December 19, 2011

1st Rooster Culled & The Aftermath

If you read the chicken update in my last Around The Homestead post, then it likely comes as no surprise that Lord B was the first rooster culled. Had circumstances been different, it was not a choice we would have made. It was his nonacceptance of the new chickens, and the ongoing conflict and chaos that resulted, which made it impossible to keep him.

He'd seemed a near perfect rooster: good personality, protective and deferential toward his hens, not aggressive toward humans, and provided us with hours of entertainment. He always came running when I called him, and would accompany us anytime we took a walk around the fields. As he got older however, he began to show more aggressive tendencies. He threatened to attack me twice for trying to shoo him, and Dan once, for imitating his rooster dance. This caused me to begin to keep an eye on him, but the real problem was that he was not receptive of the new chicks. Once the young cockerels began to mature, there was constant crowing and chasing and cornering and attacking. One option would have been to butcher all the young cockerels earlier than we originally planned. That would eliminate the male competition, but His Lordship didn't like the pullets either. The other option was to eliminate him.

In decision making, we fell back on our homestead goals. We would like to keep a heritage, dual purpose breed flock. Initially we thought it would be Barred Hollands, because we really liked the look of ours. They and their eggs are somewhat small however, so we considered other breeds. That was why we got the Buff Orpington chicks. The bigger goal however, is to be as food self-sufficient as possible. That means we need to perpetuate our chickens. I figure if we can hatch some homestead chicks every year, we can keep ourselves in eggs with occasional meat. If B wouldn't accept expansion of his flock now, he wouldn't next year either, or the year after that.

The dispatch went much more quickly and smoothly than our first experiences. This time around we scalded the carcass and what a difference that made. It was a breeze to pluck! Because he was an older bird (almost 2 years) we used a temp of 180 F for 60 seconds. Temperature and time vary according to age and size, (insert nod to Carla Emery's Encyclopedia of Country Living here.)

We have to agree with Herrick Kimball, that butchering chickens will never be something we'll actually like to do. Taking responsibility for what we eat though, is something that comes with the agrarian lifestyle. In the end you don't dwell on it, you just do it. Emotions? A tinge of remorse beforehand; afterward, relief.

My hopes of at least a temporary peace in the chicken yard were short lived. As soon as Lord B was gone, somebody started crowing, almost nonstop. It turned out to be the roo that His Lordship had picked on and chased the most. The entire flock sensed the change, and our original hens hung back that morning. The first to emerge from the coop was jumped on by about half a dozen of the young roos. They chased her mercilessly and probably would have killed her except that I interfered. Soon they spread out into the pasture, and the crowing commenced.

As the morning matured, things gradually settled down somewhat. There were still squabbles aplenty and jockeying for new positions in the pecking order. Since the two groups of chickens never integrated into one flock, we essentially had two flocks who shared the same quarters. With their protector gone, my older hens were now the ones being picked on, especially those who were meanest to the chicks. We later thought we should have done several of the cockerels at the same time, to upset their social order as well. That may have prevented some of the ganging up, but I wasn't sure yet which ones to cull first. This is something I would definitely do differently, should we ever be faced with a similar situation.

For us, life resumed as usual with no sense of sadness or grief. Still, there was a peripheral awareness that something had changed. It wasn't just the loss of a rooster, a particular rooster. It was because B about his business, had been a fixture in the mental landscape of our homestead. It was as though the infancy of our dream had come to its close.

Next comes the job of choosing a new rooster. We need to get on with this soon so that things will settle down. I don't want an aggressive bully, nor a scardy cat that runs away at the first loud noise (we've had both.) Nor do I want the "friendliest" rooster. What initially appears to be friendly behavior toward humans is actually boldness without fear. Based on the experience of others, I've learned that these often turn out to be the most aggressive toward humans as they mature. What makes it hard, is that being the same breed, they all look pretty much alike. It will be difficult to keep track of the ones with the qualities I'm looking for, the potential candidates. There are at least two who seem to be getting along with everybody, so I observe carefully to find something distinguishing about them.

On the other hand, having only one breed makes culling easier in some ways. They all look alike, so distinct identities are obscure. Two other things help. One, is to never think of them as pets, to make a deliberate choice to not develop an emotional bond to them. That's why we never technically named our chickens, though in describing them I often said Lady (breed) rather than The (breed). The B in Lord B's name is actually for his breed, Barred Holland. The other, is to not assign human emotions to them. They do have their own emotions and opinions, but I have begun to realize that animals do not perceive life and death as people do. Perhaps this is because animals do not have the spiritual decisions to make that people do.

