Roosters in Our Midst

Sexual dimorphism, anyone? Olive and Petunia are the same age and the same breed, but they sure look different!

We’ve had our suspicions about two of the Barred Leghorn chicks. Olive and Fiona began developing handsome red combs and wattles two months ago. They grew faster overall, fought more, and in recent weeks began crowing at god-awful hours of the morning. When I say, “crowing,” I don’t mean your classic “cock-a-doodle-doo.” At first I thought it was an immature version of the cries a hen makes when she lays an egg, but now even I have to admit there are too many syllables.

At first the “girls” were shy about their new noises. Kelly or I would try to sneak in to see who was making such a ruckus, and they would go demurely silent. Now, it seems, they can’t help themselves. Usually we find them atop their roost, stretching their necks out as they crow away. Last night, I detected some distinctly glossy neck feathers on the gray leghorns—another telltale sign of roosters.

When we picked out our tiny chicks back in February, a sign prominently displayed above their feed store cage assured us that 96.4% of the babies were female. We have only four birds. If our suspicions prove correct, we will have somehow managed to pick a batch of chickens with 50% roosters. Ack! It’s a different kind of lottery winning that we neither expected nor welcome.

But even if it turns out that Olive and Fiona are simply precocious hens with a little extra testosterone I don’t see how we can keep these birds. Surely the neighbors will object to a boisterous morning wakeup occurring like clockwork between 5:45 and 6:30 AM. And morning crowing isn’t the least of it. Parking my car on the street yesterday afternoon after work, I heard the unmistakable sound drifting from the chicken room window a good 30 feet off the street.

Kelly wrote the chicken vet yesterday asking if the behavior we’re seeing sounds like roosters and, if so, what our recourse is. Dr. Peak’s message was sobering: yes, these birds sound suspiciously male, and there is no good answer for what to do with unwanted roosters. She did mention an organization called Save the Cocks. They advocate the importance of including roosters in backyard flocks, pointing out that the boys play an important role in watching over hens, finding food sources, etc. Interestingly, they also argue that all of us would-be sustainable urban homestead types are in fact practicing unsustainable chicken-keeping when we exclude roosters from the flock.

I see their point, and if anything, my attachment to Olive and Fiona has increased now that I know they’re roosters. They are really quite dear, strutting around with their wattles wiggling and resting comfortably against my side when I scoop them up under one arm. Unfortunately, the reality remains that our little slice of garden heaven is sandwiched between an assortment of apartment and office buildings in a city that explicitly bans roosters. Oliver and Finbad will have to find greener pastures elsewhere.

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