Roosters or Hens?

A week or so ago our stone sidewalk was messed up when the stump removal company returned to finish grinding up the crape myrtle roots by our house, so I haven’t been able to get down to the chickens since then.  My wonderful wife fixed the sidewalk yesterday, so we all went down to the coops and watched the chicks run around the yard for a while.  We had a lot of fun watching them do their chicken thing, and we even think we figured out which Ameraucanas are roosters and which ones are hens.

The Silkies will probably never get very big, but they even grew a noticeable amount in the past week.

The brown Silkie is very independent, but will quickly run to the other Silkies if they get too far away.

This is their typical standing position…always looking for food or rocks on the ground.

The Silkies look like stuffed toys, don’t they?

They found something in the grass.

We have six Ameraucanas, and we now believe that four of them are roosters.  Those four have very bright red combs and are much more aggressive than the other two.  They run, chase, fight, puff out their chest, and flap their wings a lot more than the other two.

Do you see that bright red comb on the left?  We think he is a rooster.  The chicken on the right has a much lighter comb and is much calmer than the others, so we think she’s a hen.

Here are the four Ameraucanas that we believe are roosters.  The one on the far right is probably a hen.

The white Ameraucana also has a bright red comb.  This is one of my favorites, so I hope we’re wrong.

The Three Roosterteers

“Meet my crazy brother.”

Are you one of our hens?

And you’re the other hen, right?

Such a beautiful Roo

Why are you puffing out your chest? Isn’t this another Roo behavior?

He was left out of the clique.

“I’ll just lay right here and relax for a while.”

“Hey, shorty.”

A rooster and a hen?  Time will tell.

We’re not sure what we’ll do with the roosters, but they can’t stay here.  They’ll either be sold to a breeder or they’ll be a meal for the family.  I guess it’ll depend on how hungry we are when they start to crow.

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66 Responses to Roosters or Hens?

  1. I doubt breeders will want your roosters. I’d suggest you either cook them up, or can them – and save the broth as canned soup stock.

    • What is the most humane way to kill them? My grandmother used to ring their necks, but that must be a painful way to go. I’ve thought about using an ax or cutting the artery in the neck with an Xacto knife and letting them bleed out until they pass out.

      • We (ok my husband) uses a stump with two nails – you put the neck between between the nail to hold the bird’s neck in place and then the ax cometh… then pop them upside down in a bucket as they still move around a bit… A friend told me of another method which sounds really good – use a bolt cutter. If you are going to cut their necks with a knife put them upside down in a traffic cone first – keeps them still and contained. I know how well our animals are treated so a quick painless disbatch is part of life on the farm. This coming from a city girl who was a vegetarian for over 20 years!

      • My husband has been doing internet research on it. He also went to a farm for a day and they said cutting the neck and bleeding them was the best way to do it. I don’t think I could do any of it, but he will.

      • There is a great how-to video on YouTube called “Respectful Chicken Harvest”. It’s very humane and graphic…

      • Jenn says:

        We hang ours upside down by the legs and using a very, very sharp butcher knife we remove the head completely in one swift stroke. You wrap your index finger and thumb just behind the head to steady it and stretch it a bit and cut quickly and cleanly. It’s very, very fast and very humane. Although hanging upside down sounds terrible, the chickens actually relax nearly instantly. Using an axe does not work well at all (I’ve tried, it’s terrible) and as for cutting an artery and letting them bleed out, if you nick the esophagus it’s a death by suffocation/drowning (because they inhale the blood) rather than bleeding out.

      • Thank you for sharing your experience. This will definitely help us decide what to do.

        I have read that cutting off the head changes the taste of the meat, either because some of the blood remains in it or because the shock to the system affects the meat somehow. Have you noticed anything different with the meat when the head is cut/chopped off vs other methods?

      • Jenn says:

        We rotisseried two of them last night and they were absolutely delicious. I’ve never had a problem with the meat having an odd taste by beheading them. It happens so fast there is no adrenalin buildup, which is usually what causes the odd taste in meat. Butchering roosters after they have hit sexual maturity also gives the meat an odd taste due to the hormones in the bird. I have learned that letting the freshly butchered animal (whether chicken, deer, rabbit, whatever) soak in heavily iced, salted water for several hours, even overnight, before packaging and freezing pulls the remaining blood from the meat and negates any odd flavor from adrenalin. We salt and ice all the meat we process and the meat is always clean, blood-free, tender and delicious.

  2. grammomsblog says:

    My those Silkies are pretty looking!

