We eat a lot of rooster here. I didn't see that coming. But what else are you going to do with them? We're only in it for the eggs.
According to my knowledge of the poultry industry (which consists of a single viewing of that one scene from Baraka 20 years ago), it's a harsh life for chickens. Roosters in particular. I think most of them are flat out disposed of in industrial situations. But again, what do I know.
Around here we try to keep them around for as long as they can stand each other. They have this spatty, fraternal existence for a time (even roosters raised together from birth are battling from the get go), but when they start cockadoodling and turning their attention to the ladies, well, it's time for them to shuffle on.
We've been getting these random batches of unsexed chicks so it's always a crap shoot. Our very first farm purchase – 3 Light Brahmas – all turned up dudes. Then the Plymouth Rocks worked out to be an an even split of 3 hens and 3 roosters. We went back to the lady that sold us our Brahmas and got 8 birds – 7 of which are now showing to be roosters. So what gives? Is it rigged?
Most farms will sell you either sexed pullets or a random grab. I love the random grab. It's like a carnival game. If it's a big farm the chicks are set up in giant pallet boxes (exactly the same as Superstore uses for watermelons). You get to scoop in with a fish net and choose your brood.
Random grab is cheaper because everyone's looking for hens. Now, being the weirdo over-thinker that I am, I thought I'd read up on how to sex chickens so that the next time we go I can beat the house.
This is going to be awesome, I thought. I'm going to learn how to sex chickens on the fly. I'm going to become the poultry Rain Man of rural Manitoba.
As it turns out though, it's not really the thing you want to view as a YouTube tutorial. Or rather I did once and immediately found myself thinking...you know what? I'd rather just cut the head off a full grown bird.
I'll start by saying chickens are not like you and I, and you can stop reading now if you're not willing to get anatomical.
Here we go.
Chickens (birds in general) don't have visible sex organs. This was news to me. And to my wife as well. Last fall when we slaughtered our first roosters we thought maybe we'd made a mistake.
“You know, I'm not finding any chicken penis,” Anna remarked, wrist deep in a plucked and gutted bird.
“Hmm, curious.” I said. “And what the hell is that?” I pointed to a set of dark clustery matter with tubes draping off it. “..ovaries?”
“I think that's the gizzard.”
“Isn't the gizzard in the neck?”
“No, the gizzard is close to the stomach.”
“Where's the stomach?”
“Already in the bucket.”
“I'm going to do some reading,” I said, and left my wife to further chap her hands on pulled viscera in the bitter November cold.
So here's how it works (chicken style). And don't act like you already knew this.
Both male and female chickens have a single bottom orifice, oh-so poetically termed “the vent.” The vent is dual purpose. If the chicken needs to take a dump (also dual purpose – they excrete a mix of solids and liquids every squat), a flap behind the vent flips up, and it takes a dump/leak. If it's time to propagate, the flap drops the other way and allows access to a channel for conception.
Now here's where I really feel bad for the rooster. All they do is rub vents. Briefly, frantically. Even snails get a better sex life than that of the proud rooster.
But back to my hopes of sexing them on the fly. It turns out you'd need David Copperfield level skills to pull that shit off in front of a middle aged Mennonite woman who's been raising chickens her whole life. And here's why.
OK...sorry. I didn't finish that article. Lost me at “Chick defecates as author spreads vent.”
Seriously, it must be hard enough to be born into this world as a food pellet, but then you get folded in half and vise-squeezed until your pimple of a genital shows? (Or doesn't?). Sorry, nope. Just hand me the goldfish net. Yes we brought our own cardboard box.
So that's the dance we do to get our Layers.
We also just picked up 50 Broilers. Again, a first for us. So of course we power through, building stuff based off pictures on the internet, all the while maintaining only a cursory awareness of what's actually happening. (It's called “going for it.”).
Then at dinner one night (we were having rooster soup, it was fantastic), I entertained the notion of keeping one broiler back from the slaughter. Maybe just throw it into the coop for the winter.
ANNA: “Why would we do that?”
ME: “Why not? Just to have one white egg layer.”
ANNA: “Well, we can't do it this batch. They're cockerels.”
ME: “So they're unsexed?”
ANNA: “No, 'mixed' is unsexed.”
ME: “So we've got sexed pullets.”
ANNA: “No, pullets are sexed. Cockerels are sexed too. We've got cockerels.”
ME:“...OK. Now I'm confused. Are they unsexed or are they pullets? I thought we got a mix. Didn't we get a random grab?”
ANNA (sighs): “There's no 'random grab' with Broilers. Actually, there's no 'random grab' at all. That's just what you call going to a farm and getting unsexed pullets.”
ME: “So what do we have then? What are our Broilers?”
ANNA: “We've got cockerels. Roosters.”
ME: “Roosters! We've got 50 Roosters! Why did we do that?”
I'm thinking - holy crap, roosters are loud. And 50 of them! In 2 weeks they're going to sound like a chicken version of this.
3 Roosters are annoying. And constantly, causally violent. It's like a miniature avian version of some 80's Van Damme movie playing out on your front yard. Lots of posturing, lots of kicking, and in the end everyone's messed up and who really cares.
That's with 3. Now 50!
ANNA: “Why are you looking at me like that? I've thought this through.”
ME: “Please explain.”
ANNA: “These are Cornish Crosses. They're not heritage breeds. They're meat birds. It takes 8 weeks until slaughter. They're different. They don't get to that stage. We just feed them, pasture them, then process them. They're cheaper than hens and they grow bigger. So it's win/win.”
ME (not fully convinced): “...Ok.”
Ok, so we're going for it. But on this one I'm a little skeptical.
That's like watching all 3 Expendables movies on repeat, on a wall of TVs. Everyday. Until you snap.
Maybe I should have made this thing an octagon.