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Grow a pair

January 20, 2010

When the realities of our food choices come home to roost, we tend to start finger-pointing at “them.”   But “them” is us.  Yes, everyone is guilty.  An article about urban chickens in the local paper yesterday spurred this post.  An interesting article with the facts stated fairly, it addressed the issues of male chicks being killed at hatcheries.  I am actually surprised that this is news to anyone who really cares to think about the food that they consume.  The problem is that it is thought to be inhumane to kill these chicks after they hatch, but really they are of no use to the people who are ordering pullets (female chicks) in record numbers for their backyard flocks.  Some roosters slip through, and with city ordinances against roosters, many of these chickens end up getting dumped, or taken to pet sanctuaries.  We have been the unwilling recipient of some of these misguided folks, who are happy enough to raise the rooster until he starts making noise or gets a little testy.  Then they get dumped, just like dogs and cats.  You know the drill, “Just take Fluffy out and dump him in the country, near some farm.” Out of sight, out of mind.  That isn’t too humane either.

Unless a male chicken is lucky enough to be a meat bird where his male attributes for being robust and large are desirable traits, he is condemned to the same status as a male dairy calf.  Girls rule on the farm and I guess in the backyard too!!  Meat = Mars, milk and eggs = Venus.  As the dairy cow in Babe states. “The way things are, is the way things are.”

In the marriage of business and customer, both sides are culpable.  When we as consumers demand eggs and milk to be available every hour of the day, what do we expect?  Unhappy with the way food is produced in our modern world, many have decided to keep urban flocks of hens.  That is a good thing, the eggs are fresh, people can make a connection with their food.  But, if you’re keeping chickens for eggs and you don’t get the equal number of roosters with your pullets you are just as guilty as the hatchery.  It used to be that the cockerels were dispatched for Sunday dinner when they reached enough size, and or had an attitude problem.  Nowadays though, we are maybe 3 generations removed from the farm and the reality of that type of existence is far from many minds.  Ideally, the hatchery shouldn’t have to kill these guys – every pullet should be shipped out with her counterpart.  Cities could relax the rules, roosters don’t start crowing until about 15 – 20 weeks of age.  At that time they could become Sunday supper.  It would be a real lesson in where food comes from.   Portland allows 3 hens, or more with a permit.  Maybe 6 chickens, with the boys going to the freezer or neighborhood potluck before the noise making phase sets in?

Is it our disconnect with nature that is causing this problem?  Why is it OK to keep the hen and not the rooster?  And if we don’t want the rooster why not eat him?    Sanctuaries are a nice idea in theory, but when times get tough, we may have to come up with more practical solutions.  Maybe the next step in ethical eggs will be ethical chicken and dumplings.  What do you think?

85 Comments leave one →
  1. January 21, 2010 2:41 am

    Nail on the head! As usual… Keep up the great posts.

  2. January 21, 2010 4:07 am

    I was unaware, I guess (having a grandfather who is a farmer) that people ate the Roosters. I like the idea in theory, but it doesn’t work for me.
    In my city we can have 4 hens ($50/yearly permit fee) and no roosters. Even if I snuck a rooster through to its meat stage I would eventually have only 4 hens and no roosters (or is that the point?). My point was though that for a family of 4 I need 4 eggs a day to make the venture worth its salt. Otherwise I might as well as continue to purchase them from Brent at the market for $2.75/doz.
    Why don’t meat farms take the roosters?

    • January 21, 2010 6:12 am

      Tree Huggin Momma, actually if you ever tasted a young rooster you would be pleasantly surprised. The meat still requires long cooking (crockpot is my favorite) but is tender and flavorful. Somewhere between a broiler and stewing hen.

      Meat farms won’t take roosters because the there is no profit even if the bird is free. It takes twice the feed and time to get the same amount of meat as a meat breed of chicken. There is a niche market for that type of meat, but a very small niche. Consumers demand (for the most part) young, tender, meaty carcasses. It’s a good idea in theory but hardly ever plays out in the real world.

      Once people start raising their own chickens they realize that getting an egg a day doesn’t happen consistently either. Chickens lay every 25- 26 hours, and need a break after a year to grow new feathers, and as they age they less eggs per year. So even with your 4 hens you won’t get 4 eggs every day.

  3. Rose permalink
    January 21, 2010 4:53 am

    This has been something I’ve been trying to tell people – when asked why I don’t have chickens I respond with “I really hate plucking and cleaning them with a passion.” People always looked shocked; “What, you intend on….EATING them?” Yes, duh, after a hen stops laying, she’s for the pot – what did you intend to do, keep it as a pet? Everything earns its keep or there’s no point in keeping it at all.

    This happens with other things, too; keeping goats, you’re eventually going to have to deal with a young male and either face up to making him chevron before he starts the rather smelly-wee phase, or the cows. You can’t have one without the other. I stick with what my own family taught me: if you’re squeamish about killing it, then you’ve no right to be eating it.

    • January 21, 2010 6:15 am

      Rose, I have friends who keep all their hens and let them live out their lives… . I can’t afford that. I worry what will happen to people with this mindset when and if a disaster strikes. A cook a chicken a week, I get many meals and about 5 quarts of broth plus food for our dogs. People would starve if they are to squeamish to eat the chicken in the backyard.

