When my hubby and I decided to get a property where we could actually own chickens, and have a little farm of our own, I had read EVERYTHING I could possibly get my hands on regarding chicken rearing. I devoured books, blogs, and Pinterest photos like an addict, absorbing every piece of information I could. I learned that when you order chicken chicks, they often come straight-run, which means they come unsexed. Translation? Of those chickens you ordered, 50% will be male.
What’s the big deal with 50% being roosters? Well, your hens can’t handle that much sexy-time with a ratio of 1:1. More like 12 hens to 1 rooster. Otherwise you hens get over-mated, and they start looking bald – bald backs, bald heads from where the rooster accidentally rips out their feathers in the process. I know. Charming. And if your in a cold weather climate, bald backs isn’t good for the chickens. Oh and another fun fact – if your hen’s protection of feathers is gone, the roosters claws dig into their skin, and can cut them. Get out the Polysporin and a dog crate! You’ve got a new house guest for the next week and a half indoors, and neither one of you is happy about the arrangement!
So ordering straight run is fine, IF you have an exit strategy for that 50%. Again, reading everything I could find, I read that you can take them to an abattoir, where they can do the slaughtering for you. Perfect. I was covered. I had a plan.
What I didn’t know was some abattoirs won’t take roosters, and small flocks they often won’t deal with either. Understandable for them, it’s t0o costly to completely clean and disinfect their facility between small batches (they have regulations to follow), and so it’s their prerogative. Unfortunately, that left us hanging with a what to do with the roosters, and who was going to do the deed. And although some decision making can be left to rock-paper-scissors competitions in our household, this was far more serious of a decision.
My hubby had always said from the beginning, “If you want chickens, your going to have to kill them. I’m not doing it.”. And that was final (at the time), so I realized that I was going to have to save our hens from our just-puberty-reached highly-motivated boys.
I don’t care what anyone says. Researching and reading is not the same as actually physically doing the deed. Even watching youtube videos is nothing like standing in your kitchen with a knife to the roosters neck. And even if he was the meanest, nastiest rooster you owned, that attacked you every time you ventured down to “his” area of the farm, it still is absolutely awful experience. It does get easier, but I can still say I hate it when we have to cull birds. Our first experience was a complete and utter disaster. If you want a comedic break, read “How Not to Cull a Chicken“. Since then, we have tried different methods, including the axe-clean-head-off type, which is great, if you have a confident swing and good aim – which I don’t. Our goal to make sure our roosters were dispatched in the most humane possible way, and quickly! Trying to keep a wiggly rooster in place was traumatizing for everyone, never mind the poor rooster!
So what’s the point to all this? The point is, if you have chickens, someone will have to be executioner. And problems come up where someone has to do the most humane thing. Two-week old chick with splay leg that can’t walk… and you can’t fix? What are you going to do? Take it to the vet? If you plan on doing this, make sure to plan on having money to do so, and the fact that the vet may also say that the most humane thing is to put down the animal. It horrible, but it’s something that you have to be prepared to deal with. It’s probably the most unpleasant thing about farming, but it’s also a good thing to know before you dive in!
So on your farm team, just figure out who can be the heavy. And don’t cull all the time, not that you would ever want to. Make an afternoon of it, or two, get it over with, and be done with it for a while. And on those nights, just don’t eat chicken!
Good luck and farm on!