Let’s talk roosters. I adore them. Some of my favorite people have been roosters, particularly one named Wiggy who lived with us for 14 years. When we moved to the country he easily made the transition from beach bum to farm boy. That was in 1999, when we didn’t have resident hawks, foxes, coyotes, fisher cats, bob cats, raccoons and the occasional tornado. Wiggy was an only rooster with two happy hens, and when that sweet old man didn’t wake up one morning (he died of being ancient) we were devastated; there are still days when I miss him.
That being said . . . while we are a farm animal rescue, we can’t take your hen-who-has-SURPRISE!-turned-into-a-rooster. We just can’t. Pretty much nobody can, unless their plan is to eat them, but you already fell in love with him when you thought he was a she . . . yet you can’t keep “himmer” because of zoning, neighbors, talons imbedded in your ankle during a playful, but for-keeps kinda game of tag. (My husband, David, once had a talon break off in his shin, and I believe he still keeps it in his jewelry box to eventually turn into a necklace . . . he also eventually stopped bleeding . . . and afterwards he was still fond of our wild man Jackson.)
At one point we did take in roosters, however, word got out and we went from one to 30 faster than a Ferrari reaches highway cruising speed. They were everywhere. We had them in the barn, in dog runs, in old parrot cages. EVERYWHERE. They were super handsome, and we loved them, but they have this funky little habit of FIGHTING TO THE DEATH. It’s a small quirk, but it has an impact when you go out to feed them at 6am and discover they were playing Fight Club into the wee morning hours.
Eventually we had to build a long row of individual rooster condos, 4x4x4 foot cubes, two feet off the ground, reinforced with hardware mesh to keep them safe from predators . . . and each other, in case anyone got loose. The visual effect was eerily similar to a cellblock, and the sound of testosterone-infused boys taunting each other with fowl language through mesh walls resembled jailhouse banter. We kept small children at a distance . . .
In an effort to keep our roosters warm during our horrible mountaintop winters we wrapped their huts in heavy plastic to keep wind out. The older, more fragile birds would still end up inside our house in a small dog kennel on top of the washing machine, hooked up to a bag of warm IV solution, being fed baby bird hand feeding formula out of a ketchup dispenser. I remember one Christmas morning awakening to the crowing of a rooster named Diablo who was mostly dead the night before . . . and thinking, “Damn, I’m getting good at this!” and then wondering why . . . why?
The truth is, we did it because, taken individually, roosters are totally cool and handsome dudes and we truly love them. We built runs, condos and a triage station in the mudroom because we love them. But now . . . we just can’t. We aren’t even taking hens because it’s too hard to keep them safe, and I hate having them locked up 24-7. But if a five-foot high fence can’t keep out the bobcats (it can’t . . . it just can’t and I don’t wanna talk about it . . .) well, hens are safer in the suburbs than out here in the country where all the wild things have moved in close to the houses.
However, suburban “hens” are the source of our daily barrage of people trying to give us roosters. Here’s one of my favorite lines – “We would like to DONATE three roosters to your operation and we will even give you a bag of feed to get you started” . . . OMG . . . if only it was about the cost of food which is, literally, chicken scratch, precisely .01% of a weekly feed budget that averages $2,200. (Please feel free to donate funds, bags of feed or lumber for fencing, but there IS NO SUCH THING AS A DONATION OF ROOSTERS, only a dumping of the aforementioned, and no, I will not give you a rooster receipt for tax purposes!!!!) There is also NO SUCH THING AS A GUARANTEED FEMALE BABY CHICK! I have seen as many as three out of six such guaranteed hens turn out to be male (see above reference.) For some reason, gathering fresh eggs from backyard hens has been romanticized, perhaps because of the extreme orangeness of their yolks, and egg eaters from raised ranches to brownstones want the experience. But there is a dark side, and that is the fate of the roosters, and oh, there will be roosters. There is no place for them to go and they will have to be killed, just like they are in commercial operations. Or, like the three I was asked to take today, they will have been dumped in an unsuspecting neighborhood because someone who got them in a guaranteed batch of “hens” from Agway didn’t have the heart to dispatch them (so they let them loose in a neighborhood to be potentially ripped to pieces by dogs, foxes, coyotes, etc. . . . I don’t know . . . sigh . . .)
I don’t have an answer, nor do I want to be a downer, so I’m not going to go into the horrors of the chicken and egg industry. If you can stomach it, go ahead and Google. It’s already been done far more thoroughly than I can attempt in a blog. But after 18 years of trying to make a difference by rescuing these poor castoffs , we are overwhelmed by requests. We’ve decided if we can’t offer these strikingly beautiful, intelligent and often charming individuals a reasonably happy, safe and natural life, we have to stop accepting them.
Not because we don’t like them, but because we love them. And they deserve better than what we can give them.
Kathleen Schurman and her husband David own Locket’s Meadow, a farm animal rescue and sanctuary in Bethany, CT, where they are down to two cellblock roosters and two of the world’s oldest hens. And about 150 other animals including 36 horses, steers, pigs and pretty much everything else but bunnies. The rescue is a 501(c)3 non-profit.