The Boys

One of the low tier roosters that had to be rescued.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. It was intense. It felt a little lawless. It made me sad. It was a long hard day.

This weekend we culled and processed 12 roosters from our flock.

If you have the idea that we are used to this sort of thing, you’d be wrong. It was our first time. And we had to steel ourselves to do it. But it had become necessary and in truth, we had planned it from the day we ordered our chicks last winter. Still, it wasn’t easy.

A quick look back at our path to this point: Our Goal. We planned to raise a modest flock of egg laying hens along with a few roosters that would give us the option of raising new chicks. As our hens aged, we would be able to replace them. We also planned to raise and butcher any roosters that we hatched, to supplement our poultry consumption.

It was an adventurous plan, by our standards, as we are both animal lovers torn by the idea of trying to be sustainable at the same time. Outside of my comfort zone, I am nevertheless pushing myself down this road, as it is “logical” when you consider that we are regular consumers of poultry products on the commercial market. We have the space, we have the ability, so Why Not? Right?

Our chick order, in the Spring, came with an additional “bonus” batch of baby roosters. (You can read about that here: http://blog.poultrykeeper.com/pocket-farmer-blog/its-a-girl-2/ ) As this batch of additional males grew and matured, in the coop, it started to resemble a war zone. The boys fought constantly and there were casualties.

First we had lost feathers. Then there was bloodshed. One rooster broke his leg. Another one was pinned and pecked so violently that he sustained a spinal injury. He never walked again and succumbed to his injuries. One rooster had half his comb pulled off. I heard screaming (yes, it does sound like that) from the pens all day. We had to separate and mediate, nurse and fret over what had become of our precious flock.

I am guilty of letting it go on too long. We had an overfull plate of responsibilities that were simultaneously demanding of our time and the rooster situation was an ominous brooding cloud over my head that I wasn’t quite sure what to do with. Pulling the plug on these guys was inevitable, but still I hesitated.

When I finally made the call, I found out something disturbing. None of the meat processors in our area handle poultry. Really? How did this information escape me until now? Who is going to do it then? Uh oh.

You can learn how to do just about anything on You Tube. Luckily, there are some very helpful people that put together videos on this subject. Once we knew the job we were facing, we watched the videos over and over until there was a familiarity with the process. We roughed out a plan. I purchased some basic equipment (large pot, tubs, knives). We bought a freezer. We set a date.

On Saturday, we woke up early, ran a few errands, tended to some basic chores. We spoke very little. I was nervous and anxious. I didn’t want the fact that we were novices to create any disadvantage or suffering on the part of the birds we were culling. I was worried about my ability to follow through with the project. I had a heavy heart and a weak stomach as we set up our little camp. The time had come.

It turns out that our preparation was very effective. We slipped into our roles and became an efficient team of poultry processors. Neither one of us balked. The birds were handled calmly, with respect. We didn’t rush, we worked methodically, it all went pretty smoothly. The preliminary butchering was handled first, outside in our camp. Then the birds were brought inside for final processing. I worked into the evening, until it was finished. Then we cleaned up.

There is a strange sound outside now, it is the sound of silence. We still have roosters crowing in the morning, but the screams that tormented me are gone. Our remaining roosters are even tempered and docile. There is no more fighting, peace has been restored.

Odd coincidence that the day we took the roosters, is the same day one of our hens offered up our first egg. Today we have a second egg. It seems we have turned the page on our chicken adventure. The babies are all grown up. It is now Phase II.

I won’t ever be able to buy a dozen eggs or a pound of chicken at the supermarket again, without replaying the events of the past 5 months over in my head. It’s been quite a journey. I am deeply moved, humbled and forever changed by this experience. I hope to have better perspective on it someday, but for now I’ll just say this: I am thankful, tired, relieved and still a little shell shocked. I think we did the best we could. If you’d like a better summation, I’m sorry, I don’t have one. Maybe tomorrow.

Check in to see how we are faring with the rest of our flock at www.facebook.com/thepocketfarmer

What do you think?