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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.


  1. what a great post! I would feel the same way, Misty! You fry him up and tell us how yummy he is! xx

  2. I know how you feel.
    When I was a kid we had chickens, ducks, geese, a pig on occasion... Not all at once, but over the years... Some of them just became pets no matter how hard I tried not to get attached. Others were less of a problem.

    We had one steer that was so smart and affectionate that he was like a big slow pet dog. We'd walk out to the pasture and he'd lift his head way up and wait for you to scratch under his chin and neck. Dad ended up selling him to someone who promised to let him live out his natural life on a big farm.

    We had one chicken that was getting picked on by all the others, so we let her stay out of the coop permanently. I think she adopted us as her new flock. She'd schooch down and lift her wings so you could scratch her back. We named her Daisy. She used to follow my uncle a mile or more down into the woods, along with his little dachshund on his daily walks.

    Then again, there were plenty of others that we ate. Yum! Daisy was th only one that we actually named. Sometimes it's about individual personality.

  3. They all have their own indivisual personality. Killing animals is unethical. We are humans with morals and values and a thing called empathy. Some of uf are even intelligent enough to listen to our heart's calling. Is it cmpletely unnessessary to murder for food when you are an omnivore. It means you have a choice when it comes to eating. Plants have no feeelings, but they do live to sustain us humans. Not only does the animal die in favor of a meal, but so do you when you eat flesh. Animal protein is not what the human body was designed to eat. There's a reason we are not killers. Do you see claws on us. We have hands for picking -fruit and veggies. Read. "Food Matters", "Forks Over Knives".

  4. Wow.. What an amazing post. I am in a similar situation at the moment, we have 3 roosters that were suppose to be girls and now have to get rid of them... I am a vegetarian so wont be eating them but if i let the guy we bought them from take them they will be killed and eaten. A local school has said they might be able to have 2 of my roosters so fingers and everything else crossed for a happy ending.