Bye Bye Rooster Boy

This year we ended up with a bunch of roosters when we bought chicks.    When the fox got into the hen house he got all them but one – Rooster Boy (RB).

Roosters in the hen house can be a blessing if they are gentle with the hens and keep a watch on them when they are out free ranging.    I have read about roosters like this but never had one.

A rare moment of calm with Rooster Boy

A rare moment of calm with Rooster Boy before he got overwhelmed with his hormones.

This year when RB survived we decided to see how he turned out  rather than send him to freezer camp in the spring.   RB was like the bird from the children’s story about chicken little he was afraid of everything/  He was the first to run into the hen house if even a crow flew over and cast a shadow.    By the time this personality trait was revealed he was too old for anything but making stock and the general consensus was to let him go until fall butchering when we took our flock down to winter size.  He was so afraid of life he did not bother the hens. Rb was causing no problems other than eating food and not laying a darn egg.     Two weeks ago that all changed.   Suddenly he was interested in the hens and was not just interested in making chicks, but he would chase them around mercilessly, pulling feathers and scraping their backs with his feet.  Even in the night when they should all be rooster he was interested in getting his female fix.   We were finding eggs all over, even in the middle of the floor because he would chase them out of the nest boxes.    There was no calm in the hen house.    RangerSir was of the opinion that he needed to go, but neither of us wanted to butcher when we were having record heat last weekend, so RB got a reprieve.   This week when I came home RangerSir advised me that RB was going this week no matter what.    So today it was bye bye rooster boy.   The remaining flock will now have to find a new pecking order now that he is out of the way and hopefully they will be able to get back to the business of being the happy hens who lay eggs.

Its a Boy

Gold Laced Wyandotte, male at 4 weeks.

Gold Laced Wyandotte, male at 4 weeks.

I buy sexxed chicks.   This means I buy chicks that someone has decided their gender on the same day they are born, before shipping them to me.   Sexxing chicks is done by one of three methods.

  • Some chicks are color sex linked.   This means that when they are born they have a color trait that is specific to one gender or another.    Easy as pie
  • Some chicks are feather sexxed.   This means someone looks at their emerging wing feathers and a pro can tell by what they see if they are male or not.   Not so easy
  • Lastly it is just like you think.   A pro takes a look at the little parts.  Pretty amazing they can sex chicks at all. Beyond hard and gross.

As you can imagine sexxing is an inexact science.    Though my hatchery has done  a pretty darn good job over the years.  This year I have one who slipped by and tricked the sexxers.  My gold laced wyandotte is a boy!

Some baby chicks will not reveal their sex for a many weeks, but most of them start to shows some sign of gender between four and six weeks.    This boy is already showing deep red in his comb and his waddles (that part that hangs below the beak) is already starting to develop.)   I must admit I am disappointed this breed has always been sold out, or when I have bought it the local farm  supply it has not survived.   I finally get one and it lives and it is MALE!

Male Gold Laced Wyandottes can be very handsome roosters.   I am hoping he might be a rooster with a good disposition and he can stay around for the summer.   A good rooster will keep watch on the flock while they are out free ranging.   I will keep you posted on this developing matter.

Chickens are like Cowboys – most of what you think isn’t true

Chickens are sort of like cowboys.  There is a lot urban beliefs on what is based on TV shows and Hollywood movies.  If you live in true cowboy country you know many westerns are just plain crazy with things that are preposterous.    I am a transplant to Montana, and though I grew up in rural Illinois, my cowboy IQ before moving west was shameful.   After living here for a number of years I  have friends who own ranches, are married to true cowboys,  help out during branding, love to help bring  herds down in the fall, lady friends who have barrel raced for years, and  neighbors who have arenas on their property so they can practice their team roping skills.   I know so much more, but my cowboy IQ is still pretty low.    Some of favorite urban legends about the west are: horses whinny and talk all the time,  you can get off your horse and if you don’t tie it up it will be there when you come back twenty minutes later, all cowboys are sexy except the old chuck wagon cook, and none of them chew.

On the other hand I have had my own flock chickens for quite awhile and my chicken IQ is pretty high.      Here are some of my favorite chicken fallacies.

Rooster Farm_CottageArts

You need a rooster.  A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle, and a chicken needs a rooster about as much.   Unless you planning hatching chicks, there is no need for a rooster.   A rooster like a man is need to make babies, without it the female gender will produce eggs and slough them off.

Brown eggs are better, more nutritious, better flavor, you pick.   Brown eggs are a genetic egg shell color period.  Nothing more exotic than that.

Chickens scratch and wander around the “barnyard.”  Some chickens are great forager, meaning the scratch around looking for good food..   Others have no interest in moving around beyond going to the feeder. I pick my birds for their forage quality and I can tell you some are rock stars going out and finding the first green grass of the spring and others well they will get there, but if they miss out on a tasty morsel or grasshopper they don’t care.

Chickens are fed hormones or steroids to make them big faster.   The poultry industry doesn’t need to do this.   After years of selective breeding they have developed a bird that will “naturally” grow from egg to maturity in just about 6 weeks.   This breed is extremely efficient turning everything they eat into body weight.  They sit in cages and have food available to them non-stop.  They grow so big so fast, their legs often can’t hold them, and can get congestive heart failure.

sdrum_kitschykitchen_eggBASKETCage free or Free-range means something when buying eggs.

