail and a little behind the wings, is where a saddle would sit. Roosters develop saddle feathers that waterfall down and end in points instead of curves. Check it out - see how Taters feathers are starting to fall down and away from his body? See how they are pointy? Hens have saddle feathers too but they don't do that cascade-thing and they are curved on the edges.
6. Tail feathers: This was the second clue Conan gave me...he developed these gorgeous green feathers that started to fall downward, pointing to the ground. A hen can have long tail feathers, too, but they typically do not arc away from her body all dramatic-like. Conan's tail feathers are huge and long and beautiful, while Triss, the Partridge Rock behind him, has tail feathers that end rather abruptly.
7. Crow: This is the only surefire, 100% accurate way to know you've got a roo. All the other tricks mentioned above are just that...tricks. Sometimes hens have feathers that look pointy. Sometimes roosters are smaller as babies. You will never truly know for sure what gender your bird is until you step back and look at the whole bird....if 4 out of 6 clues point to rooster, then you likely have a roo....but there's always a chance she ends up being a hen. Unless it crows. If it crows, you're done. Rootown.
Let's say you're an Overconfident Jen and you've got a rooster. What can you do with him?
This is my first choice. I love my birds, but it's my job as a responsible chicken owner to provide them with a good, happy, natural life in exchange for their eggs and eventual sacrifice. They work for me, not the other way around. Hens die and roosters happen and I refuse to let that life go to waste.
Gandalf was delicious. He was the first bird I processed myself and it was not pretty or easy. There are lots of YouTube videos and tutorials out there. They are helpful but I can almost guarantee the first time you do it, you'll take a minute to get it done. I've since found a couple places nearby that will process my birds for me, one at a time if needed, for about $5 a bird. I will gladly pay $5 to get the job done quickly and proficiently. If you don't process many birds, this might be a great option for you. Don't know where to start? Ask the farmers selling meat at you local farmer's market where they process their birds. I had two farmers help me find a local processor and one farmer even offered to take my birds along with hers during her monthly run.
Now before you go throwing your fresh-plucked boy into the oven, understand you can't just cook a rooster like any other chicken. They are big and muscular birds and if you feed them well, they don't typically develop very much fat....so their meat is tough. Low and slow is the key to making the meat tender enough to eat. I let my rooster sit for at least 2 days in the fridge before tossing him in the crock pot. Roo meat is perfect for soup and sandwiches. Rest, low temp, slow cooking...these are the keys to a yummy rooster dinner.
Give Him Up
I am a member of about 10 Facebook groups, 2 of which are local chicken groups. People post roosters on the group feeds all the time and depending on your breed, this might be a really great option with a significant number of interested chicken breeders. Posting your "purebred" roosters is also a great way to keep our heritage breeds alive and well. Sometimes 4-H kids need roosters for shows or to start their own flock. Sometimes a farmer needs a rooster because hers kicked the bucket and she needs protection for her remaining flock members. If you aren't looking to butcher your bird, consider finding a local chicken group and offering him up to a good home.
As with any online transaction with strangers, do your homework and try to make sure you're not giving up a good, healthy animal to illegal, immoral, inhumane gambling operations. I would kill a rooster with my bare hands before I sent him into a fighting ring to die a slow and painful death in the name of money.
Little secret....I am going to try and keep Conan. He is so gorgeous and I would love to breed him with my other Easter Egger and make more Easter Egger babies. His life is in his own hands, however, as I can't keep an aggressive boy around. I also need to figure out a solution for that pesky crowing problem...my neighbors are not fans of rooster crows at 4AM. Perhaps some blue eggs would soothe them, hmm? We shall see.
Roosters are fantastic protectors. They are great at telling the hens where to eat and when to hide. Roosters are also very beautiful and can be kind, welcome additions to a flock. They complete a natural hierarchy that operates the way it would in the jungles our lovely chickens originated from.
But if you want to keep your rooster, be prepared for crowing 24/7, not just in the morning. Be prepared for a potentially aggressive animal that may attack kiddos and other animals. Be prepared for your hens to be mated with - roosters can be selective and hens do show physical signs of wear and tear. You can prevent babies by collecting eggs each day but if you free range, consider the sneaky, sneaky ways a hen can hide her eggs. Keeping a rooster isn't that difficult but it requires some additional planning to keep things running smoothly.
Finding out your rooster is a hen can make you feel like your egg dreams are dashed and your idealistic backyard flock of well-behaved, sweet girls is impossible....but roosters are not all horrible. Some can be very sweet, docile little gentleman who work hard to ensure your girls stay safe and happy. Other roosters....well. They can be damn delicious.
Do you have chickens? What is your rooster plan? If you don't have birds....tell me....about how many eggs would it take to keep you quiet about a rooster next door? I'd love to hear what you think in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading!
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