My daddy left home when I was three
And he didn’t leave much to ma and me
Just this old guitar and an empty bottle of booze.
Now, I don’t blame him cause he run and hid
But the meanest thing that he ever did
Was before he left, he went and named me “Sue.”
–A Boy Named Sue, sung by Johnny Cash (Written by Shel Silverstein)
It happens innocently enough. You get your six (eight, ten) chicks from the hatchery, a suitable mix of breeds to satisfy your desire for variety and a flash of color in the backyard. You name them, names of pets, relatives or whatever strikes you.
You anticipate these adorable little chicks growing into egg-producing hens and the speed at which they grow is just amazing. They’re growing more feathers every day, their little combs beginning to develop, their legs lengthening. It’s all very fun and exciting. Fun until the day when little Sue emits the strangest sound. It sounds like a strangled screech. Could it be…oh no, surely not. But yes, its a crow!
Oh dear, little Sue is really little Stan.
I’ve gotten a call more than once from a rattled owner of some brand-new chicks. “What do I do now? I can’t keep a rooster! “
It’s not an uncommon occurrence for a male to slip through the folks at the hatcheries who determine the sex of a chick within hours of its being born. The laws of nature being what they are, the breakdown of male to female chicken is about 50-50. Unfortunately, the market for males is not very big, as most backyard poultry owners only want females. And even those that do have roosters usually only keep one or two.
But what are you to do, especially if you live in a city that does not allow roosters? (And for good reason: they are quite noisy and don’t crow just at daybreak. Trust me on this one…they can crow just about any time of the day or night.)
There are a number of options you can consider if you really can’t/don’t want to keep a male bird. Some of the options may not be ones you like considering, but these choices often come with raising chickens–even if all of yours have names.
1. Consider an ad in the local paper or on Craigslist. I’ve seen several “Free rooster to good home” ads in past weeks. You may think no one will be interested, but you might be pleasantly surprised. There are people out there who might need a rooster of the same breed that you have or they may simply like having a rooster crowing about the property. However they may want to gather a collection of roosters that will eventually become Sunday dinner. This is a fate that many male chickens meet, and it’s wise to keep this open as an option.
2. Ask your poultry friends if they would like an extra rooster. The same reasons for taking a rooster that I listed above might apply to poultry people who live on a bit more land. I recently gave about 10 young males to a family in the country who were interested in letting the males free range until they reached an age that would be considered desirable to become food for the table. It was a great trade…I got rid of lots of my males and they left with a lot of males and a few females that I threw in, in gratitude, for egg layers.
3. Check out the Wanted or Farm section of the classified ads in your paper. I actually saw an ad in which a person was looking for a “male Black Australorp”. Perhaps he wanted to start a flock and needed a male to get things started. You just never know. Little Stan’s breed might be just what the neighboring farmer wanted.
4. In some communities, there are groups that dedicate themselves to taking in wild animals and birds,, and they often need food for their young owls and hawks. I spoke with the director of our local group and she assured me the birds are euthanized humanely before being offered to the young raptors. While I found it ironic that I spend most of my time trying to keep hawks and owls away from my chickens, it was nice that the extra males could go to good use.
5. Think outside the box. I read a story about an artist who keeps nothing but roosters, and thinks they are so beautiful that she paints them and sells her work all over. Someone like this might be a perfect candidate to take your exotic-breed chick that was supposed to be a female.
It’s dismaying to the new backyard chicken owner to find they have a male in the chicken harem, but you are not alone. And, depending on what your tolerance is for little Stan’s final home, it is possible to move him to new digs rather quickly.
Hmm, and now that you have that empty place in the coop, well, there ARE a lot of interesting breeds out there to look into. Just as long as she IS a she!