      • July 2, 2010 5:59 am

        Personally, I’m squeamish at the thought of butchering. I have no delusions, however, regarding whether I’d rather starve or grab the knife. Mine is more a squeamishness borne of my F-ly nature (Myers-Briggs). I’m prone to being overly empathetic, anthropomorphic, etc.
        I’ve raised chickens as pets, unsuccessfully. I didn’t know what I was doing, and this was in the Days Before Internet, so I had no idea where to go for information. I lost all but two chicks, from two different purchases. One “ran away from home” shortly after growing her pins, only to return to our yard a year later, BIG and fluffy and sleek.. a beautiful leghorn hen. When she came home, I’d moved out to my grandfather’s shack in the country. So, I picked her up and took her with me. The other, a young Rhode Island Red, was pampered and coddled from the day she was bought. Her mates had all been taken out by a particularly crafty coon that managed to wring their necks through the chicken wire – again, I hadn’t an idea what I was doing.
        Knowing (by then) that chickens are social, I didn’t want to leave my poor Leghorn outside, alone, while my Red (who’d been treated on the same level as every cat I’d ever had) sat in the house, crooning to me. So I sent them both out to live in my grandfather’s old henpen.
        On a particularly hot summer day, my roommate went out to water them, and my sweet, loving, coddled Red had found the outdoors too much. She’d succumbed to the heat. I gave away my Leghorn the same day. I couldn’t bear the thought of her alone in the henpen.
        We buried my Red, with great reverence. Right beside my first dog. The Leghorn was given to a family friend who had a PROPER coop, several chickens, and a rooster. She’s lived out the rest of her life in bliss, and ended it either in a stock pot or being returned to the earth, I’d imagine.
        All of that said, I’ve owned other sorts of animals.. I owned two snakes as a teen. I also owned a small family of pet rats. Since they DID on occasion breed, it was my duty as their owner to see to their future homes or disposal. Due to the.. err.. musk.. and the reaction of most people to the.. look… of male rats, I always knew they weren’t adoptable. Into a box they’d go, and off to the pet store, to be sold as snake food. Several, over time, were fed to the snakes I owned, as well. My mother, certain she finally had an out, had warned me I would get attached to the rats, etc. Nope. Not a whit. I loved MY rat family, but I had no interest in keeping more than two females of a single breeding (something I’d previously planned to do).
        I guess what I’m trying to say is I tend to be pretty compartmentalised when it comes to the animals in my care. They fall into two categories: Family and Other. Could I bring myself to accept that certain members of the Family category aren’t working out and assign their doom? I think I could do it quite easily. But.. I don’t think I could bring myself to swing the axe. While I know (more so than my ex-turned-roommate, the chef) exactly where my food comes from, and how different it is for a well-cared for animal to be dressed with honor and placed in a pot/oven from the experience of the shrink-wrapped freaks I buy with regularity at the store, I don’t think I could bring myself to do the actual killing and dressing. I’d be terrified I would screw it up, ruining the meat or causing the chicken stress and panic in its last moments.
        However.. should I end up with a particularly loud or agressive cock.. I’ll have no problem at all taking it to a good butcher (well.. maybe the problem of finding one.. lol).

    • January 21, 2010 7:23 am

      Well spoken Rose. And Matron. When people get hungry enough, the squeamish disappears.

  4. January 21, 2010 4:59 am

    I don’t agree that it’s better to keep one and not the other, especially when the chicks are being killed before they even really get a chance to enjoy life. I think aside from the noise problem, a lot of people get uncomfortable with the thought of having to kill an animal themselves and then eat it, especially when they raised it and saw it grow up. Cute little fluffy thing doesn’t equate well to dinner in the minds of most these days.

    I know that as much as I’d love raising chickens, I’d have a hard time killing any of them. I’d cry. I know I’d bawl like a baby if I had to kill something that I’d raised and taken care of like that. And it’d feel too much like a cop-out to just give the rooster to somebody else to kill for me.

    I’ve thought the same thing about raising a dairy cow, too. It’d have to keep having calves to keep giving me milk, and then there’s the reality of what to do with the calf. A female could be used for more milk. A male could be used to get more calves, but soon enough I’m overrun with cows and there’d be too many males, and I don’t think I could properly face the reality of killing and eating it like that.

    Which makes me doubt my plans to even raise some at all.

    But you’re right that it’s inhumane to ignore the male of the species just because it’s loud or can’t give eggs. Males deserve just as much of a chance at life as females. Maybe if people can’t handle that, they shouldn’t be raising chickens to start with.

    • January 21, 2010 6:23 am

      Ria, I guess I am on the other side of squeamish, since I grew up on a farm, knowing from the start that the animals that live here must pay their way. I think it is a state of mind, if you know you have nurtured the animal and then it will nurture your family by the way meals to sustain you then maybe you could be OK with that?

      We as a society tend to push off the unpleasantness in our lives, we flush the toilet, we send out our garbage, and we depend on others to do the unpleasant tasks we are unwilling to do. Until that mentality makes as about face, there will still be these types of practices going on.

  5. January 21, 2010 5:18 am

    Nicely written.

    Dave and I recently have had to send one of our hens to the pot. We dont have the room/space to have a separate coop and she was picking and cannibalizing our other hens. It was hard at first, mostly because we didn’t think we knew what we were doing but we were thankful for what she had brought us and that was that. We have her in the freezer but when it is time, she will feed our entire family and all of us (including my children) will know where their dinner came from that day. That being said, we are also incubating eggs to help replace some of our fallen hens. Knowing that 1/2 of them will be roo’s. We have made plans to keep 1 roo and the others will be raised to a decent age and then made into dinner.

    Some people think what I am saying is harsh but we were one of those families that ordered pullets from a hatchery. We ended up with 7 roosters by accident. SEVEN ROOSTERS. Unfortunately we could only keep 1 and found homes for 2 others but 4 met their fate at a falcon training school nearby. From that moment on, I swore I would never buy from a hatchery again. I had horrible visions of what happens to the baby roo’s when they are sexed and discovered. I will give them a much better existence and they will then be used to feed my family.

    • January 21, 2010 6:27 am

      Lisa, we are guilty too, we order pullets from a hatchery and eat the roosters we get, but we do not order laying breed roosters just for meat, preferring to raise meat breed chickens for that. And in the case of meat breed birds they are only sold as hatch run, with the males being more desirable.

