Day 21 – What to Do When Your Backyard Hen is a “He”

It happened yesterday.

I was working in my office at dawn, when I heard a funny noise. {You know what’s coming, right?}

Backyard Chickens and Roosters

It sounded like a sick cat or a hurt animal. I immediately started walking from window to window trying to figure out if it was coming from the front or the backyard. I thought maybe a neighbor’s cat had been hit by a car or someone’s dog was sick somewhere near my house.

When suddenly…I heard it.

A pathetic “Cocka-Doodle-Doo” from an untrained voice. It was weak and shaky…but it was definitely coming from a juvenile rooster…in MY backyard.

NO!

One of my new darling baby silkie girls was in fact…A BOY.

Every backyard chicken owner worries when their little flock begins reaching maturity (about 4-5 months old). Up until this point, you have cared for these cute babies and it is inevitable that you fall in love with a few if not all of them. They each have different personalities and the sweet ones steal your heart every time. At 4-5 months old, any roosters in the bunch will begin to crow and it is at this crucial time that you may just discover that your favorite hen is really a “he”.

Blue Silkie Rooster

Sometimes it is easy to tell that a hen is really a rooster before any crowing starts.

A juvenile rooster :

  • Is usually larger than his sisters.
  • May have saddle feathers or a different plumage than the others of the same breed.
  • Might act protective of the others.

Even when exhibiting some of these characteristics, you can always hold out hope that they are all female. Until…the crowing begins. I have read that some females will crow (or try to), but these are usually the adult females who are acting as the top hen in the pecking order. A crowing juvenile, who also has other male characteristics…is sadly…a boy.

A Rooster Plan:

For city chickens, being male means an eviction notice to a new location. That is the case in my city. Most city ordinance that allow small chicken flocks restrict the keeping of roosters because of the noise. If you end up with a rooster, you either have to find it a new home or…something worse.

THIS is why I tell all backyard chicken owner wanna-be’s that you MUST have a rooster plan. You MUST. It is irresponsible not to. Getting a rooster is very common. Even when you buy “sexed” chicks, you have a 10% chance of getting a rooster. You need to know that it happens all the time.

But I find that most people just get all excited about the “idea” of keeping chickens in their urban backyard. They pick their breeds, bring home the baby chicks and just “don’t want to think about” what they will do when one, half or ALL of them end up being roosters. You need a backup plan of what to do if that happens or sadly, the rooster will lose out.

Did I Have a “Rooster Plan”?

Yes, I did.

My rooster is a Blue Silkie which is an unusual breed. I currently have a small farm and a suburban farmstead that want him. I will keep him another week to be absolutely sure it was him making the feeble attempt at being “manly” and then I will drive him to his new home to live out his life on a farm. I think he will be happy.

We are very sad that “Hazel” turned out to be “Hansel”. He was my son’s favorite and I too carried him around the garden everyday. He is just a cute ball of gray fluff. But we know we can’t keep him. We will just have to visit him on the farm every once in a while.

Sigh…Such is the reality of keeping chickens in the city.

This post is part of the 31 Days of Living Homegrown. Sign up for my newsletter (weekly or monthly) so you don’t miss any of the inspiration and resources I will be sharing for living local, fresh and homegrown!

About the Author

Theresa Loe is the Co-Executive TV Producer and the On-Air Canning/Homesteading Expert for the national PBS gardening TV series, Growing A Greener World. She is a lifetime canner and a graduate of the Master Food Preserver Program. She studied both sustainable horticulture and professional culinary arts and she is a wrangler of chickens and two teenage children. (Not necessarily in that order.) Click here to download her FREE CANNING RESOURCE GUIDE of favorite must-have sources for preserving the harvest.

{ 13 comments… add one }

  • Vickie Westcamp January 22, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Oh, I never thought of that! My husband and I are thinking of starting a flock, but up until now our biggest worry was what to do with the hens when they stop producing eggs!? By that time they surely would have become pets! Do we let them live out the rest of their lives in the coop anyway, respecting them for the joy (and eggs) they gave us, or do we give them to someone else to put in a soup pot?????? What do you do????

    Reply edit
    • theresa January 22, 2013 at 11:55 am

      Everyone has to make that decision when the time comes. For me…we keep them and do not eat them or cull them. They are our pets. But I understand that for others, they are not pets. So you have to do what you have to do to keep the flock young and healthy.

      For my flock, I keep rotating in a few new hens every 3 years as I lose older ones to old age, etc.

      Reply edit
  • TeresaR January 23, 2013 at 11:55 am

    Terrific advice about it being imperative to have a rooster plan as a city dweller! Too many people do jump into owning chickens without thinking about that. I see a good bit of roosters being given away on Freecycle, which I think is a good venue.

