We were vegetarians for 14 years when we got chickens, and we never had any intention to start eating chicken or any other meat for that matter. I bought three roosters with my 24 hens so that they could set and hatch chicks and continue the cycle of life, and I didn’t mind the idea of having more than the recommended number of roosters because they are so pretty, and I thought (naively) that beauty should be valued as much as eggs.
After two years, we had 40 hens and 24 roosters. Well, as beautiful as the roosters were, the hens looked horrible. Almost all of them had bald backs, no feathers, and raw skin from being mated constantly. Roosters have a non-stop drive to reproduce, so they are chasing hens and jumping on their backs all day long. When you have one rooster for every ten hens, it’s not a big deal. When you have more than one rooster for every two hens, the poor girls are literally “run ragged.”
One day I walked into the barn and discovered that one of the roosters was completely blind and had one eye that had been completely pecked out. I knew the roosters had been fighting, and I’d break it up when I saw it, but I couldn’t be around 24 roosters 24/7. My husband and I argued about putting him down or having him live out his life in a cage, and by the time I’d convinced my husband to chop off his head, he had died. A week later, we went through the same thing again, and by the third time this happened in two weeks, we realized that the roosters were very unhappy with all the competition and were seeking some type of equilibrium. We could either let them continue killing each other, or we could reduce the playing field ourselves. After much debate, we decided that a quick ax to the neck would be far more humane than letting them kill each other slowly. When they fight, they peck at each others’ heads until one is blind and/or brain damaged. This does not lead to a quick death.
We have 32 acres, and although we have fencing to keep out coyotes, the chickens can go through or fly over it if they want, and some of them do. We once had a couple of “brother” roosters who would range out about ten acres, and one day we found one of them staring into space in the corner of the chicken house. We had seen them fighting the day before. So, although hens don’t fight if they have plenty of space, having enough space is not the issue for roosters who are testosterone-driven.
Allowing roosters to live out their natural life is a really nice idea, and one which I thought I could achieve — before I actually tried. I suppose you could keep them caged by themselves, but I don’t see that as a terribly fulfilling life. If you want eggs, roosters will die somewhere, sometime. Either you buy sexed pullets, and the left-over cockerels die at the hatchery, or you buy straight-run, and the roosters live a few months before becoming dinner or perhaps a little longer before they kill each other. No, not every rooster will die in those fights, but I can tell you that even the winners look like they’ve suffered a lot of pain.
Thoughts on Roosters