I have only one photo. Considering my topic it's not offensive, but I still debated whether or not to show it to you. For some reason it just struck me as terribly humorous, which perhaps is incongruous with the rest of this post. At any rate, here it is.

I can only add that a slow cooker or crock pot is the best way to deal with an older, tougher bird. And with that, life goes on.


Judy said...

Aggressive roosters are never fun. That's why I decided to just keep hens after a couple of go rounds with roosters.

I ended up pressure cooking my tough old roosters. Then shredding the meat and making enchiladas.

I love all the pathos of the photo of your rooster in a pot.

Susan said...

Roosters are never easy. I had thought about not having one, for all the usual reasons - hard on the hens, aggression - but I have been lucky so far. I have K, who is not a scaredy-cat, but gives me a wide berth. He is not hard on the hens, keeps a close eye out for predators and I do actually love the crowing - it's an intregal part of my homestead.

Renee Nefe said...

Well. we all knew that Lord B's days were numbered. I do hope that the rest of the Roos settle down or they'll get the same... too bad you can't hang Lord B's last photo in the coop for them to have a gentle reminder. ;o)
Speaking of the photo, wow! he was rather big. I do hope that he's also tasty.
Out of your entire first batch of hens you just had the one get broody...right? Won't that make it hard to get more chicks?
I'm rooting for you though.

luckybunny said...

You are right, life goes on. Great choice of picture, it does indeed sum it up. Never easy, but part of life on the homestead. I hope the crockpot did a good job!

dr momi said...

Rooster soup....a necessary part of homesteading :-)

Leigh said...

Judy, agreed. I hadn't thought about pressure cooking, but Dan says the crock pot can make tender out of shoe leather, LOL.

Susan, yeah, it is tough. We have to have one though, if we're going to raise our own chicks. Crowing is okay until it becomes nonstop, LOL. Plus we have neighbors close enough that I don't want to annoy them. Sounds like you got a good one in K.

Renee, actually, my crock pot is small! He only dressed out to 3 & 3/4 pounds, though Barred Hollands aren't particularly large. And, the rest of the roos are next! They have sort of a pack mentality when it comes to the hens. That will change when there's no longer a pack! Regarding chicks, my hope is that if Mama Welsummer doesn't go broody again next summer, that one of the Buff Orpingtons will. They are supposed to make good mothers.

Donna, the crock pot did indeed do a good job! And actually, he smelled delicious all day long. Our first batch of roos had a funny smell, though now we suspect they were scared on butchering day. I'm sure the fear makes a difference with the meat.

Dr. Momi, and rooster stew!

Bootzey said...

That sad part of keeping food animals. I have to ask.... Did Lord B come running when you called him to be butchered?

Renee Nefe said...

your crock pot looks like one of mine... is it the adjustable 2-4-6 qt crock set?
If it is, that appears to be the 2qt, seeing as his legs & chest don't fit.

My hubby was upset when I first got mine, but honestly I use it as much as my old ones (I have a regular 6qt & a 1.5qt also.)

Gingerbreadshouse7 said...

That was a mighty fine specimen of a bird :o) he'd be good with some dumplings and or stock.. I'd split him for a couple of meals he was so large..:o)..

Leigh said...

Serenity, actually I think he would have, not that he would have known what was up! The last time I tried to pick him up however, he pecked me. Even so, we do our butchering at the crack of dawn, before the chickens are up and about. It's easier just to pick them up off the roost.

Renee, mine is small, must be a 2 quart. Nothing adjustable but that would be nice. I picked the small one because mostly it's just Dan and me. I can still cook a roast in it when the kids come over. My other one is about 4 quart I think, and I use it for soups, spaghetti sauce, and apple sauce.

Ginny, not quite as big as he looks. He was too big for that pot however! Or at least he was with his legs sticking straight up into the air.

Fiddler's Green said...

Good story on a tough subject. Looking forward to reading your progress on perpetuating your own flock. I'm sure it was common practice once upon a time but I can't remember ever knowing anybody that went down this road. Cheers.

Ngo Family Farm said...