      We need to make changes here also.

  6. Marcia in Wyoming permalink
    January 21, 2010 5:30 am

    Thought stirring post…again! Although the “urban farmers” have come a ways with their egg producing hens, I’m not sure they’re ready to go through with the whole meal…as you know it gets a bit messy:)) Starting last spring we are now raising our own breeding chickens – both egg layers and meat, separating the two for 10 days and then incubating and hatching the chosen eggs. Very successful the 1st year but a lot of planning and executing (pun intended)…

    • January 21, 2010 6:30 am

      Marcia, that sounds like a plan. Yes, it does get a little messy, but it is well worth it to really have a hand (pun intended) in where your food comes from. I think if worse came to worse we would be chickenless anyway, they are definitely a luxury here, barely paying their way in reality.

  7. January 21, 2010 6:12 am

    Very thought-provoking post..thank you! We just moved to our homestead a month ago and are looking at getting chickens in the spring. At this point, I have very little knowledge on chicken purchasing and raising. So, what alternative do you suggest? In my research so far, purchasing and receiving chicks by mail has been the norm. Love the thoughts and photos you share on this blog!

    • January 21, 2010 6:34 am

      Janice, my advice would be to get the chickens from a hatchery and learn the husbandry aspects of chicken keeping. Then if you want you can move into the incubating and hatching of your own if you choose.

      It’s too hard to save the world all at once. You have to save yourself first.

      Thanks for the kind comment.

  8. January 21, 2010 6:12 am

    It is sad. My neighbor and I got 6 hens last spring and want to get more this year. The plan has always been, when they get too old to lay, they will go to freezer camp. This year we want to get a straight run and roosters will be culled. While it would be wonderful to keep one or more of them, we live in suburbia and it is impossible. We do the best with the limitations of where we are. It is sad that males have little place in the food supply, except as meat, but alas that is how it must be.

    • January 21, 2010 6:36 am

      The Mom, don’t be sad, it is the way it works. We raise beef, and I feel much better selling the meat than I did sending the calves off to the stockyard. It is a process.

  9. AKA Angrywhiteman permalink
    January 21, 2010 6:21 am

    Catchy title, apropos in many ways.

    • January 21, 2010 6:41 am

      AKA AWM, thanks, at first this post was a little more graphic in my head, but as the day wore on I bucked a few bales and patched some fence, by then the post had changed somewhat, but I did keep the title…because it is true.

      Our neighbors who poach year-round dumped their roosters just up the road so they would find their way to our chickens! Their excuse – they couldn’t bear to kill them, however it is OK to hunt down deer and elk to keep their freezer stocked! Don’t even ask what I said to them… .

  10. January 21, 2010 7:07 am

    I think also our disconnect with the real price of food also adds into the equation. I’ve had so many people say to me, “I could never afford $8/gallon for milk”. Well, with what you pay in taxes that subsidize the current agricultural climate you are paying more than $8/gallon you just don’t know it.

    It is frustrating to me that people have completely lost touch with where their food comes from. It’s almost as if they think if they don’t know about it it’s not happening. We have people that say “OH, I can’t believe you kill Bambi” when my husband mentions that he hunts. Yet they fell nothing about buying beef in the grocery store. I always say, “Well, the deer we eat led a much happier and more natural life than the beef you eat the grocery store, which led a life of suffering.”

    I think if we all took a more active role in our food, from growing veggies to knowing about slaughter we’d have a greater appreciation for food and what it really is and how much work goes in to producing it. When the majority of what people eat doesn’t even resemble the plant/animal it came from how can you not have disconnect.

    • January 21, 2010 7:47 am

      Susy, I agree, and from raising cattle and keeping them for milk and beef – $8.00 a gallon is a bargain.

      Cheap food is just that – cheap food, you never know what you’re getting for sure.

      As for an active role, it is a full time job for me managing our food from seed/birth to table. Our system has failed miserably requiring one or both spouses to work to support the mortgage, new cars etc., it is woefully hard to break out of the that system and into this one. But it is unfair to blame others when we are willing participants. We get a lot of flak from vegans and vegetarians, but they aren’t immune either – there is a lot of environmental damage with crop growing too. Too much finger pointing and not enough action.

      • Rita permalink
        January 23, 2010 6:58 am

        When vegans complain to you, ask them to read “The Vegetarian Myth” by Lierre Keith. She is a lapsed vegan who outlines the environmental devastation of agriculture.

        • January 23, 2010 7:13 am

          Rita, I can see the difference under my very own garden vs. pasture/woodland. And the vegan gardeners/farmers are fooling themselves too – buying inputs for soil amendments to take the place of animal manures is a losing proposition for the environment. I have read many reviews for that book, but I have not read it yet. Oil soaked agriculture has just been a small blip in our history, but getting people to let loose of that won’t happen until…

          Besides the environmental devastation, I have friends who keep rescue animals plus an exotic or to, (cute ya know, and great photo ops…)and they are vegan to avoid the suffering of animals. However, they are not very healthy, with allergies and various other chronic maladies. A diet heavy on grains, sweets, and the like. Homemade and buying in bulk are not a guarantee to health. They think they are healthy because they don’t eat animal products. They have property enough to grow their own food + but with a diet heavy on grains, and legumes shipped in from somewhere else, they are guilt free since they don’t see actual farming that takes place to provide those grains, not to mention the shipping etc. They think they are farming but really they are less prepared than a city dweller in an apartment.

  11. localnourishment permalink
    January 21, 2010 7:15 am

    I am naive and confused, so please bear with a stupid question. We aren’t allowed chickens here (and hubby has said I’d be seeing a divorce lawyer before layers in the backyard anyway) so I have no clue what I’m asking.

