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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.


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!

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About the Author:

Theresa Loe is the founder of Living Homegrown® and the Canning Academy® and is the Co-Executive Producer & Canning Expert on the national PBS gardening series, Growing A Greener World®. Theresa homesteads on just 1/10th of an acre in Los Angeles with her husband, two teenage boys and several disorderly but totally adorable chickens. Learn more about Living Homegrown here and about the Canning Academy here.


  • 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????

    • theresa says:

      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.

      • Mindy says:

        May I ask, have you had to ever put one of your old babies down? Or did they just die on their own? I am very sad over the thought of eating them when they are done laying. I want to start a small farm to supply free range eggs and obviously I cannot keep all of them as pets. I’m already sad over this. 🙁

      • Billie says:

        yes! Keeping mine as pets as well! Thanking them for their eggs and love. Some are just so darn sweet. My babies.

      • Renee Mustard says:

        I have to say that I so carefully picked out my chickens! I agonized over which breeds I wanted. I could only have up to 4 even though it was so tempting to get more. I kept them so safe and warm for the 8 weeks, the whole family loved them, friends came to visit them…..They went out to their coop and are loving life. Alas!! I have heard some loud noises (not yet a cock a doodle doo) coming from my 12 week old Ameracauna….and a definite strained cock a doodle doo from my silkie!!!! Ahhhhh!!!! I’m holding out some hope that it was a fluke…..I haven’t heard any escalation in this area but I’m realistic. Every day my 4 year old grand daughter holds them and says “I love you so much and will miss you if you are a rooster” Time will tell. If it’s true I will have to research adding to my flock.

  • TeresaR says:

    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.

  • Barb S. says:

    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!

    • theresa says:

      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.

  • Julie says:

    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.

    • theresa says:

      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.

  • Sheryl Hart says:

    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.

    • theresa says:


      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. 🙂

  • David Sapp says:

    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.

  • Aric says:

    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.

    • theresa says:

      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

  • Kim says:

    This happened to me! With a Silkie as well.
    I am contemplating keeping him as I heard and seen on line that you can buy ‘Rooster collars’. They are like dog collars.
    BUT my concern is, can a rooster live well in the coop with the hens? Does he require his own space.
    I also heard that if he does fertilize the eggs you still can eat them? HELP 🙂

    • theresa says:

      Hi Kim,

      I am not familiar with a Rooster Collar. What does it do – Keep him from crowing? I would be concerned that it would be inhumane or uncomfortable. But I have not heard of it before and don’t think I would use one.

      Roosters live fine with hens. Where you have problems is when you have too many roosters in a small space. They fight for territory and it can get bad. But 1 rooster does not require his own space.

      The part about fertilized eggs not being edible is untrue. All the eggs in the grocery store are unfertilized. All of my eggs are unfertilized because I do not have a rooster.

      If you only have 1 rooster, you concerns should be the noise (he will cock-a-doodle-do all day long) and if he later gets aggressive (which can happen).

      Hope that helps!

  • Kathie Webb Perkins says:

    Hi Theresa,
    I’m so glad I found this site! Just yesterday we heard our beautiful Cream Legbar laying hen squawk out a cock-a-doodle-doo, and realized he has looked different for quite awhile, we just didn’t get it, as we are novice chicken raisers. (: He is indeed a rooster, so now what? I haven’t the heart to kill him, and no one seems to want him, although he’s gorgeous! We don’t live in the city, and our neighbors won’t be bothered by his noise. However, I don’t know how to keep him from fertilizing the eggs – which is my number one reason for having chickens. Do you have any ideas for me? You said in that last post that it’s ok for a rooster to live with the hens – but what does “OK” mean? How can I know if eggs have been fertilized? I know this fires a lot of questions at you . . . Maybe you could just give me a very brief tutorial on letting a rooster co-exist with hens? Thank you for any consideration you can give!

    • theresa says:

      Hi Kathie-
      Sorry for the delay in getting you an answer. You did not mention how many chickens you have. But I’m assuming you have at least several. A rooster will guard his hens and watch over them. He will sound an alarm if a predator comes around and will even try to fight them off. So having a rooster is not a bad thing if you live in the country.

      If you live in the city, a rooster’s cock-a-doodle-dos can be as annoying as a barking dog. In the country that should not be a problem. But remember that he will make sounds all day long, not just in the morning.

      I’m not sure why you don’t want the eggs fertilized. It makes no difference in nutrition or flavor. As long as you collect them everyday, they will not hatch or grow into chicks. If they are brought inside and chilled, they are the same as unfertilized eggs.

      The only time you run into trouble with a rooster is:
      1) If he gets aggressive. Many do. An aggressive rooster will attack you and scratch your legs. But many roosters are sweet as pie. So you just need to wait to see what yours is.
      2) If you don’t have enough hens for his umm…”loving”, it can be a problem. He will be “wanting some loving” all the time and if you only have 1-2 hens, they can be overworked, lose feathers on their backs and generally be abused by him. But again, some roosters are sweet as pie. It is just something to watch out for.

      So, I would say that you are in wait and see mode right now. He should be fine. But keep an eye out for aggressiveness to you or the hens.

      Good luck!

  • Zarah says:

    At what age would you know if the rooster us going to be agressive? I mean if they are sweet as pie at 6, 8, 10 months does that mean he won’t get agressive in the future? Or is it at any point he may just start being aggressive e?