Thank you very much for writing about this, and sharing your experience. I also went back and read the post you linked to about your first experience and found it to be beautifully honest and reflective. It's so true that we as a society have become far removed from our food, and this has had many detrimental effects. Raising animals for meat is a logical next step for us as well, but in many ways has been the most difficult one to make, so I truly appreciate your willingness to share your views on the subject.

Lynda said...

Our last hatch was two hens and seven roosters. We butchered the roosters a few months ago. It's a tough job emotionally, but it has to be done. I have found myself eating less and less meat as we raise more and more of our own. I think that's a good thing. I don't believe we need to eat as much meat as we do.

Sue said...

I'm generally pretty pragmatic about butchering my animals when the need arises. I give them as good a life as I can while they are here, but I cannot tolerate bad, potentially hazerdous behavior in the birds, but especially not in the sheep. I have discovered that it is worth the drive over the mountains to get birds butchered for me. When I had to do chickens by myself I took to just skinning them instead of plucking. I'm going to get a bunch of chicks just for meat next spring and have them all done at once and fill the freezer. I'll do turkeys again, and hope for a breeding pair so I can raise them in the future but my luck with roosters hasn't been that great. (and I'm having another chance to win over on my blog. Just saying...)

Laura said...

I once dispatched two "rude" roosters within a couple of weeks of each other. Taking out the dominant one gave the "beta" roo the chance to move up. Unfortunately for him, he decided to pick on me...

When I cooked them, I used a Romertof - a clay cooking vessel that you soak in water for 10-15 minutes, and then put the bird, some veggies, etc., and bake as normal. The steam helps tenderize the toughness right out of an older bird.

Sorry you're having chicken woes - I think you're right that some of the more aggressive cockerels (the ones that B was picking on) should have gone at the same time, which would lessen the breeding frenzy that ensued. I have had 5 roosters kill my duck hens trying to breed them.

I love your parting picture!

Kari said...

I have a macabre sense of humor sometimes, so I got the giggles at your picture.

While Lord B's last day wasn't so great, I believe he enjoyed a good life for a chicken. My husband and I haven't decided on how self-sufficient we want to try to be, but it is very important to us that we know we aren't contributing to the suffering that goes on in factory farms. I think you are handling things just the way I would want to: realistic about what needs to be done, but respectful of the cycles of life. said...

Such is the farm make decisions that make it work best for everyone and for the animals. You are doing great by not wasting anything.

I appreciate your sharing the realities of farming, we're about to be living life on a farm and are clueles. We need all the help we can get!


Leigh said...

Fiddler's Green, thanks. Isn't it amazing how quickly this kind of skill is lost? A lot of folks say it's hard to do it this way, but I think that depends on goals. We just want enough chickens for eggs and occasional meat, not a huge production flock to make our fortune. Seems one key though, is getting the right rooster!

Jaime, I appreciate your comment and agree with you 100%. I can't imagine where the human race will end up if it continues the direction it's heading. Eating totally genetically manufactured, artificial, cloned non-food food? I shudder to think of that.

Lynda, I see us eating less meat too, because it seems impossible to be able to raise enough to continue a "regular" western diet. That isn't so much of an adjustment for me, but it is for Dan. I'm using it more as an ingredient rather than a main course, and am beginning to incorporate more meatless meals. And actually, now that he's experience the hands on part of it, he's okay with that. Just as long as he gets his protein!

Sue, that's our emotional goal, and I'm seeing that with experience it eventually comes. We skinned most of our first batch, but found that wasn't all that easy either! (Plus Dan likes crispy skin). I think finding a butcher would make it easier, but Dan is dead set against that. Maybe when we get to having pigs he'll reconsider. It's not just the actual killing part, it's dealing with it afterward, plus the waste. We're not to the place where everything has a use yet.

Laura, that's what we're seeing here. Our picked on roo wasted no time stepping in to B's shoes. We're chalking this one to the experience of another lesson learned.

I'd never heard of a Romertof, thanks for the info! Sounds like the homesteaders off-grid slow cooker!

Kari, so glad I'm not the only one who did that! I agree that there are degrees of self-sufficiency and choices to be made about them. Finding a good butcher might help, but I'd want to make sure to have that done in the least stressful way possible. We notice a difference between B and the first batch we did. They were stressed out because I had to chases them down. It made a difference with the meat.