    Why do people order any but a “first batch” of chicks from a hatchery anyway? If you have a breed you like that produces well for you, why are fertilized eggs not handled like fertile seeds in a “seed saver” system? That is, incubated and hatched for the next generation.

    • January 21, 2010 8:00 am

      LN, to get fertile eggs you need a rooster, which in many cases is not allowed. If you kept the same first chickens or their offspring they would be related and the results of inbreeding are not pretty. It can work for awhile, but not too many generations. The same with vegetable seeds too – many things need a large amount of plants to keep the gene pool from slipping backwards. Say cabbage for instance, a hundred or so plants are needed to keep the variety strong, so I buy my cabbage seeds. My pet peeve is the misnomer “saving seeds.” Sure you can let the cabbage go to seed and save the resulting seeds, but the chance that you can continue that practice into self sufficiency is going to bite you in the butt eventually.

      Back to chickens though, some places do not allow the rooster, since the hen will lay an egg (just like us) without the male their to add his 2 cents. So with the normal Western reductionist thinking, getting that egg is the end all. Not that if the egg is allowed to hatch it could grow up and be president some day or live a normal chicken life. It’s the same with the dairy industry – the milk is the goal, the calf is a bother. And that isn’t just in the industry, either, I read a family cow forum, and you would not believe how many people are annoyed with the calf and want it to be gone or weaned as soon as possible. I can only read that board for a few days and then I have to stop because is makes me so blasted sick.

      Sorry about the rant – but until both sexes of chickens are allowed, no one will be doing much backyard breeding even if they have wonderful, productive chickens. And until people are willing to accept that 50% will be males and that you can’t keep them all things won’t change.

      • localnourishment permalink
        January 22, 2010 5:28 am

        Ah! I see. I knew that bit about inbreeding, just slipped my mind. That makes so much sense. Thanks!

  12. January 21, 2010 7:26 am

    Well spoken Matron. I am hoping to have illegal chickens in the spring – once their home is complete. This is something I will mention here, on your post, and not in my blog – the county reads my blog! LOL Anyway, good information on when the crowing begins – I’ll keep that in mind when the little roo get’s to be that age. He will move to the crock and help my family stay healthy. =)

    Keep up the fab posts!

    • January 21, 2010 8:03 am

      Annette, thanks, good for you! I want that county job of reading your blog 🙂

      When you hear an odd sound coming from the coop that is something akin to something breathing its last breath – that will be your rooster trying out his voice 🙂 It is funny actually, and if you have more than one they will have contests. Better than any talent show for sure 🙂

      • January 21, 2010 9:33 am

        LOL I cannot wait. =) Our neighbor’s daughter raised some meat chickens for her (neighbor) and us and when she brought them back, we could not butcher until the next day. It was a sweet sound to hear that rooster crowing in the morning.

  13. January 21, 2010 7:31 am

    People are stupid………….they are ok with keeping hens for eggs, but they are not ok with actually eating the birds. “Killing animals for our food is cruel” HA! I have a real problem with “citified” people, I guess I should attempt to be more tolerant, but I just don’t have it in me. People say to me, but how can you kill a little rabbit (or goat, or chicken, whatever) and I say because it lives here humanely with me until time for it to fufill it’s intended purpose. Then it is humanely killed and processed by ME. If these same “city people” knew what went on in the back room of grocery stores, let along slaughter houses that are processing their prime rib, they would never eat again. Again, let me reiterate……….people are stupid.

    • January 21, 2010 8:05 am

      Sarah, it is hard to get the point across, but like everything else baby steps are needed. We have it pretty easy these days, everything is available on demand, and it is a sad state of affairs.

      I married a city boy whose parents owned a meat market – he was horrified that I ate meat from the freezer. He came around though!

  14. January 21, 2010 7:40 am

    Excellent post! Very thoughtful.

    • January 21, 2010 9:09 am

      TC, thanks, as you well know, the realities of farming are far from most peoples mind, just so long as the food is in the store, everything is hunky dory.

  15. January 21, 2010 8:18 am

    Roosters are just one example of our lack of understanding/unwillingness to see. Our society encourages us (and we willingly accept) not to take responsibility or ask the hard questions.

    Find out where your food, energy, metals, fiber, wood comes from. I think the answers often would make us turn away in disgust.

    But we don’t care enough to ask, choosing instead complacent ignorance.

    • January 21, 2010 9:14 am

      EJ, well said. If something like the earthquake in Haiti happens here, many people will be just as helpless. Building codes, or not. I read on a post on someone’s blog the other day that they were having a hard time boiling water on their woodstove. Even though they are college educated and well employed they did not know that they needed to put a lid on the pot. Sobering thought, that.

      • Doris permalink
        January 26, 2010 6:38 pm

        LOL, oh, I just learned something new, well, yeah, I know that putting the lid on the pot brings it to a boil faster, but not having a wood stove, didn’t know it was important there, but now I have a deeper understanding of the old saying . . . . can’t boil water, lol. love learning these kind of things, =p

  16. January 21, 2010 10:25 am

    We just moved from the country to the city and kept 4 hens. Our rooster was given to a country neighbor who wanted to fertilize his hens eggs. He was gorgeous. We had such a hard time giving him away even though he was pretty tame. But that being said, we had 3 roosters in our first batch of chicks and had no problem making them into meals. We even named them Pot Pie, Stew, and Al A King…no lie! I had one kid that had a hard time eating them, until one of them got nasty and would peck her everytime she went to feed them. My children know where there food comes from. We dig it from the garden and we kill it from the hen house. I think it is the best education I can give them.