  3. Ter says:

    Ours are still too young to discern who’s a hen and who’s a rooster (we have Ameraucanas too). Once you figure it out, let me know so I can compare! We’re envisioning chicken stew/soup on Sundays if any more than one or two roosters are in our group :)

    • I’m afraid that’s where we are headed to. I’m not looking forward to “harvesting” them, but will do the deed when the time comes. I hear the Silkies have dark blue meat and bones. That’s going to be a very interesting stew.

  4. everysensory says:

    Gorgeous chooks! It does look like you might be right, but it’s can be really hard to tell. One of my babies I was SURE was a rooster – puffing, fighting, comb, always off exploring, massive rooster tail. Turned out she was also laying eggs, so I guess gender confusion may not be just for humans. Good luck with finding out, its a fun and frustrating process, and you learn lots about your chickens!

    • She must be a feisty hen. I wouldn’t want to mess with her.

      Yeah, it’s fun trying to guess…and it’s cheap entertainment. :-)

      • everysensory says:

        She got run over… and the roo with her, both raised from eggs in my handmade incubator. I was sad. Silly chickens! Too much free range. Most of my hens are feisty – esp the one that jumps on my head and chomps my ears when my hands are full. They are VERY entertaining animals :D

      • Awww, I’m so sorry. Stupid cars!

        That would be hilarious to watch a chicken jump on my wife’s head and chomp on her ears. I can just imagine the loud scream as she runs around the yard swatting at her head.

        Don’t tell her I said that. Shhhh…mum’s the word. 8-O

  5. It’s a hard decision to make to “harvest” your cockerels (males are cockerels until they reach 1 year; females are pullets until they start to lay) – especially the first time. We decided it was better for us (and I mean my husband!) to do it ourselves as we are headed in the direction of selling broilers once we get the farm going. Better to know how it was raised and that it was humanely killed rather than buying it from the grocery store. If you don’t want to eat them, most people give their cockerels away on craigslist. People keeping small flocks that want to hatch some of their chicks will need to switch out their roosters after a couple of hatchings to keep the inbreeding in check. Ameraucana roosters can be gorgeous, so you probably won’t have a hard time finding interested people.
    Not sure if you are considering keeping one of the cockerels on – but even if you don’t want to hatch any chicks, a good rooster will protect the hens with his life and take care of his flock. The one roo we kept on turned out to be a real gem. We call him the “Gentleman Rooster”. He is very polite about “getting busy” with the girls, whereas the two cockerels we harvested were terrorizing them and there were lots of injuries from their not-so-tender attentions. Our roo saves all treats for his girls (it’s called tidbitting and it is soooo sweet!). A couple of girls were laying eggs on the floor of our coop and he would work with them for hours trying to coax them up to the nest boxes, getting in one and calling them up and then sitting with them and cooing until they laid their egg. He keeps a sharp eye out for predators and keeps the girls in line when they get out of hand.
    Good luck!

  6. Laal says:

    We process our chickens using kill cones. It’s a stainless steel cone – wide on top, narrow on bottom. You get the head to stick out of the bottom, open their mouth and insert a knife into the top palate – right into their brain. This is supposed to have an anesthetizing effect. I don’t know, go ask a dead chicken… Then you cut the carotid artery in the neck and they bleed out. Sometimes you have to hold the feet as they do flail around quite a bit. There are probably better directions on line, but I think the kill cones and fully bleeding the animal is the best way to go. We also tell them all that we love them before we kill them…don’t know if that helps either.

    • Thanks for the detailed comment! It sure sounds like you try to make it as painless as possible. Did you buy your kill cone or make it?

    • I think loving and respecting our animals, and giving them a good life until they can feed us, will absolutly make a differance.

      • Laal says:

        Thank you! I do too. We had dinner tonight with vegetarians and I found myself again questioning the ethics of eating meat. I continue to find that I feel most comfortable with the idea of eating animals that I’ve raised, loved, and given a good environment in which to live their lives. And I strongly prefer eating an animal that we’ve seen all the way through to the end of its life.

  7. babso2you says:

    Are there missing photos at the top of your blog? The photos are delightful!

  8. Some of the photos are missing when I look as well but enough are there to give me a good idea of how absolutely ridiculuous the silkes look (seriously, is that an animal?) and how varied the Americaunas are.

    Good luck with the comb thing. I have only hens, bought all of them at 16 weeks and 2 of them had dark red combs and 1 was a pale pink, almost non-existent. Now at something like 23 weeks all have red, spikey combs. I’ve read they develop at different rates so late bloomers may still be roosters (and early bloomers just keen hens).

    As for the extermination thing – I don’t envy you there and please don’t get carried away with the camera that day!

