Backyard Flocks: Plan Ahead to Save Future Headaches

Many of us have fond memories of growing up on a farm.  Hearing chickens cluck transports me back to hot summer days on my grandparents’ farm.  It was always a treat to help gather eggs or throw watermelon rinds out to the chickens.  They would roam around, pecking and clucking nearly inaudibly while they foraged.  The rooster would cluck loudly every now and then to announce a fat grasshopper or a fresh cow patty. 

On the flip side, I also remember what happened when a rooster tried to spur me through the screen door.  My Nanny reached out lightning fast and wrung its neck.  She didn’t tolerate bad behavior, especially if it threatened us grandkids.  There was stewed chicken on the table that night.

Keeping chickens is a popular hobby and enterprise for backyards and small farms.  The desire for farm fresh eggs is still strong.  Most flocks are successful, as long as owners protect chickens from predators.

One thing flock keepers get a bad grade on is having too many roosters.  You go into the farm store and see those fluffy chicks – who can resist?  One thing you should know before buying – unless it expressly says different on the sign, you’ll be getting both males and females.  Before you go that route, stop and think ahead about what you’ll do with the extra roosters.  Some of you may be scratching your head right now, “What’s she got against roosters?”  Some things to consider:

  • You don’t need roosters to get eggs.  You only need a rooster if you want fertilized eggs and more chicks.
  • When you have too many roosters in your flock, you’ll begin noticing that hens are missing their back feathers.  This is due to treading.  Now I’m not a family planning expert, but I think you get the idea.
  • Most roosters will become competitive and fight each other.  No one wants to see a crippled up rooster staggering around the back yard.
  • I’ve never found a rooster rescue in our area.  (If you know of one, please share with me!)
  • Ask your farm store to sell sexed chicks or order sexed chicks online from a reputable hatchery.  That way, you have the best chance of getting only hens in your flock.

The second thing flock keepers get a bad grade on is letting hearts rule heads.  Some of us are far removed from farm life and processing our own meat.  And some don’t want to be the one to dispatch that extra rooster.  If you can find a new home for them, that’s great.  But most often, no one has room for an extra rooster unless it’s on the dinner table.

The truth is it’s often far more humane to dispatch the extra roosters rather than let them harass hens or injure each other.   It’s not easy to find a rooster vet, either, as it turns out.

The rooster in these photos belonged to my sister when she kept chickens.  Stanley was a beautiful rooster, and he had a good temperament.  As other roosters were born and matured, they tried to show Stanley who was boss.  My sister made the best decision for her flock and dispatched those extra roosters.  Can it be a hard thing to do?  Yes, absolutely.  But your flock will be healthier and thrive longer with only one rooster ruling the roost.

For information on keeping a backyard flock, visit the University of Kentucky Extension Small Flocks site.