    • January 21, 2010 2:29 pm

      Emily, they definitely are beautiful aren’t they? But my, my they are tasty too! Love your names – your kids are for sure getting a good education 🙂

  17. January 21, 2010 10:40 am

    I have been thinking about this too, about the destiny of male chicks at commercial hatcheries. This year I ordered my chicks from Sand Hill Preservation Center, a hatchery that does not kill (or sex, for that matter) its male chicks. They all get shipped out straight run.

    A few years ago I would have been afraid to do this. I had no clue how to butcher a chicken. But I got brave and found a farmer who butchers his own, and who was willing to show me in exchange for some help on butchering day. It’s not hard at all. This is something that should be part of every college student’s liberal arts education — ‘Butchering 101.’ That, and ‘Where Your Food Comes From 101.’

    • January 21, 2010 2:30 pm

      Jo, it’s amazing what we can learn when we put our minds to it isn’t it? Thanks for the tip on Sand Hill, I thought they shipped only straight run, but I wasn’t sure – Thanks again.

  18. January 21, 2010 12:26 pm

    Great post, as always.

    We are moving somewhere that will allow us to have up to 10 chickens, including one rooster. I am interested in Buckeyes, as dual purpose birds who will brood their own chicks (plus they’re a rare breed).

    I was thinking what to do about the rooster babies – at what age can they be culled for dinner? Until they are 10 weeks old, they do not count in the city’s tally…is that old enough to eat?

    Love, love, love your blog.

    • January 21, 2010 2:35 pm

      Nathan Strange, congratulations! 10 chickens is a good number and one of my friends has Buckeyes and loves them for that very reason 🙂

      10 weeks will be very small as far as meat goes, but edible nonetheless. If you could squeak by until they were 15 or 16 weeks you might get a little more – but feeding them too is a losing proposition.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  19. January 21, 2010 2:03 pm

    I’m concerned that if enough people start objecting to the killing of day-old male chicks, the industrial farm megacorps will see the “solution” as genetically engineered parent chickens that throw only females. That’ll be even worse!

    For my part, I’m happy to take anybody’s unwanted chickens – and I’m clear that they are going to end up in the pot sooner or later. Sooner if they’re male or past their laying prime; later if they’re still producing eggs. We feed and protect our chooks well, let them out to free range when we’re home, and will kill them humanely. Can’t ask for more than that, and it’s probably more than most animals could expect in nature.

    If anybody thinks this is cruel/callous/distasteful and they’re not vegan (no, vegetarians who eat eggs and drink milk aren’t let off the hook), then they need to extract their head from the dark, warm place it’s currently wedged. 🙂

    • January 21, 2010 2:43 pm

      Darren, I agree, the solutions we humans come up with leave something to be desired. It brings to mind a method here in the states to control our mustangs (brumbies). The Bureau of Land Management decided to implant the young fillies with hormones to keep them from breeding. But alas, the drugs wore off and set the mares on a schedule that had them foaling just as summer feed was waning. Hard on the horses and good for the cougars that prey on them. Just more of the same wrong thinking – that we can fool nature. I think the powers that be have their heads in the same warm place you where referring to 😉

      Your method is a sound one, and yes nature cruel, much more cruel than a humane dispatching.

  20. January 21, 2010 2:51 pm

    Thank you so much for the reply – I really appreciate that.

    Hmmm – I’m sorry that 10 weeks might be too small. Most of it will depend on when they start crowing…if they’ll wait a while, I will too. 😉

    I guess we’re just going to see what happens. I plan on becoming as self-reliant as possible on our little 1/4 acre – but I enjoy experimenting so it should be fun. Fortunately I also believe in that other resource: each other. There seems to be a pretty good network of urban farmers in that area, so hopefully we can help each other out.

    Thanks again!

    • January 22, 2010 7:40 am

      nathan strange, you’re welcome! You will be surprised how much you can do with a 1/4 acre 🙂

      • January 22, 2010 7:58 am

        Way back in, oh, 2000 I guess, I started following Path to Freedom ( Though we’d had small gardens growing up in our suburban home, those guys really opened my eyes to what was possible.

        Several years ago we moved to a small ghetto apartment with a 12×14′ yard. I grew tomatoes, beans, peas, a full herb garden, zucchini, luffa, upside-down squash, scented geraniums, anything I could cram in there. It fed us well.

        Now I’m temporarily living on 45 acres – and I’m actually looking forward to returning to the challenge of urban gardening. I’d love to get back to the farm someday, but this will be fun in the meantime. 🙂

        I wonder if quail might be better for us, though – they have a high feed-to-protien ratio, their eggs are fabulous, and their meat is to die for. Plus, they will mature to eating age within that time frame. Plus, I love the little suckers. Going to have to think about that…what do you think?

        • January 22, 2010 8:53 am

          NS, Path to Freedom is amazing – especially when you look at where they started.

          Quail are delicious – I have never raised them so I don’t know about keeping them contained so they don’t take off on you. Chickens have such a homing instinct for nesting that they don’t wander too far afield and don’t fly all that easily. But all things considered quail do offer a better taste in eggs and meat!

  21. January 21, 2010 3:21 pm

    Everyone has pretty much said it: great post, Matron.

    I hatch fertile eggs, I raise chickens to lay for me, I eat the roosters, I use the manure on my garden and I deep bed them to make compost and then I feed the chickens my garden scraps. Everything has a use, you just have to find it.

    And squeamish goes out the window real quick when you have five learning to crow roosters having a competition at 4am!

    Nothing tastes as good as homegrown food – that includes meat. My next venture will be raising my own rabbits. They eat grass which grows for free, they produce manure for my garden, they’ll also eat my garden scraps and they breed like, well, RABBITS. Rabbit pie anyone?

    • January 22, 2010 7:41 am

      Ms Lottie, I love rabbit – and rabbit manure is amazing in the garden. I haven’t had rabbits since my 4-H days, but I miss them, and squeamish aside, I miss eating them!