    • I don’t know what’s going on with those photos. Maybe there are too many for the system to handle. We’re still trying to figure out what these Silkies are. I think they’re animals, but I wouldn’t put money on it. We opened the door to the Silkies’ run today and three of them ran out right away. The fourth one couldn’t find the door. I’m not sure if it just couldn’t see through all of that fur or if the process of locating the door was too complicated for it. An Ameraucana finally went in and helped it out. :roll:

      I can’t believe you would want to miss any of the photos of our soup-making process. :-)

  9. Jewels says:

    Time will eventually tell. ;) Those silkies are so fuzzy! :)

  10. Bibliopharm says:

    My two Easter Eggers, which I’ve heard that many hatcheries misleadingly sell as Ameraucanas, are quite different from each other because they are an unstandardized breed. One has a very small pea comb and the other has a large, rose-ish comb. One has the beard and muffs characterisitc of the pure-bred Americauna, but the other does not. One displays a lot of rooster-y tendancies, but both most certainly lays eggs. Is it possible you have Easter Eggers as well and are just observing the wide variety inherent to them? I’m just not sure from your pictures. Maybe try comparing them with the breed club standard (http://www.ameraucana.org/standard.html)? Perhaps you can wait to see if “he” starts laying those beautiful blue-green eggs? If not, good luck with the soup!

  11. narf77 says:

    I am sitting here typing this comment listening to the 4 roosters that keep crowing in the background. Their 3 older brothers went the way of the freezer but it was a really difficult thing to do. If you look at them as food and DON’T whatever you do name them (like we stupidly did…) its easier. You can give them away but if they are dispatched early they taste every bit as good as hens. Your choice. We choose to have roosters run with our hens so we have to assume the responsibility for dealing with the excess roosters. Not easy, but all part of learning to be sustainable. Love those chooks! I would love some Ameraucanas. Perhaps you can pack them off to Tasmania for me? I am not a fan of silkies as they look too fragile to survive free ranging and with their limited visibility would become easy prey for feral cats and quolls but the Ameraucanas are lovely chickens.

    • We’re packing up the Ameraucanas now. They should be at your local post office in a few days. :-)

      Yeah, the Silkies are fairly useless and easy prey for almost anything, especially the white ones. Even their Ameraucana buddies are pecking at them and pulling out feathers as they stand in place wondering what’s happening. Even though it’s much smaller, the brown Silkie is running in between the white Silkies and the aggressive Ameraucanas as though he’s trying to defend his family. Funny thing is, the larger Ameraucanas usually back down from the protective Silkie.

      • narf77 says:

        Yeh, we have a little hen we called Houdini because of her ability to disappear and then reappear 3 weeks later laden with babies. She has had 2 clutches of feral babies, first 5 and then 7 and all of them survived despite never once setting foot in the main coop at night time because Houdini is NASTY. If anything went next to her babies it got attacked. I saw her tackle a rooster 3 times her size who got out of her way as quick as he could. I guess it’s like anything where something small is fierce. You don’t expect it and you just get out of its way! You sound like you have a fierce one! We are about to dispatch a few roosters. I got up early this morning and it was still dark and I could hear the roosters crowing and noticed the neighbours light was on…time to cull a few of the roosters me thinks! I will be waiting on the roosters at the post office…should only take about 4 weeks…they should be fine inside that tightly taped up package…you did give them straws to breath through the tiny holes that you poked in the package didn’t you?… ;)

  12. Venessa says:

    It’s hard to tell until someone actually crows or lays an egg. I think one of our might be a rooster, but females of many varieties have the same markings of roosters.
    Dinner is the best option if you have roosters!

    • As the suspected roos were pretend fighting yesterday, they started to puff out their neck feathers in an apparent attempt to make themselves appear larger. It was beautiful and entertaining to watch them act tough, puff themselves up, and give each other the evil eye. I’ve seen some human females do something similar, so I’m sure this is not necessarily a roo behavior.

      Looks like the only question for the roos is…fried, baked, or BBQed?

      • Our two large silkies have been doing this to eachother, which is double funny because…come on…how intimidating is a silkie? They look like those things the ewoks rode around on.

  13. tbnranch says:

    Absolutely beautiful Silkies! I wouldn’t pay much attention to the combs for sexing, they can be deceiving. Look at the legs and feet, the legs are always thicker and stronger. :)

  14. vkhanson says:

    You’ll find that the pullet’s combs will remain quite pink until they lay eggs and then they will turn quite red quickly. This breed is also late to mature as layers. If you have bright red…likely not a pullet.

  15. Nicole Brait says:

    My husband worked at a school where the 8th grade science class raised and butchered their own chickens. They did not have to participate but the ones who did said it gave them a much greater appreciation for where their food comes from.

    I give the kids credit. I’m not sure if I could do it.