Lana, I agree that we all need help! The internet is such a blessing in that regard. Homesteaders from all over the world can share their thoughts and experiences. It's my greatest resource.

Mama Pea said...

Our biggest problem with our rooster/hen ratio in the chicken yard is my husband. We try (not always successfully) to replenish our flock by hatching out our own. Therefore, in regard to the roosters, hubby likes to keep a pair and a spare. (He has this fear we'll be left roosterless someday.) Before our last butchering day, one of the roosters was terribly mean to one other one which was upsetting. You can guess who is in the freezer. The two left now have signed some kind of a peace pact and all is going smoothly. It's never easy!

Woody said...

I have got into the practice of snatching up aggressive birds and r carrying them around by their legs. Let them dangle. Our turkeys I will hold them to the ground. Our Tom is so docile that our grandson can hold him. We haven't had an aggressive bird that did not respond well to this behavior modification. Like most critters the more time spent with them the better they should behave if they are taught.

On the other hand, a pressure cooker does wonders on crusty old roosters.

bspinner said...

No reason why you shouldn't show everyone a picture of a dead chicken after all its the same way most of us buy them in the store.

As a kid I remeber butchering at the very least 100 chickens at a time. We always had to pluck the feathers after they were dipped in scalding water. Boy did those wet feathers stink. Poor mom she always did the gutting. I suppose in the long run we were all happy to have them in the freezer to eat all winter long.

Sharon said...

It's a bittersweet experience when you get rid of a mean rooster. You're sad that you have to butcher him, but SO happy after you did! Wise choice though. Having a mean rooster makes you always feel like you have to be on your toes. Not a good feeling on the homestead. And I alway worry that it's going to hurt someone.

doug@thesimplefarm said...

We butchered 15 roosters a few weeks back (our first experience at that). We kept two roosters for our 19 hens but are about to wring one of the two's neck as he is a constant bully to most of the flock. That crock pot is looking better and better all the time for our resident bully.

Leigh said...

Woody, somehow your comment isn't showing up here. I had forgotten about those techniques. I read about them somewhere but forgot. Our rooster was mostly aggressive toward the other birds, so I wonder how that would have worked. Need to keep that in mind!

Mama Pea, LOL. I understand about having a "spare" though B wouldn't stand for it. Not sure how these guys would do with that. They do seem to get along better. On the other hand, roosters are easy to buy off Craigslist.

Barb, it was the legs that got me! 100 chickens? Good grief. I can only imagine how long it took you all. Still, we pay for our food one way or another. $$ for factory raised birds, or labor for home raised. It's a choice!

Sharon, I think he would have been okay if he'd accepted the chicks. For some reason he just wouldn't. I have a suspicion he killed one a couple months ago, but I didn't see it so it could have been something else.

Doug, 2 roosters to 19 hens ought to be a good ratio, but you're right, it's getting the roosters to agree! I know some folks keep more than one and they get along. I'm thinking a lot of it has to do with their individual personalities.

Betty Bohemian said...

I lost my too,Jagger, last week. My own dog got out and killed him. While I was bummed about his loss I was more upset by the fact that I had a perfectly fine robust bird to cook and I had NO IDEA how to process him ( processing is Lovers job, husbandry is mine). He ended up getting buried and I feel so guilty for the waste. I commend you for this post! I need to farmgirl up, grow a set of ovaries, and learn to process a chicken! !!

icebear said...

i keep coming back to this post, both to ask how you cope and to appreciate how you handle a tough subject. i'm one of those who would find it hard to butcher an animal i once gave care to. i consider the fault in myself rather than find fault with you for dealing with this level of reality... i hope i can rise to the occasion if i ever need too... or if i am graced to ever have a homestead of my own. I admire the tenacity and commitment of the Homesteader, i believe it to be well within the design of the natural order of a Godly life... but i have been softened by the conveniences of this life ...

so, though i don't know how you do it, there is sure no judgement from me... but an admiration on how you are able to separate reality from frivolous emotion.

i'd love to do what you do, raise food for my own, raise them well... give them a good life as best as i can. Know they had a good life=== not in some factory farm....dispatch them with compassion as with any living creature... not let them go to waste.

i have a hard time with it, i love animals..... but animals are not people...! i need to keep that in perspective. Thank you for helping to keep that at the forefront of my mind for any future endeavors.

