SOUTHWEST, NEW YORK (April 1st, 2021) – Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Program (SWNYDLFC) and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County recommend that folks looking to purchase female chickens for their farm or homestead steer away from straight run chicks unless they have plans for the roosters.
Ordering in chicks has been difficult this year. Not only has the pandemic resulted in an increased demand for backyard poultry, but the recent cold snap in the Midwest led to hatcheries still playing catch-up on orders that were cancelled because of the recent live animal weather-related transport ban. Straight-run chicks, or a 50/50 mix of males and females, are an attractive option to attain desired breeds where pullets (female chicks) may be otherwise sold out. While straight run chicks may seem like fun, it can mean big problems for many newer poultry farmers and enthusiasts who are not aware of the potential issues with raising roosters.
While raising roosters is very similar to raising hens at first, in about 3-4 months they will begin crowing and going after the hens to mate them. Roosters have evolved to be very loud to claim their territories and protect their hens, which is disruptive to neighbors, especially those living close by. Roosters will crow more loudly and more often as they mature, starting a couple of hours before sunrise and continuing throughout the day. They may also crow when startled at night. Roosters pursuing hens can be an aggressive behavior that may result in hen feather loss and hiding out of fear of being harassed, especially if there are more than 1-2 roosters per 10 hens or the roosters are young. This can delay young hens’ maturity to egg-laying age.
If you’ve identified that you have roosters where they aren’t permitted in your neighborhood or don’t want roosters in your flock, there are some options available. A first choice for many is to surrender them to a local shelter or farm sanctuary. However, many of these groups are already filled with unwanted roosters, which can be difficult for them to adopt out, limiting the additional birds they can take in. A second option, if you have the resources and abilities, is to humanely dispatch these birds at home for meat. Unfortunately, many local codes specifically prohibit at-home processing in high density neighborhoods. That said, if you live in an area where this is allowed, there are resources on humane and food-safe processing, such as Cornell’s self-paced On-Farm Poultry Processing Course (https://smallfarmcourses.com/p/on-farm-poultry-processing). Alternatively, there are local poultry processors across the state that will take small orders of roosters, but appointments can be booked out months in advance. However, when you start to see the male birds’ combs and wattles begin to grow large and red, (around 6-8 weeks of age), you may be able to book an appointment in advance for when they are 16-20 weeks old, the proper finishing age for an egg-type heritage rooster.
Additionally, there are a few more options available for flock owners to deal with unwanted roosters. There are opportunities to post ads that either sell or give away live birds in the paper, on farm store bulletin boards, and on some limited online advertising forums. If you have a local livestock auction nearby, that may also be an option. Most often, roosters sold through these means are processed at buyers’ homes for their own consumption. Very few sold will end up as pets or flock protectors, but it is a possibility.
If after reading this article, you feel that you are up to the challenge of purchasing and managing straight run chicks, go for it! However, if this is not the right decision for you, steer clear of the straight run chicks and opt for pullets instead.
For more information, contact Livestock and Beginning Farm Specialist, Amy Barkley, at firstname.lastname@example.org or (716) 640 – 0844.
SWNYDLFC is a partnership between Cornell University and the CCE Associations of Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Steuben counties. Their team includes Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Farm Business Management (716-640-0522); Joshua Putman, Field Crops (716-490-5572); Alycia Drwencke, Dairy Management (517-416-0386) and Amy Barkley, Livestock Management (716-640-0844). CCE is an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities.
For more information about Cornell Cooperative Extension, contact your county’s Association Executive Director. Allegany County – Laura Hunsberger, email@example.com or 585-268-7644. Cattaraugus County – Dick Rivers, firstname.lastname@example.org or 716-699-2377. Chautauqua County – Emily Reynolds, email@example.com or 716-664-9502. Erie County – Diane Held, firstname.lastname@example.org or 716-652-5400. Steuben County – Tess McKinley, email@example.com, or 607-664-2301.
Last updated April 2, 2021