Friday, January 4, 2013

Roosters and hens

Ever since mid-December when we battened down the hatches for some high winds and snow, we've had six young roosters tucked into an inside cage in the chicken coop.

Since we used the incubator to hatch two batches of chicks last summer, the young roosters have been gradually coming "online." For the last few weeks these boys had been wreaking havoc on the ladies, so life was much happier for the hens with these randy fellows out of reach. Nonetheless it was past time to put these boys in the freezer.

So early Wednesday morning when it was barely light, Don and I bundled them into boxes padded with a bit of straw, and I drove them to the butchers. On the way I collected two extra roosters from a neighbor who had a surplus.

The butchers are located at the top -- and I mean the TOP -- of this range.

It's four-wheel-drive conditions this time of year.

But once I crested the hill and got to the flat on top...

...I'm greeted by one of prettiest little farms in the region. Sure wouldn't mind owning this place!

I drove a mile or so more until I came to the butchers. They had everything set up.

The orange items are killing cones, the barrel beneath it catches the blood.

We offloaded the boxes. Bye bye boys!

While the butchers were doing their dirty deeds, I drove back into town to do some errands and wait for their call. I passed a bunch of bald eagles perched in trees by the river.

Way cool birds.

This probably isn't an eagle's nest, it looks more like an osprey's nest.

Anyway, the boys came home in a lot smaller of a box than the one they went in.

Now they live in our freezer.

After some discussion, we decided to keep our older rooster Snap. He's a good rooster, tame with us and not hard on the hens (some roosters are vicious to the ladies).

We also decided to keep this young fellow, one of Smoky's bandits (in the middle).

This is what he looked like as a chick.

We haven't named him yet, but he seems very good-tempered (unlike the randy bunch we just sent to the freezer). Although we hatched him ourselves, his egg came from a friend who raises purebred Delaware chickens, which are considered a rare breed. They're beautiful birds and lay large brown eggs. This boy is also totally unrelated to any of the ladies, so he's a good one to keep.

With the surplus roosters gone, it was time to muck out the chicken coop again.

Smoky settled down to watch me. This bird is truly endearing. No wonder she made such a good mama.

After a couple hours of hard work, the coop was clean and lined with fresh hay...

...just in time for the birds to start settling in for the night.

Yep, back to normal in the chicken coop.


  1. I'm just curious as to why you don't butcher them yourselves? We are planning on doing meat birds this year and I am deciding whether or not I should butcher them. My main concern being messing up the meat somehow (puncturing the intestines or something) So just wondering. Thanks :)

    1. We've butchered in the past and we're not very good at it. Yeah yeah, I realize that to get good at it, we need to DO it... but I also know from experience that we'd keep putting it off indefinitely. So if want edible birds, it's easier to leave it to the experts.

      On the bright side, in a "bleep" situation we're perfectly capable of blundering through the job, so there's that...

      - Patrice

    2. I can agree that sometimes there are a few things it is nice to let someone else do it. What part of the process do you feel you are not good at? It really is quite simple and i am sure you CAN master it. Maybe you are missing a TRICK that is making it difficult.

  2. Seemed like just yesterday that Snap was born...wasn't he a single chick by himself at one point? I sort of remember your post about him.
    K <><

  3. Randy Roosters! Not much fun, and can get nasty. When we had our first batch we had 6 roosters, gave away 5, and kept, what I thought, was the calmest one, after 2 years he had to go. Now have 8 reds, and 3 banties. My rooster is a banty, and the ladies love him!

  4. You're lucky to have a butcher. Nobody around here does that so we have to do the dirty deed ourselves. It's a two man job so I get a friend to help. The first time we ever tried it, it took an hour to do one rooster. Practice makes perfect though and now it's 20 minutes tops from the time I pick him up to when he's bagged and ready to go in the freezer. It's amazing how much more peaceful the chicken yard and henhouse is after butchering day.

  5. That young rooster is beautiful. When I had most of the roosters here slaughtered in the fall, I kept the Lakenvelder that was our freebie from the hatchery. He's a pretty boy, too. We're going to butcher one of the ornamental TopHat roosters today because he is a jerk. 2012 was the first year I'd ever had chickens, and I love them. They are hysterical. And fresh, free-range chicken and eggs taste so much better than store-bought frankenchicken and eggs that I don't think they are even the same food.

  6. I've had Delawares before and they are nice birds.

  7. It's really not that tough to do once you get the hang of it.
    My wife and I can process 25 birds from set up to clean up in under 2 hours.
    We built a."whizbang" style plucker and that helps. But really, we are not at all automated or fancy.
    If we can do it anyone can!
    BTW, what do the butchers charge to process for you? Might be a way to make some extra money for us.

  8. I also have a favorite hen! She happens to be named "Henny" ! She was raised by a teenaged boy who truly loved all the birds he tenderly raised! Anyway, she has survived all other hens we've introduced to the coop. Most wandered to far and became a pile of feathers, lost to unkown predators. None have been as friendly, curious and tame as Henny. We had a rooster for a short time and he made me so mad, picking on gentle Henny. Off he went to neighbors who promised to wait til I got out of the driveway before throwing him in the soup pot.
    Thanks for all your posts!! Love your blogspot!!

