AT RANDOM: Something to crow about

Graeme Corbett hatches a tale about roosters and chickens

Here’s a mathematical equation from the hobby farming world I recently had to solve.

Seven hens + 10 roosters = what?

Answer: nine too many roosters (10 if you don’t like listening to crowing all day long).

As our first foray into animal husbandry, we bought a flock of day-old chicks (18 in total, but one didn’t make it) in spring from a friend who raises a variety of heritage breed chickens out in Trinity Valley.

The thing with day-old chicks is there really isn’t any way to tell the sex of each bird until they start developing tail feathers, combs and wattles, which can take months. And even then it can be tricky if, like me, you don’t know what to look for.

It’s relatively simple to raise chicks in the early going. You feed them, you water them, you keep them warm and dry, and you clean up after them. That’s about it.

It’s when they reach teenager-hood that the issues arise. In our case, and it varies depending on the breed, that happened at about four months.

We knew things would kick off eventually as the chickens reached sexual maturity, but the situation really seemed to escalate within a few days.

The roosters started battling one another and hassling the hens. Even the girls got into it, chest-bumping one another as they established the pecking order. It was like watching an episode of Big Brother.

We ended up building a temporary shelter to separate the roosters (all except one lucky fella) from the hens.

With what comes next, all I can say is, one of my goals going into hobby farming was to learn more about where my food comes from. Well, that certainly happened in getting my roosters from coop to freezer.

I won’t go into the gruesome details, but harvesting a live animal is an eye-opening experience. It’s not something I was particularly looking forward to, but now that I have raised, killed and processed a chicken, I do have a greater appreciation for the food that ends up on my dinner plate.

Whenever I would buy a roasting bird from the grocery store, I never truly considered all the work that goes into getting that fully plucked, neatly presented package you see on the shelf.

Commercial processing plants use high-tech production lines to make the processing as efficient as possible. I was armed with a sharp knife, a four-litre milk jug (which I used as a killing cone) and a bucket of hot water.

It took forever, especially the plucking, and what’s worse is the finished product looked nowhere near as plump and juicy as the grocery store variety.

Our chickens are dual-purpose breeds, meaning they offer decent egg production but are still supposed to grow large enough to use for their meat. Somebody forgot to tell that to our scrawny roosters. They looked plenty big with all their bright, fancy plumage, but once you get down to it, there wasn’t much meat on the carcass.

We cooked up our first rooster in a crock pot in a stew with lentils. I woke up in the middle of the night with an agonizing stomach ache, and immediately panicked, thinking I somehow gave myself food poisoning.

Or, could I be having sympathy pains for my recently dispatched flock?

It turns out the lentils got added a little late and didn’t soak up enough liquid, which wreaked havoc on my belly.

Next spring, I’m buying sexed pullets (young hens) to remove the rooster drama from the henhouse.


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