Thank you for keeping me thinking!

Bonnie said...

We had one once that would attack my Sarah. He chased her around the yard one day and spurred her back really bad. Didn't hurt me one bit to see him lose his head. :-) But it is a sad business.

Leigh said...

Betty, you bring up a good point about waste and giving an animal's life a greater purpose in the end. Dan and I pretty much have the details of the task divvied up too, but it might behoove me to learn his part too.

Icebear, that's a problem almost all of us face, those of us who haven't grown up with livestock anyway. I think folks deal with this different ways and have different means of coming to their decisions. It's one of those things that has been lost to us, sadly, so trying to reconnect is like walking somewhat blind folded, emotionally at least.

Bonnie! Poor Sarah, that must have terrified her. I have one reader, Richard of Amish Stories, that tells of being terrorized by a rooster when he was a kid. Won't get anywhere near them even to this day.

Benita said...

I think the picture is really funny. And I'll bet he'll make some good chicken and dumplings.

We had both nice roosters and nasty roosters while I was growing up. We actually cheered when one particularly mean rooster met his end.

Woolly Bits said...

sorry, I am probably being terribly insensitive, but looking at the last photo I had to laugh - gives "kicking the bucket" a new meaning?:)) don't kick to badly - or you'll end up on your back (in a hotpot...)

I am rather glad to read about your practical views, esp. now, where one of my friends lost her guinea pig (pet) and seems to mourn it endlessly, whereas for me it's just another rodent; I find it hard to keep up the sympathy after weeks of listening to it:((
I really liked my dogs and was upset, when we had to put them down, but I find it extremely weird to deal with this extreme.

* Crystal * said...

Aww, I missed your post about Lord B, I didn't know he went to "The Dark Side".

Our top roo, Jackson did the same (posted about it in my last chicken post). Our new roo is perfect. Quiet (for a roo), protective & not people aggressive.....Plus Big Red is prettier.

Looks like Lord B should make a good meal..... Our old roo didn't dress out well at all.

Good luck with the new roos, hopefully you'll have a nice keeper in the group :)

Madness, Trouble, Squish and Milkbone said...

Even having grown up on a livestock farm with sheep, goats, chickens, cattle, etc. I could never get used to having to "dispatch" them. I respect people who kill what they eat, but I couldn't do it. Vegetarianism is the only way for me.

Leigh said...

Benita, all except the dumplings. I made a loaf of fresh bread to go with. I'm thinking "nice" roosters are pretty hit and miss. I'm thinking I want to choose a good candidate but really, things change drastically when chickens are taken out of the pecking order. We may just have to rely on Providence.

Bettina, it's those legs! I couldn't get them in another position for the life of me. I agree there is a seeming imbalance at times with people's emotions and their pets. It's hard because it isn't always a choice. I grieved for Catzee for almost a year, but we pressed on and got new cats. I think folks who don't grow up around the life and death of the natural animal world probably have a harder time of it.

Crystal, it was only a war against the new chickens. His few incidents with humans weren't repeated and for the most part he really liked to keep us company. I'm definitely hoping that whatever rooster we end up with will be a nice keeper!

Cecilia, I tried for years to talk Dan into becoming a vegetarian. He wouldn't have it. I think butchering our own chickens has given him a new perspective, but not enough to give up meat, and he does the most intense part of it. We are starting to eat more meatless meals and he doesn't ask "where's the meat" any more when we do. But he still likes it.

Just One said...

You might want to cook your next roo on your new cookstove in a bigger pot :) You can adjust the heat pretty well by moving the pot around, though it is hard if you're not planning on being around for the day. I cook all my older chickens (skinned instead of plucked - for ease in identification in the freezer and more speedy butchering) in a regular large pot, most recently on the cookstove but previously on the woodstove. My summer roosters (the 50% that hatch out male and are butchered young) are mostly cooked over a campfire or on a grill, as they are tender and retain their skin.
I get a new rooster or 2 each spring for a visiting time and pick the type of characteristics I am hoping to pass on to the chicks. Then the rooster leaves (one way or another) as I have neighbors that will complain. I likely wouldn't keep any rooster past a year as my experience is that they get more aggressive. I have small grandsons and my nursery school class visits the coop and I don't want anyone scarred. That's just me experience though, and I do appreciate the way a good rooster cares for the biddies. Very entertaining.