We have three resident roosters at A Home for Hooves – their names are Elvis (a Rhode Island Red), Presley (a Plymouth Rock) and Henry (a Cornish Cross). What I’ve come to learn about roosters is that they get the short end of the stick! Recently, in a two-week period, I was contacted about taking in 11 different roosters which I was unable to help with. A difficult reality of sanctuary life is that you need to know when you have to say “no” due to capacity and safety reasons.
Henry came to us at just 3 weeks of age and he looked like your everyday baby chicken. The thing with Henry is that he’s a breed of chicken that is known as a broiler chicken which are raised for the meat industry. These birds have been specifically bred to grow at an extremely rapid rate of up to 1 pound per week. At just 8-10 weeks of age broiler chickens are big enough to be sent for slaughter. There is no sex discrimination for these chickens because you don’t really know if they are a hen or rooster at this age and to be honest it doesn’t matter. I had heard that these chickens grow insanely fast but to see it with your own eyes is troubling and heartbreaking. Henry’s diet is a fine balance between ensuring he has enough food and that he doesn’t have too much. Henry’s main goal in life is to eat and you can run into danger by restricting their food because their drive is so high that they will start to consume anything around them including their bedding shavings. Henry is just shy of his 4-month birthday but he is already massive. To put this into perspective for you, his movements remind me of a person that would weigh at least 600 pounds. I have been told by several people to not expect him to live past 12 weeks as he would likely succumb to a heart attack. So in my eyes every day at the Sanctuary is a blessing as he has already outlived his siblings and gets to enjoy an outdoor environment. My main goal for him is ensuring that he has an enjoyable and good quality of life that is not severely impacted by his mobility.
Now Elvis and Presley – these two keep all of us on our toes! These boys were part of a backyard chicken flock that were “supposed” to be hens. Once they reached about 4 months of age, and it was apparent they were not ladies, they came into our care. The first few weeks at the Sanctuary was quite blissful and we had no issues with them as they roamed freely on our property. Then came the raging hormone age of approximately 5-6 months and we now have your everyday rooster who thinks he must protect his territory. The funny thing with these two is that Elvis attacks EVERYONE except my husband and I, but Presley leaves everyone alone EXCEPT my husband and I. It’s like they’ve come to a tag team agreement for who attacks the humans on the property. Just to give you an idea, this is typically how Presley tries to show me he’s the boss – as soon as I turn my back on him I hear him running up behind me and he will do either of two things when I turn back around. One - he will stop dead in his tracks, turn 90 degrees and walk away as he pretends he wasn’t planning on an attack. Or - he will puff up his neck feathers (and this honestly reminds me of the raptors in Jurassic Park) and then attempt to attack me by hitting me with his wings and scratching my legs. He hasn’t been successful yet but this is because I am always prepared and have something to block him with. Are you wondering how I manage to feed everyone in their presence? During morning feedings they aren’t let out of their coop until I’m finished feeding everyone and during the evening feedings I’m able to preoccupy them with “hen scratch” which is a feed they are quite happy to scratch and peck at. I have done research in ways to lessen their aggression but none of the methods have been successful. Also people are often surprised that these two get along but this is because they were raised together and they don’t have any hens to fight over. Though they did attempt to steal the affections of my neighbor’s hens’ but this was soon shut down by their resident rooster.
My plans for A Home for Hooves is to provide a haven for unwanted roosters, as majority do not get to live out their natural lives, but at the same time not becoming a dumping ground for them either. Tomorrow we are taking the very uncommon step of having Elvis and Presley capronized (neutered) by our veterinarian in Courtney and this should result in them living in harmony with us and other roosters. The success of this surgery will pave the way for future roosters.
Now for the education piece! There are usually two reasons why I am contacted about roosters. One, these roosters are the result of people buying “hens” but at around 3-4 months of age they discover they have a rooster or roosters on their hands. Two, the roosters are dumped as their owners don’t want to deal with their “problem” and there is a good Samaritan trying to find them a home. The reality is, roosters are an unwanted by-product of the egg industry and they are killed as soon as it’s determined they are of no value. If they aren’t destroyed as a young chick then they grow up and soon find themselves in an unwanted environment. Here are the top reasons why roosters are deemed as unwelcome: