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Extension, program, recommend steering away from straight run chicks

Amy Barkley, Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Program team member, and Jason Detzel of Cornell Cooperative Extension Ulster, discuss why keeping roosters may not be right for everyone, and why purchasing of straight run chicks should be carefully considered.

Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Program and Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County recommend those looking to purchase female chickens for their farm or homestead steer away from straight run chicks unless they have plans for the roosters.

Ordering in chicks has been difficult this year. Not only has the pandemic resulted in an increased demand for backyard poultry, but the recent cold snap in the Midwest led to hatcheries still playing catch-up on orders that were cancelled because of the recent live animal weather-related transport ban. Straight-run chicks, or a 50/50 mix of males and females, are an attractive option to attain desired breeds where pullets (female chicks) may be otherwise sold out. While straight run chicks may seem like fun, it can mean big problems for many newer poultry farmers and enthusiasts who are not aware of the potential issues with raising roosters.

While raising roosters is very similar to raising hens at first, in about 3-4 months they will begin crowing and going after the hens to mate them. Roosters have evolved to be very loud to claim their territories and protect their hens, which is disruptive to neighbors, especially those living close by. Roosters will crow more loudly and more often as they mature, starting a couple of hours before sunrise and continuing throughout the day. They may also crow when startled at night. Roosters pursuing hens can be an aggressive behavior that may result in hen feather loss and hiding out of fear of being harassed, especially if there are more than 1-2 roosters per 10 hens or the roosters are young. This can delay young hens’ maturity to egg-laying age.

Those who have identified they have roosters where they aren’t permitted in a neighborhood or don’t want roosters in their flock have some options. A first choice for many is to surrender them to a local shelter or farm sanctuary. However, many of these groups are already filled with unwanted roosters, which can be difficult for them to adopt out, limiting the additional birds they can take in. A second option is to humanely dispatch these birds at home for meat. Many local codes specifically prohibit at-home processing in high density neighborhoods. Those who live in an area where this is allowed can use resources on humane and food-safe processing, such as Cornell’s self-paced On-Farm Poultry Processing Course at smallfarmcourses.com/p/on-farm-poultry-processing. Alternatively, there are local poultry processors across the state that will take small orders of roosters, but appointments can be booked out months in advance. However, when someone starts to see the male birds’ combs and wattles begin to grow large and red, (around 6-8 weeks of age), it may be possible to book an appointment in advance for when they are 16-20 weeks old, the proper finishing age for an egg-type heritage rooster.

Additionally, there are a few more options available for flock owners to deal with unwanted roosters. There are opportunities to post ads that either sell or give away live birds in the paper, on farm store bulletin boards, and on some limited online advertising forums. Those with a local livestock auction nearby could use one. Most often, roosters sold through these means are processed at buyers’ homes for their own consumption. Very few sold will end up as pets or flock protectors, but it is a possibility.

For more information, contact Amy Barkley, livestock and beginning farm specialist, at amb544@cornell.edu or 640-0844.

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