    • theresa says:

      Hi Zarah,

      It sort of depends…on the breed and just the overall personality of the bird. I know that sounds vague. The official answer is that you can start to see aggressiveness at about 6-7 months or when the bird reaches maturity. (which can vary – give or take a month). But I know of many instances where the rooster didn’t get aggressive until year 2 or beyond. It has to do with their perception of their territory. Perhaps the longer they live, the more protective they get? I’m not sure.

  • Jessica says:

    Funny, I came home from work 2 days ago and as soon as I opened my car door I heard “cock a doodle doo”! My immediate reaction was “which neighbor bought a rooster and didn’t tell me??
    Then my eyes got big, and I looked over at the coop and well…I’m the one with the ROO!!!
    I have a Polish rooster named Fiona (that may need to change now 🙂 And a Blue Silky hen named Penelope, I love them both to pieces. Fiona is wonderful and not mean to Penelope but likes to attack my Winnie dog every time he is outside.
    I am new to the chicken world!

  • Cindi says:

    Hello there.. I have a question? We purchased 6 baby chicks from our local farm store at about 1 week old. The kids are 15 weeks today. I do have one rooster for sure ( he is a fine cocka doodle dooer ) and I believe I have a second roo as well. Curly Sue ( now Curly ) is staying and he has been crowing for about 3 weeks now. Josephine ( who I call JoJo ) has not made a peep other than the same sounds the other girls make. Could she/he be a female? If he is a Roo will he crow if we already have a crowing rooster? The girls have hardly no comb and it they are pinkish in color… Curly has a really great single comb, bright red with waddles and all… but Jo’s comb, although developed is not as large as Curly’s …. but still bright red and he is as big as Curly. They are two different breeds. Curly is a white Leghorn and Jo, I think, is a Bantam Cochin …. I have seen females with combs too… .so I am so confused. This is my first group and last week I brought home two new babies… 3 days old… someone wanted to get rid of. They are with the group, but in a separate cage so there is no contact. One is an Easter Egger and the other a Production Red. According to my research, it looks like I may need more hens if I have two Roosters. They do your occasional chest bump.. but they were raised together and there has not been any fighting as of yet. Curly on occasion, does bite the necks of the ladies.. but he has not tried mounting anyone yet… Jo does the same thing …. I’m just curious what I might have to look forward to. I love them all so much. They will always be my pets… I do have a home for two Roosters in the future.. if it comes to that… but I’m hoping to expand and love them all as long as I can. Any advice, tips or stories are greatly appreciated.

    • theresa says:

      Hi Cindi-

      They are right at the age when they start to show their true personalities. But you have a few more weeks to go before you can be sure which are boys. If you have more than one boy, he will eventually start to crow even though you already have a roo. Just be patient. At this age, they are just starting to get hormones but not quite there yet.

      Also, the possible second male may just have a very sweet personality. That can change with time.

      If you have 2 roos and only 4-6 girls for both of them, the hens may get a bit beat up. But again, it sort of depends upon the personalities of the roosters.

      I think at this point, you need to wait 3-4 more weeks to be able to see what will happen. It sounds like you are doing fine and I would say be patient. Even if you have 2 roosters, you will need several more weeks to let it all play out.

      Have fun and enjoy you chickens!

      • Cindi says:

        Thanks so much. Is there a place where you accept photos? I’d love to show you the group. Now I have an egg question if you’d be so inclined. A few days ago I heard one of the hens clucking away… never heard it before.. but it was constant and loud. I rang out to the coop and found the three gals all surrounding the nesting basking and even my rooster himself trying to figure out what the squawking was all about. I researched the sounds that a chicken makes before laying and it was the sound I heard, but no egg. Does this mean I am close? I assumed the sound she was making was the actual laying… but maybe she was just excited about the two new baskets I put in the nesting area. hahaaaa I also want to say that I believe the hen making all the noise was indeed JoJo whom I thought was another Roo…. but I can’t be 100% sure about that as all the girls were in the same area! Thanks again…

  • Christa says:

    This happened to us just this morning. He found his voice and it was LOUD! We had a rooster plan because we have suspected that our Lavender Ameraucana was a rooster for a few weeks now. How did you hens do after you took the rooster to his new home?

  • Kerry says:

    Hi ive just had two baby silikes and cant tell if they are a hen or rooster ?? there only 3 weeks old how can i tell them apart kind regards

  • Kara says:

    On April 1st we bought sexed chicks. 2 barred rocks, 2 Rhode Island reds, and 2 white leghorns. We know already that Floe (Rhode Island red) is a rooster based on a few random weak crows. He is generally a nice guy and will let me pick him up and hold him for a minute or two even though I can tell he’s not real happy about it. I really like his personality. I’m in the country so having a roo is not a problem. Yesterday my husband went into the chicken run to fill the water and floe bit his leg. Floe has not done this to me and I’m assuming it’s because I’m the lady that usually feeds and waters them. So I told my husband to stop being a weenie. Lol. This morning when I went to feed/water the chickens floe grabbed a hold of the neck of one of the white leghorns and didn’t seem like he was going to let go until I intervened. He seems more aggressive the past few days and I’m hoping it’s just hormones but I’m worried about my hens too. Do you think this could be a passing phase for floe?

    I’d love to show you a picture of the chickens, especially floe because I think they’re all great and we’ll because I love showing them off.

  • HillBillyJeff says:

    My rooster plan is chicken n noodles.

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