  16. anneelliot says:

    Hey, when I raised my Ameracauna chicks, I got really worried they would turn out to be Roos, so I watched keenly for every sign. I began to despair when one began to have a more prominent comb. She was more skittish and aggressive, but I’d read about how it’s very hard to tell with Ameracaunas. While you can wonder when their combs swell, while you can keep your eyes peeled for spurs, and while you can worry that infighting is establishing dominance, the fact is that Ameracaunas are a mutt breed that is very recent, between the wild Aracauna and a domesticated breed. Because of this, their features and temperaments are luck of the draw. Some are more wild, some have more or less comb, some have bluer legs, some have longer tail feathers, etc. The only sure sign is when they begin to crow or when you are getting as many eggs as you have hens in a day (luckily I got the latter, so I knew all mine were girls).

    Also, be aware that when there are no roosters present, a hen may take on the role of one. They will crow, mount the other hens, and perform all of the other earmarks of a rooster. This does not mean, of course, that she is any easier to keep. Crowing is crowing, so female or not she’ll have to go to the pot. Just thought it would be nice to know, even if it’s a mildly useless piece of information.

    Anyway, I hope my first paragraph helps!

  17. vkhanson says:

    WOW. As a shepard of a mixed flock of MANY different breeds of chickens (and 2 ducks…but don’t tell Bunny, their tiny, but fierce, little Brahma hen mother) this is a great conversation. I can’t wait to learn if those are roosters or hens! And also the best kill methods.

  18. I’m so glad you stopped by my site, so I could see what what a great endeavor you’ve embarked on! And I’m with you on the roosters, although I know I couldn’t “do the deed” myself”. My very first post featured my neighbor’s rooster, who we nicknamed “Dinner”. He was the inspiration of many creative chicken-inspired menus….:)

  19. oohshinyart says:

    With silkies, you can’t tell until they crow or lay an egg. I can’t really tell about those Ameraucanas, either. You got some very pretty ones there. I have a red silkie rooster and he’s the sweetest little man. I don’t get white chickens any more because they kept getting hit by hawks. I think my mostly white rooster is now too big for hawks, so I’m hoping he’ll be around. I’m lucky that I can keep some roosters – they do keep an eye out for the ladies. That said, this week I’m getting three goslings to help with the watching.

    My husband does the deed when it comes time to rid ourselves of excess roosters. We do the upside down tie and cut the neck. When they’re a bit older (the last group was six months old and free ranged) they get a little chewier and chicken becomes more like beef. Very tasty though. I can’t buy store chicken anymore.

  20. Fay Moore says:

    Hens are such fun to watch. I can’t speak of chicks and roosters because I don’t have either. We haven’t butchered any yet.

  21. babso2you says:

    I am not sure what has happened, but I had to take a round about road to get to you! I miss your articles! I hope that all is OK…

  22. I have nominated you for a sunshine award, please see my latest blog for details:

    http://lodgehousebandbsomerset.wordpress.com/2012/06/17/sunshine-award/

  23. I read recently that roosters have pointed feathers around their tails, while hens have rounded ones. Won’t help with the silkies, though. Also, the pros can tell by pushing on their little bums to see weather male genitals poke out. I probably wouldn’t want to start feeling up my chicks, so I don’t blame you if you’re hesitant to try.

    As it regards killing the boys, there’s going to be reflexive movement afterward, no matter what you do. It’s all about making it quick, as we found out the hard way, putting a fatally wounded chicken out of her misery in the middle of the night. Have you read Harry Potter? You know the Gryffindor ghost, Nearly-Headless Nick? Ugh, dreadful. Be fully prepared before you begin, and go in with a plan! That includes all the equipment you need to preserve the meat, or cook it.

    Good luck!

  24. Ter says:

    I nominated you for the sunshine award. Please see your blog listing at http://suburbancreampuff.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/a-bit-behind-but-worth-it/

  25. TikkTok says:

    Did your whitish one turn out to be a roo? I’ve got one that looks somewhat close to that, and I’m starting to think it was a packing peanut (boy). I *really* do not need any more boys!!!

  26. TikkTok says:

    Ok, I have to add more. With silkies, you absolutely CAN tell gender before crowing or laying. Besides a slighter body, their head feathers will have a rounder poof (think Doris Day). Boys, on the other hand, will have some spikey feathers going back (think Albert Einstein). In addition, their walnut comb will be very obvious. The girls will often stick more together, too.

    I do have 2 silkie cockerels who used to really stick together, but now that they are older, they will periodically touch base with each other during the day. Out of my 8 silkies, *5* of them are boys.

    I love my boys, but I really don’t need 12 of them……….:/

  27. TikkTok says:

    Hum. Doesn’t look like my first comment made it- did your whitish EE turn out to be a boy? I’ve got one similar and I’m starting to think it was a packing peanut (boy) because I still have the right number of pullets…..

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