  • Technically yes cage free means exactly that the chicken that laid your egg was not in a cage.   It doesn’t mean it had a lot of space or could wander around the chicken coop, it just means it wasn’t in a pen. I am not sure if that is any better, chickens have a pecking order and can be quite mean to one another when allowed to be free, and in crowded conditions things always get worse.  Cage free generally  is just a bunch of free chickens crowded in a coop.
  • Free-range is a term that means the chickens had the opportunity to go outside.   It doesn’t mean they have a wonderful green lawn with bugs, slugs and seeds for them to eat.   It just means there is a door in case they want to use it.   There is no standard that says each free range bird must have at least two square inches of outdoor space.   It doesn’t mean they ever have to be so uncrowded in the coop that they could make their way to the sunshine.   Keeping chickens myself I can tell you it takes no time for them to denude green space, so odds are this free-range space has long since been picked free of any green material they might eat.

Organic or vegetarian eggs are better.   Organic just means they at organic food, it does not speak to how they were treated or raised.    The only advantage of organic in my mind is they are not fed food that was not raise with pesticides, but probably more importantly to me no vaccines or antibiotics.   Vegetarian eggs on the other hand is plain insanity.   Chickens are omnivores, like us they eat meat and veggies.   Vegetarian and free range are mutually exclusive.   You can’t let them egg bugs like they naturally do and call them vegetarian.

There are many more, but these are some of my favorites fallacies about chickens and cowboys.

Shipping Chicks & Packing Peanuts

Rooster-postNow that my bunch of chicks is ordered I need to start thinking about when they will arrive.   It won’t be long.   I had picked a shipping time that I thought would work good for us, unfortunately it made my chick ship date in the middle of “Easter Rush”   My hatchery likes to avoid sending small orders of chicks out during the busiest time as they tend to to not travel as well during the busy weeks.  It means my chicks will be shipping March 6th!

For those of you unfamiliar with mail order chicks, the general rules are you order 100 chicks!  That has been the magical number for aeons. They found out years ago that 100 shipped well for the arrival of healthy chicks. Shipping boxes were design for this size and worked well in the US Mail. Those 100 chick boxes stack well, yet provide adequate ventilation.  The chicks have enough room to move around but not so much to be like marbles shaking around in the box.   They keep each other warm for the trip as chick down has no real warmth for the little critters.

I on the other hand order 8-12 chicks.   Boxes are different for small batches of chicks, called quarter boxes.   They are specially configured to do all the same things that the larger 100 chick boxes do, but also understand their small size makes them prone to be not being so easily recognized as having live chicks inside.  When you do a small box, you are required to use a airmail/priority postage to minimize the shipping time.   You can also expect to find in your box not only the chicks you ordered but something else…packing peanuts.   Not the Styrofoam kind, but the living kind. In order to ensure safe healthy chicks they hatchery will include other chicks in your box to make it a full quarter box….you will get 25 chicks even if you did not order them.  No before you, you non-chick people start on the “way cool” hold your horses.   The packing peanut chicks will be the highly undesirable chickens…roosters!

Roosters are uses as packing peanuts because  are more roosters than anyone can ever sell.  There are a whole host of reasons for this

  • A flock of egg layers needs NO rooster to produce eggs.   If you want roosters will only need one or two.  Any more than that and your hens will loose all their feathers as they get gang banged by more boys than they can handle.
  • Roosters can be protective which can be good for free rangers.   They keep watch and will go to bat for their flock when predators come calling.     We had a rooster who hated our dog, who was completely indifferent to the chickens.  Randy the Rooster was raise from a chick with our dog.  He was always “gunning” for the dog and came running looking for him every time we opened the door.  This protection instinct can even carry over to attaching their human owners and chasing children.    Roosters can inflict serious damage on predators, dogs, and people.
  • Too many roosters will fight amongst themselves  as well;  boys will be boys.
  • The testosterone running through their body makes for sinewy muscle tissue.  All but the youngest roosters can be chewy and stringy.

Usually when I get packing peanuts I put them down immediately and don’t go with the hassle of all those boys.   This year I am feeling brave or extremely thrifty and plan to raise a flock of packing peanuts until maybe 8-12 weeks.   Some may be as small as quail or game hens when we butcher them and others may be like three or four pounds tops.   I am not sure what to expect out of this all this year, but will keep you posted as we go down a new road on this chicken raising thing.

Two Fewer Chicks

LeRoy the little Roo

No they did not meet with an unfortunate demise or pack it off to freezer camp.  I ended up with two bantam chicks of my favorite chicken breed.  This year I was twice as careful at the farm store even asking if the sign was correct since this happened last year.  Contrary to assurances the sign Buff Brahma, straight run was indeed correct this year,  it wasn’t.   To make matters worse we ended up with a hen and a roo.    Roos are harder to get rid of than a hen.

This roo was a handsome fella, quite personable and growing on us by the day.  I knew the Buffs  had to go soon.   Bantams were not going to make a great Sunday dinner so it was time for Craig’s list.    I put them on at 7am and by 3 I had a taker.   I am not sure how I got so lucky, but they are gone and I did not have to do the deed to send them to freezer camp.


I’ve got a rooster!

One of this year’s chicks at almost immediately started looking like a rooster.   By week 3 there was no question I had a rooster.   I still have several others that some days I would swear are male and other days I am not so sure.   Today at the two month mark I heard my first cock-a-doodle-do!   It was a very sad crow, but it was a place to start from.   Yep I have a rooster!