    Reply edit
  • Barb S. January 24, 2013 at 10:38 am

    This was so funny! Because we’ve just recently been there. Our “Gertrude” turned out to be a boy. We kept him for a while, since our neighbors didn’t complain, but since we live in the big city on lots that create noise tunnels between the buildings, I knew our time was limited. Hubby, who was born in and immigrated from the Philippines, was up to the job. Boy, he looked a lot fatter with all his feathers. Wasn’t much meat under all those. Our middle son helped with the “dirty deed” and hubby (also a chef) made what I’m told was totally rockin’ chicken butternut squash soup. I called it “dead rooster soup,” which didn’t deter most of the family (except me – though I blamed it on the dislike of butternut squash rather than queasiness over eating our pet). :-) LOL!

    Reply edit
    • theresa January 24, 2013 at 7:56 pm

      Well Barb, I am so impressed that your hubby is a chef and able to carry out the dirty deed at the same time! Funny – I probably would feel weird eating a pet too. But at the same time I feel no remorse when eating a stranger. (chicken from someone else) Silly really. And I come from a family of hunters, so I have always known where my meat comes from and know how to hunt and clean just about any game bird.

      Reply edit
  • Julie January 29, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Oh Theresa, I’m so sorry! Honestly, an unexpected rooster was my biggest fear when we embarked on our chicken adventure. We live in a subdivision–with a Home Owners’ Association (albeit, a fairly lax one)–so I knew we, too, would need to be “female only.” We’ve been so lucky. I can’t imagine our daughter, though, if we had to give away one of her babies. (I did prepare her–and she knew the risks. She read at least a dozen books on raising chickens before we began.) I’m so sorry for your son. People don’t understand that it’s important to have a rooster plan in place. I’m also amazed (and angered, honestly) by schools who allow children to take home chicks after the “fun” science project of watching them hatch. Why don’t they have a plan for these poor babies? We’ve known so many children and parents who had no idea how to care for the chicks–and so many friends trying to foist their children’s chicks onto us. Thankfully, I have a few farming friends, so we’ve found many of them homes–but quite a few of the chicks have also died. I just wish people would think more responsibly before taking the leap in raising chickens. Hugs to your son, and crossing fingers that maybe…maybe…it was a false alarm.

    Reply edit
    • theresa January 29, 2013 at 9:50 am

      Thanks Julie. My son has adapted very well to the idea – mainly because we found the rooster a good home with a friend and we can even go visit if we want. All good.

      But your story of teachers sending home baby chicks is so sad. And even if the chickens survive, they would not be happy all alone. They need companions! I’m glad you have been able to help some of them find homes.

      So ours was not a false alarm, but it did have a happy ending.

      Reply edit
  • Sheryl Hart March 6, 2013 at 5:11 am

    Sigh…city folk. I grew up on my Pap’s farm. At 62, I still am on that same farm. Learned from childhood that livestock are not pets. Dairy cattle and chickens are producers. When that phase of their life is concluded, they become meat. Beef cattle and hogs are grown with one purpose and are butchered at optimum age and weight. Good farmers treat these animals well and care for them to the point of bringing calves, chicks and piglets in the house to get warmed if necessary. We are not cold and heartless; we are practical.

    Reply edit
    • theresa March 6, 2013 at 5:40 am

      Sigh..Sheryl,

      I realize you don’t know me or the fact that I have butchered many a chicken and many other animals for meat. I have no qualms about doing so to eat. So, I certainly don’t think that someone who eats an animal for meat is cold or heartless. Just read my post on Polyface Farm. So you and I are in full agreement there.

      But in my opinion, a silkie with their black meat is not good eating. And a pure bred, blue silkie is a rare find. His life would probably serve a better purpose if he was used as breeding stock (as he is now) than just killed and fed to the other animals. See? I’m practical too. I think you and I have more in common than you realize. :-)

      Reply edit
  • David Sapp April 19, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    I have raised Silkies for many years and see them as pets, first and foremost, even though I breed only show quality Silkies. I have tried to talk myself into eating one for just as long and can’t seem to butcher one, let alone dress and prepare it for the dinner table. I am not against it, just have not gotten over the “Pet” aspect as I see them. Maybe if they were a little less friendly and cute, well, then maybe I could dine.

    Reply edit
  • Aric July 3, 2013 at 8:31 pm

    Interesting article. I’m currently in the process of building a coop and large run for future egg layers of my own.

    My 11 year old daughter and 7 year old son are anxiously awaiting the day we get to purchase our new chicks. Of course my daughter wants a coop full of Polish hens (or as she affectionately refers to them – Afro Chickens!) My son wants La Fleche chickens because he thinks they look tough.

    I’ve attempted on several occasions to explain to them that these would not be pets and under no circumstance will they be naming any of them. Of course, as is most always the case, I’m sure I will concede one or two of whichever breed we get and allow them to become attached to them.

    Reply edit
    • theresa July 3, 2013 at 8:38 pm

      So…are you eating them? If are planning on eating them, I’m not sure Polish would be the best option. They are not necessarily good meat birds. And if you are not eating them, then I vote for naming them. They always seem to fit their names. LOL

      Reply edit

Leave a Comment