A Tale of Two—No, Wait, Three—Roosters

starting a farm choosing a rooster
This is Mel, our beautiful Speckled Sussex rooster…the first of what has turned into three roosters!

While trying to start a farm and figure out the poultry part of it, we’ve realized we’ll need two different chicken setups: one for our laying hens and one for raising our own meat chickens.

Now when I say raising our own, I mean by having a rooster and hens and eggs and nesting and chicks…the whole old fashioned farming way. I don’t mean by heading to the feedstore every spring for chicks to raise, although that’s likely the way it will be for at least the next year.

starting a farm choosing a rooster
This is one of the surprise Plymouth Barred Rock roosters we ended up with…instead of a layer!

When we are to the point with starting a farm when we are raising livestock, we hope to be raising heritage breeds for our chickens, pigs and cattle. So part of my starting a farm research into poultry has been into the heritage breeds best suited to provide both laying and meat chickens.

This is basic elementary stuff, people, but all new to me! So new, I don’t know a single person who does this…raising their own chickens “from scratch” (pardon the pun). I have, of course, turned to the Internet for information. For information about the heritage breeds, I’ve contacted the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. They sent a chicken chart: five pages of heritage breeds with information on origin, egg production, meat quality, rate of growth, and more.

starting a farm choosing a rooster
Another shot of Mel. Maybe we choose to keep him because he’s the prettiest?

Using that, I narrowed our selection down to five possibilities. One of these was the Sussex. So when a Sussex rooster showed up on Freecycle.org, I jumped at the chance to get him for three reasons: 1) it made our breed decision for us by default, 2) we knew we’d have a rooster as opposed to buying chicks and not being sure, and 3) he was free and full grown.

And he was a beauty when I got him home and opened that taped up box, oh my! (His owner was so anxious to get rid of him, he essentially shoved the sealed box into my arms before I was hardly out of the truck!)

Now, getting this rooster is admittedly jumping the gun. We don’t have housing for our meat chickens. We don’t even have any Sussex hens yet or plans to get them any time soon. Still, it seemed the right thing to do.

We named him Mel, but then had some issues with him attacking the step son and hubby. He can be very aggressive. I heard the stories, then finally experienced it myself twice. He’s a fraction of my size but when he goes on the attack, he’s quite a scary sight! I started carrying a stick each time I went into the coop or the chicken yard, as did the guys, and his aggression seems to have subsided. I think in part because he got whacked a couple of times, and in part because he only got aggressive when someone was picking up the food buckets.

starting a farm choosing a rooster
And the Plymouth Barred Rock again…pretty but mean! Should he be dinner??

But it could have also been the fact that he was in horrible pain! He limped from the day we got him. I’d watch him hop and I could see there was something weird about one foot. Finally I caught him to get a look. He had a string tied around two toes, so tightly, that it cut into his skin to the bone! Not only that, this string was tying his BACK toe to one of his front ones! I felt soooo bad for him! He must have come that way. We don’t have any string like that around our small farm and it was obvious that the string had been digging into the bigger toe for weeks if not months. He held perfectly still while Bob cut the string and he seems to be feeling better every day as the limp lessens. Now, that would have made ME grumpy and aggressive!

OK, enough about Mel. Now here’s the dilemma: Of the six layer chicks we bought this spring, two are roosters. Not only are two roosters, both of our Plymouth Barred Rocks are roosters. What are the chances?? When buying the chicks, we bought two Rhode Island Reds, two Buff Orpingtons, and two of the Barred Rocks. And both Barred Rocks grew up to be boys. Not just boys, but aggressive, bratty boys. They don’t attack us the way Mel did for a while, but they attack the hens in a very mean way.

At first I thought we had two roosters. I knew we had Mel. But then I heard two roosters crowing one morning. The step son already thought one of the Barred Rocks was a rooster but I didn’t because it looked exactly like the other one…and if one were a rooster and one a hen, they would look different. But then I not only heard him crow, I saw him crow. So we knew for sure: We had two roosters.

Now what to do? I checked the chart and the Rock was a suitable breed for us too. Keep the Rock? Keep Mel? One had to go. But why, oh why, did the two Barred Rocks look the same, I wondered? Could they both be roosters? No way!

Yes way. A few days later, I heard three roosters crowing!

So now we must decide which one to keep. I still like Mel. He’s beautiful and although we have had issues with him coming after us, he doesn’t bully the hens the way the other two do. As for those two, they are beautiful…too beautiful to eat, although that’s a possibility. Or we could take them to the weekly poultry auction and get some money for them.

Or we sell Mel, and keep the Barred Rock roosters. Or one of them.

Not sure yet just what we’ll do. And for now, it doesn’t matter since we don’t have the hens we want bred anyway. It’s just one little thing—one more little thing among hundreds—that we have to sort out as we work on starting a farm!

But really, what are the chances that both our Plymouth Barred Rock chicks would grow up to be boys??

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