  22. January 21, 2010 3:39 pm

    Sanctuary? Really? The volume of birds would be astounding. You bring up some good points, and as one who is debating a back yard flock I find your proposal to eat some pre-noisy-males quite acceptable. Tasty, in fact!

    • January 22, 2010 7:44 am

      Kevin, sanctuaries cost a lot of money, I don’t understand with the economy the way it is how people can afford to keep those things going – but who knows…

      As for eating a young rooster, slow cooked with vegetables – Delicious, firm, flavorful meat and the best broth bar none!

  23. Hrist permalink
    January 21, 2010 10:37 pm

    I’m looking forward to the day they finally change the law in my city to allow chickens (they voted for it a year ago, it just hasn’t been actually implemented yet). I’d love to get breakfast and dinner out of them but unfortunately, only girls are allowed, and only for eggs.

    Hmm, you can de-bark dogs, I wonder if you can de-crow roosters.

    • January 22, 2010 7:46 am

      Hrist, you probably could de-crow them, but I always wonder about the city, would hearing a rooster really be as annoying as all the town sounds?

      Best wishes for your egg feast to come!

  24. January 22, 2010 12:14 am

    I was just telling my husband that perhaps we should save money and order khaki campbells and Ameracaunas from a big hatchery (for the first time) so that we could just get pullets and avoid males that never grow very large. We hatch about half our own chicks and usually plan on eating all but the nicest roosters. This last year we ended up with a lot of males, most of which were hardly worth eating even at six months of age (six months of eating whole grain feed mix). I enjoy raising heritage breeds and raising our own birds but there is certainly something to be said for Sexlinked layers, Cornish Cross and meat ducks and turkeys. I like to raise a variety. If there is a breed that I just want layers for, why pay for males that never grow very large? We also raise dairy goats. In the past we have tried to sell the males as pets and have succeeded, barely. This year I am hoping to find someone with pasture that will take all of our boys and give us back some meat when it is harvest time. It makes sense. It is too bad that hatchery’s have to kill male chicks, but it is not surprising. It is good that folks should know about it though. Thanks for reminding us and keeping us accountable.

    • January 22, 2010 7:54 am

      Emily, it all sounds so good in theory to let everything live out a natural life, but it takes resources, time and money to keep perpetuating all these animals. I do have Sex-linked layers, and we raise and eat Cornish X. I am always so surprised at the hatred expressed towards the hybrid breeds of animals and vegetables. Only in the human race do all the males get to breed if they want. In the natural world it just doesn’t work that way. We have anthropomorphized too far being spoon fed Disney too long.

      Every business has waste products, some not so pretty.

  25. January 22, 2010 7:52 am

    Great Post! My thought after reading this was about the calf of a dairy cow. Ria said pretty much what I was thinking above. I dare say most milk drinking vegetarians never give any thought to how that dairy cow came to produce milk in the first place. I agree Matron – society chooses to push aside the unpleasant.

    Until reading these comments, I didn’t really think that the rooster would have to be cooked longer for the best tasting meat. Great info as always!

    • January 22, 2010 8:59 am

      Mermaid, if there was no market for veal, there would be no calves being raised for veal, so like everything else there is always two sides to the story. Same with the milk. For me personally, I like my milk cow’s calf. I allow the cow to nurse/share the milk (on my schedule) but I get to handle that calf and train it. The calf retains a flight zone, since I am not really mama, and it learns some manners too. Cattle are nice to be around – I am so a cow person.

      Ah yes the spring chicken does need to be cooked a little longer – not a fryer for sure, but very delicious.

  26. January 22, 2010 9:39 am

    Wow, this one got everyone’s attention. Well, it would.

    It gets to the nitty gritty in the collision between the carefully nurtured “consumerism can be ethical” fantasy and the is that is.

    I tell them I’ll take him on the condition that they don’t ask after him later! About a fourth of them take me up on it, the rest keep looking for that “good home.”

    Crockpot overnight with onions, sea salt and seasoning of choice in water. Meat in one container, broth in another. Freeze.

  27. January 22, 2010 4:09 pm

    Nathan, a full 1/4 acre of growing space would be diving.

    MOH, one of our chickens turned out to be a rooster so we sent him off to live on a farm. They let their chickens free forage there and our city slicker lasted only a week before expiring from lack of food. If only I had kept him for supper.

    There is a group of urban farmers in Seattle and anytime someone can’t keep a rooster it only takes one post to get rid of him. Next time I won’t try to find him sanctuary, I’ll keep him until the neighbors complain and then stew him.

    My son named our chickens pot pie, wishbone, drumstick, chicken noodle and the departed roo was Mcnugget.

    • January 22, 2010 5:09 pm

      The 1/4 acre includes our house, so I’m not real sure what the actual growing area is – much smaller, though.

      Like I said, I’m really looking forward to the challenge. Plus there’s a lot of opportunity to do some guerilla gardening in an adjacent abandoned lot…Heehee!

      And your kids must be awesome!

      matronofhusbandry, thank you so much for bringing this subject up and allowing us to comment like this. Your blog is always amazing.

  28. alfie permalink
    January 23, 2010 7:55 am

    agree with everything you said ,even here in rural Ireland, families even farming ones, are now removed from the “Kitchen garden” outlook, on living. Young rooster used to be the staple Sunday meal, and special it was.The true cost of food is the fact that if you want to eat ” flesh” it has to be killed first, which is now a serious problem with the majority of people. In a seasonal and growth cycle culture,you eat what is available when it is available. A
    As with poultry meat birds are always a bonus I think of them as an added benifit to eggs.

