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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Great Rooster Debate

We only wanted hens. They lay the same number of eggs without a rooster and, frankly, we saw no benefit to the male side of the chicken world. Roosters are beautiful but loud, mean and hard to handle, according to many stories I've heard. My mom has a great tale about some mean rooster going after her cousin while visiting grandmas when they were little kids, and her grandmother frying it up that very night. I wanted nothing to do with roosters.

We ordered our all-female box-o-chicks from the hatchery and figured those hens would have us well on our way to creulety-free eggs. A few weeks into our experiment we noticed a couple of babies had larger combs than the others. We weren't sure of one and so we named it Frank (or Frankie if it was so inclined). I wound up being a beautiful Rose Comb Brown Leghorn. Absolutely stunning. The other was much stronger and was crowned Sampson. Low and behold - we had the sweetest, most gentle roosters in our flock.

Now, in the city of Richardson (according to the animal shelter) there is no ordinance against roosters. I know, I was shocked too. The woman at the shelter told me you can have them until they crow, and, inevitably, your neighbors make a noise complaint. I thought we'd get rid of them as soon as they started crowing (being a good neighbor and such) but just for fun I googled "benefits of a rooster." There are some great stories about roosters fighting predators to the death to defend their flock on the internet. We have some neighbors a couple of doors down who found a dead possum in their coop - courtesy of their amazing rooster. And we've lost two of our chickens to hawks, so we started thinking about keeping them and how to do it while still being neighborly.

Frank began crowing first and I was horrified. Crack of dawn schedule. I bought a big dog crate and put it in the storage room (in the converted garage). Each night I began gathering the two roosters after dark and putting them in the crate. They still crow but it's muffled. I generally let them out after 9am when they're unlikely to wake anyone. We spoke with our next door neighbors, asked them to please let us know if the crowing ever gets irritating  - we said we promptly get rid of the dudes - and they promised to let us know.

Sampson was hesitantly crowing. We laughed when we heard him. He sounded like a toy desperately in need of new batteries.

There is another reason we wanted to keep a dude around. The truth is that even if you get chicks from a hatchery for eggs produced by humanely raised chickens, you're still contributing to a system that isn't cruelty free. Half of all chicks hatched are males and the vast majority of cockerels hatched in places like McMurrary (where our babies came from) are destroyed within a day or two of hatching. I think for an omnivore, backyard chickens are a much lesser evil than battery hens. Broodiness has been bred out of most chickens, but I sure would love it if our chickens could produce their own chicks to restore our flock, instead of buying from a hatchery again.

But two roosters may have been too much for our 8 or 10 hens. They're pretty aggressive when mating and the girls scream as the rooster pulls of their neck feathers or combs. Sampson is fairly fearless and approaches anything questionable in the yard, while Frank is a bit more wild and timid, so we thought our alpha would be a better defender. Plus, he crows less. I really want to be practical about all this - chickens and roosters - all of it. We decided we would eat Frank. As an unapologetic meat eater I figure that if I can't eat a chicken I raised, who had a great life outdoors eating fresh grass and flowers, then I have no business eating meat.... But I'm also a total wimp when it comes to killing anything.

I worked with a taxidermist on an art project and called him up to see if he could slaughter, butcher and mount our rooster. Frank is so beautiful, and Brian thought he might be great taxidermied.

I took him in this morning, repeating the logical reasons to myself. He had a great life, it will be a fast, humane slaughter, this will be the most ethical meat I have ever eaten. I told myself it was the right thing to do.

It was awful. I felt terrible on the way home. I don't know anymore that I can raise my own food aside from vegetables and eggs. I went in the backyard and spent time with the girls, thinking it would make me feel better, but it only make me feel worse.

We'll eat him tomorrow. My mom promised to fry him up for us (she's an awesome cook) and I will be thankful to Frank, both before and during the meal, for sustaining us, in a way I have never been before toward an animal.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Peep at the Coops

Mark your calendar - next month a free tour of chicken coops will take place in east Dallas. Organizer Chere Hickock says there will also be homeowners with cool projects in addition to the hen keeping who have bees, composting, and rainwater catching. A similar event in Austin drew more than 1,000 visitors. Find information about the event on their blog. You can bet I'll be touring backyards April 18th!