  9. I must say you really surprised me when you said you took your roosters to the butcher. You have my curiosity up. Why does a person as self sufficient as you are not butcher them yourself. I am just wondering if i am missing something. We have always 'processed' our own chickens and though it is not FUN it is not a big deal either. So.....inquiring minds want to know :)

  10. After reading your article, I swear that I could smell the inside of a chicken coop.........after 40years of not being near one. Good laugh at myself.

  11. What a great idea, we are organic dairy/sheep/arable farmers in cheshire UK and my son has a few hens in the orchard, we dont keep a cockeral but get a few fertilised eggs from a neighbour when one of his hens goes broody. The resulting cocks we eat, but I hate slaughtering and cleaning then and am not very good at it. I will now look for someone else to do it for me.
    I love your Blog and am in awe of your preparedness, I'm afraid that on our small overcrowded island it would be a waste of time, too many people too little space.

  12. I am SO GLAD you are keeping Snap!! If you ever post that you are eating him, I will cry.

    A good roo is such a treasure. :)

  13. Patrice -
    I'm with you - can't abide too many roosters or "barnyard antics".
    Trouble with roosters is that unless you cook them in a pressure cooker they are almost uneatable. And frankly even then, the meat is sometimes tough, stingy & gamey.
    Capons are the answer to rooster problems. In fact
    one of my projects in the coming year is capons.

    Capons make good use for the extra cockerels that are inevitably hatched on the homestead.

    If I was a young person looking for a way to make a little extra income on the homestead or small farm, I'd raise capons for market. Capons are scarce & people will pay extra for them. Maybe a project for your girls? It's a good biology lesson :-)

  14. Do your chickens roost in the nestboxes? You said they were settling in for the night and showed a picture of them on the perches in front of and one in a nestbox. My chickens poop so much overnight! Don't they make a huge mess in the nestboxes and you ultimately end up with soiled eggs? Or am I not understanding, maybe they roost elsewhere?

    I have an "Easter Egger" hen that could be Smokey's twin, and she is very good natured too! Never gone broody though. She lays deep green eggs, what color eggs do you get from Smoky?

    1. I am a beginner chicken owner, have had four hens since July, so I don't know much. One of the hens "roosts" in a nesting box and poops in the nest. However, she no longer lays eggs I suspect because she's too old, so she's going to be replaced very soon.

      The remaining three hens roost on a pole. They do poop a lot!

  15. Patrice, if I remember correctly you were getting these birds on the table for a lot less cost than you'd pay at the store. Is that still the case?


  16. Thanks for the clean pictures.

    I once told a friend I would help on butchering day so I could learn something. 75 birds! I "chickened out" for the work, but happily showed up with a dish to pass for the meal that followed.

    It was the best chicken dinner I ever ate. It was one of those meals you remember forever.

    Just Me

  17. Congratulations. I don't know of anyone around here for slaughter. I think hubby knows how to do chickens, though, and can teach me; and there are meat markets that do deer, so that's something.
    Hope they taste great to repay you your troubles!

  18. Patrice, if you ever decide to do a children's book about Smokey, I will buy it. I love all the egg-to-chicken stuff. It's good for kids to understand the food chain.

  19. I too am surprised you pay somebody to process roosters! Roosters are so nasty in EVERY way. We don't even bother to pluck them we kill'em,(in a cone), gut'em, skin'em, rinse'em and throw them in the freezer to later pressure cook them...for the dogs. We would eat them in melt down but they are stringy, tough, nasty things. We have tried canning them too same thing. As a side note my abundance of roosters every year (appx 30-50) are NOT meat birds. Big difference.

  20. Hmmm... I do not think your new rooster is pure Delaware. His feather patterning and coloring is not quite right, but he is a very handsome fellow nonetheless. Personality counts, too, especially in a roo.

    We process our poultry ourselves, but never do more than one or two at a time. If I had access to a butcher near by, I'd definitely consider using them if I was to butcher more at a time. The butchering is what is keeping me from raising broiler chickens.

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  22. I have a question, I have had and have several rooster. I butchered five of them. I don't know what I am doing wrong but I cant cook any of them in the oven, like chicken in the store. I have to slow cook them in a crock pot. mind you, I have look this up and was told to use a salt and sugar brine. You soak them in an ice brine for 3 day, this is suppose to tender them, it does nothing. I just want to be able to cook chicken on the BBQ or in the over, or fry it, something different. I am tired of soggy chicken. tell me what you do, I am willing to try anything.

    1. Depending on how old your roosters are, you may not have much choice except to put them in the slow cooker. There's a reason older hens are called "stew birds" -- their meat is too tough to do anything but stew them.

      The chicken you buy in the grocery store comes from Cornish Cross birds, which grow very fast and very large. They're usually butchered at about eight WEEKS of age. However regular chickens take longer to mature so their muscles have had time to toughen up with use.

      I've never heard of using an ice brine. Seems like a lotta work. On the other hand, I've oven-roasted a number of home-grown (non Cornish Cross) birds and they've tasted just fine.

      Bottom line, it doesn't sound like you're doing anything wrong, you just have regular chickens and not the Cornish crosses.

      - Patrice