    • January 25, 2010 6:27 am

      Alfie, I thought maybe it was just us out of touch Americans! I have farming friends who only grow one crop and buy all their food at the store. It used to be that if you were farming you produced enough to sell in addition to what your family ate. Nowadays people are getting back into farming, and they lean to the same practices as the big guys, grow a few things, sell at a premium (in the case of artisan type foods) and use the money to go to the store.

  29. January 24, 2010 7:05 pm

    There is a snippet of an angry letter some lady wrote to her newspaper. She complained about the cruelty of slaughtering livestock, and stated, “If they want meat, why can’t they get it at the grocery store like I do? Why do they have to kill cows and chickens?”

    I thought of this while watching the movie “Leap Year”. In one scene (in Ireland!), the couple voyaging toward Dublin is stranded at a B&B. Declan, the guy, volunteers to cook supper – and wring’s the supper chicken just slightly off-camera. I wonder how many people watch that scene in the movie, and never think “Why, I could do that at home!” More likely the thought would be, “I am glad that couldn’t happen here!”

    Ten years ago I visited the Damerows, who were publishing Rural Heritage magazine. Gail told me that oxen – steers trained to pull, over four years old, of any breed of cattle – were preferred in the hills and mountains over draft horses. It seems oxen are more sure footed on slopes, if not quite as fast on the flats. In the mid-1980s, Paul Harvey reported about a guy that started up a daily oxen wagon run between towns in New England. And beat the Post Office for getting letters and packages delivered.

    Just in case someone is looking for a way to use those “extra” bull calves. I don’t think draft chickens would work out, though.

    • January 25, 2010 6:37 am

      Brad K., go to the store and get meat? That is priceless, in a bad way. Every winter here the papers are full of stories of hoarded animals. Of course, they don’t impound the animals or charge the people until the animals are so emaciated and sick that they HAVE to do something. Recently, a large number of horses were confiscated, but the telling thing about the whole system we live in is that the official visited many times and and issued warnings but no offer of help in any way, and the horses continued to get worse. Of course, when it makes the news everyone gets on TV and in the paper, and they (officials) love their minute of fame. By that time though some animals are so gone, if only they had stepped in sooner or not at all. Since there is a glut of horses from overbreeding, and now no place to send them to slaughter because it is inhumane!

      Oxen were popular here too in the logging wood in the 1800’s, huge teams snaked logs out to locomotive landings then on to the mill. I always wanted a team of oxen but they are not popular here. I fell for the Belgians and the mystique of draft horses. Imagine a different world if Budweiser had used oxen instead of Clydes!!

      • January 25, 2010 7:26 am


        Oxen wouldn’t have been appropriate. Clydesdales (1800-1900 lbs) were deliberately bred from the great Shire (2100-2400 lbs), with the same height but more “daylight underneath”. The tall horse was needed to manage the tall express delivery wagons in city streets. Generally lower-built cattle wouldn’t have been as efficient or as quick for that task.

        I believe folk lore and medieval images show oxen more the province of the farmer (lower income owner, lower maintenance and double-duty stock). While oxen are defined in dictionaries as steers – modified bulls – I know I have seen images of cows in harness.

        • January 25, 2010 7:40 am

          Brad K. I know it was just a funny thought. The taller, quicker horses could make short work of city deliveries and still have enough bulk to pull the heavy wagons. It is a delight to watch our friends who show Drafters win the class where they have to back up a 6 or 8 up to a dock and do the manuevering similar to a city route. Black Beauty contains wonderful descriptions of city life for a horse. A tough job for sure.

      • January 28, 2010 8:50 pm

        Nita, there was recently a debate on the Portland backyard chicken list about keeping chickens for meat (someone who had recently joined the list was appalled that there was a once-in-a-blue-moon discussion about raising chickens for meat). He actually said, “If you want organic chicken, go to the store and buy it.”

        Honestly, I hadn’t given a lot of thought to what happens to those male layer chicks until the video of them being ground alive went viral a few months ago. I determined then that I would no longer by sexed chicks, but straight runs and deal with the consequences. Though I’m in the city, as you know we have some space and can deal with having a few extras. After raising our first few meat birds last year, I am now completely spoiled and only want to eat backyard poultry anymore anyway.

  30. January 24, 2010 8:16 pm

    I’m a falconer (I hunt with a trained hawk or falcon).

    One guy became enraged as my bird was chowing down on a rabbit leg.

    “Why can’t you just feed them hamburger?!?”

    This is a grown, supposedly intelligent human being. What do you say to that kind of out-of-touchness?


    • January 25, 2010 6:40 am

      Nathan, how interesting! Falcons are getting popular around here to protect berry fields from various birds.

      Allowing animals to do what they do best is the easiest – can you imagine the falcon that could bring down a cow, so it could eat it’s “natural” food hamburger? 🙂

  31. January 25, 2010 8:42 am

    Or we could use people power for plowing:

  32. alderlily permalink
    January 25, 2010 11:04 am

    The comment from Nathan Strange about raising quail prompted me to relate my own experience. When I lived in town, the house had a daylight basement. The 3’x6′ windows had equally large window wells: 6′ wide and 3’x3′ deep and tall. I put chick wire over the top and kept Bobwhite quail in them. They were delightful! and made the prettiest noises puzzling some of my older neighbors who recognized their call but couldn’t believe what they were hearing. They are good little egg layers and made a charming view in the basement windows.

    • January 25, 2010 2:15 pm

      alderlily, thanks for your story. I love the sound of the Bobwhites, we hear them frequently while we are working the hay fields. Lovely.

  33. tabitha permalink
    January 26, 2010 6:02 pm

    i have not read the comments, so forgive me if this has been discussed:

    it is unreasonable that everyone who wants a flock of hens should raise the roosters too for meat. the feed conversion rate is terrible. their carbon footprint is heavier than that of a meat bird. it is not merely about profit, it is about energy in to energy out. there is a good argument for hybrids. (not genetically modified, as some assume)

    not that if i have extra roosters, i don’t put them in the canner.

    i read that article too. well, i started to read it. i tried! then the ‘in your face” attitude of it made me squirm. (no offense) subsequently i have read it, and it phases me not at all. how is this chick-euthanasia any different than weeding? honestly, I have a secret. Sometimes, my basil re-seeds itself. The next year I don’t plant basil there, I plant beets. I have to pull all those basil plants, often after they are 3 or 4 inches tall! I know a lot of people will say, it is different because these are little chicks and they are fwuffy. they are no more or less alive than my basil plants.

    i would be pleased if there was some no-tinkering way to make sure 90% of the layers that hatched were hens. but i know that it would be something evil. it is always something evil they think up, something that they call ‘safe’ and ‘revolutionary.’

    reading back through the comments, i agree with many.

    • January 26, 2010 8:45 pm

      tabitha, it was interesting for me to see that hardly anyone got the title of this post. I meant, if you’re going to have the eggs you need to either deal with the unwanted roosters or accept the fact they are actually unwanted and will be taken care of at the hatchery. I personally do not want roosters unless they are my meat chickens, so I have no qualms about not ordering roosters, if we get some we eat them. If there was any profit in roosters they would not be euthanized.

      You would not believe the people who think they are only eating steers too. Not everyone gets to stay. Heifers have a better chance, but not always – we butchered our purebred Guernsey – she was just too dangerous to have around, I could not in good conscience send her to the auction knowing someone may purchase her for a family cow.

  34. January 26, 2010 11:20 pm


    One other thought has slipped through my mind. How is the chick, or adult rooster, that different from the unincubated egg? If milk goes sour, we don’t hesitate to throw it out (unless we have a recipe waiting for soured milk). If eggs set around too long, we don’t lament throwing them out. We cheerfully stick 30 eggs in the incubator, *knowing* that 2 or 5 won’t hatch.

    We do the best we can, we care for those that we take responsibility for. When the time comes to sell or put down livestock, that is as much our responsibility as clean water, feed, and the rest of the care that is expected.

    For roosters, I see the question mostly as a matter of affluence. If we can afford to feed the roosters until they reach enough growth to be worth harvesting, that that is probably the right thing to do – as long as it doesn’t diminish our ability to care for the rest of the livestock, our family, or compromise meeting our other obligations to the community. No, one or two extra roosters doesn’t mean much in terms of time and feed, but 40 does, or 100. And if we are stretched just that tight, then we would be irresponsible – wrong – to take on those two extra birds.

    Not to say that ethics are a matter for the wealthy, but having surplus resources will increase the choices that can be made.

    • January 27, 2010 7:48 am

      Brad K., excellent points, and especially the one of affluence. Sanctuaries to keep farm animals shows that for sure. Affluence shows in all aspects of modern life, and now modern homesteading and farming. Wide mouth jars and lids always used because they are easier to clean – I grew up canning knowing that the more costly wide mouth was to be used for things that were hard to pack, and would get counted down for using the wrong jar in canning competition at the fair. To me if feels wrong to use my wide mouth for sauces and the like, and it really feels wrong when I see how much more that lid cost me. And in farming it isn’t unusual now to see beginning farmers who are affluent and continue to make costly mistakes just because they have the money. One popular farm comes to mind, they say they are in harmony with the natural world, yet they think nothing of a c-section on a expensive cow, or embryo flushing to get more expensive cows. That is not harmony, that is affluence. Culling a cow that cannot deliver and didn’t have a twin is the norm in the cattle world. By propping that cow up, she will continue to pass those traits on.

      • January 29, 2010 5:57 am

        I wonder if those that are seriously upset at destroying “extra” rooster chicks have considered that many hens are deliberately raised rooster-free, so none of their eggs will be fertile. Or that the same egg that resulted in the “extra” rooster chick might have been . . sold for breakfast omelet, pancake or waffle, afternoon fried egg sandwich, brownies, or cookies, salad, boiled eggs, hair and skin care, etc. Or lemon merigue pie. (I like banana cream better, but that is just me, and pumpkin pie is great).

        Economically it make a difference whether the “extra” egg produced and “extra” rooster chick. But ethically, in the sense of “preserve all live because it is sacred or just sounds right when sequin-bedangled fundraising starlets say it”, is there much difference between planning whether to produce unfertilized eggs, produce chicks that won’t all live to adult (or market size), or raising and keeping birds and other livestock for other specific and domestic purposes?

        I think there is reason, with respect to the extra rooster chicks, to consider carefully whether there might be other uses for them. But not a sacred duty. What are often disparagingly called “economic concerns” – deciding our actions based on whether we can afford the time, effort, feed, and other resources and the return we expect – is nothing less than husbanding – managing and nurturing – our responsibilities to ourselves, family, community, nation, and faith.

        Blessed be.

  35. tabitha permalink
    January 27, 2010 5:38 am

    We sure had to grow a pair when we left the city.

    We moved out here from the San Francisco Bay Area, where due to our lifestyle we didn’t have to have solid ideas on food chains. We bought organic, etc, and thought nothing more of it. Since moving here we have lost some friends, and other relationships have had to change, because of the positions we have found we have on food. Unless someone is forced to really make choices about life, death, and food, it seems we humans just enjoy ignorance/ assumption.

    • January 27, 2010 7:52 am

      Tabitha, well you have certainly grown a pair! Rory came to mind when a commenter asked me why I bothered to chop the roots for Della. Even growing up on a farm and participating in the life and death cycle all my life, I can’t take a cavalier attitude when it comes to my livestock. Sure they feed us, and pay our way, but they are more than just $$.

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