| Chickens

Our Hen Crowed...now what?

It was chick day! My family loaded into our Kia Sedona and headed to Viking Feed in Poulsbo to purchase some new flocklings to add to our brood. We went in early that day because they had a fresh batch of Easter Eggers and we wanted to get first dibs. Our current flock of seven hens produces a beautiful carton of ombre brown eggs, but we wanted to have more variety.

Eggs in a dish

Easter Eggers are a mutt chicken with enough of the right genes to produce blue/green shelled eggs. Our goal was to have a big enough flock of pretty layers for our kids to start selling eggs. Easter Eggers seemed like the right choice.

We carefully selected three little fluffballs and moved on to our other choice breed; Cuckoo Maran. Maran chickens lay a dark chocolate brown egg. We didn't have any of those, so it was an easy choice. Two of those birds came home with us that day as well. In total, with these five chicks, we now had a dozen birds.

Chick crate with chicks in it

If you had asked me a year earlier if I thought we'd have a dozen chickens, I would have scoffed. We started conservatively with four birds. Twelve? That would have been too much. But here's the thing about chickens. They are super easy to care for, entertaining to watch, and you get eggs every day. So if you're buying feed, cleaning their coop and collecting eggs, what's a few more? It's a slippery slope. We'd probably have more if it weren't for the county regulation that limits us to a dozen.

We went home that day and began the power bill drain of a heat lamp and set up a nice cozy home for our five chicks. I let the kids name the birds. The Easter Eggers were named Lemon, Fluffy, and Amiga, and the Cuckoo Marans we called Chocolate and Marshmallow. I was super impressed with their creativity and name choices until I watched the Garden Episode of "Fixer Upper" and realized my girl had gotten four of the names from the show. At the same time, my daughter's three. Good memory recall little one!

Baby Marshall the Rooster

Quickly, we got used to our new normal, and the chicks grew. Around the six week mark, Marshmallow started looking a little different than the other chicks. Her comb was redder, and she was a little bit bigger. Perhaps Marshmallow should now be called Marshall. We had a feeling that there was a cockerel in the bunch.

Marshall the rooster

After a few more weeks, it was clear. At four months, Marshall was the same size as our year old hens, and around the five-month mark, we heard him crow for the first time. Okay, crow isn't the right word. It sounded more like someone was strangling a cat. Oh, puberty.

So now what? Do we keep him or harvest him for a Sunday feast? Well, to be honest, our first experience culling a bird didn't go very well and left us less than eager to repeat the process any time soon. Although a particular Speckled Sussex has been pushing her luck...

I began doing some research to find out more. Is a rooster the right addition to our backyard flock? There are definite pros and cons. First, let's talk pros.

One one side, a rooster will help keep peace and order amongst the hens. We needed that! Our hens were a feisty bunch who needed an attitude adjustment (see my article on chicken saddles for that story). Roosters are watchdogs. If there is a preditor encroaching, he will make a unique call, and all of the hens will scurry for cover. He is a scavenger who will hunt for his girls. If he finds a jackpot of tasty bugs, he'll call his ladies over for a treat. And on a superficial note, roosters are pretty! Their feathers are more varied in shape, size, and color than hens. Our Marshall was no exception. He's a pretty boy.

Are all of those benefits worth dealing with their pitfalls? Roosters are loud, big, and sometimes downright mean. Let's break it down. Roosters crow all day and all night. Some roosters have more to say than others, but the notion of them only crowing at dawn is false. They talk when they feel like it. There's a flock that belongs to our neighbors through the woods behind our property. They have a rooster, and last week the two birds were crowing back and forth to each other. In their defense, if noise is a problem, then be wary of hens too. Yesterday it sounded like a pep rally in the hen house. One of our young Easter Eggers finally started laying, and it sounded like they were cheering her on. So yeah, all chickens are noisy, not just the roosters.

Next, let's talk size. Marshall is easily twice as big as his Cuckoo Maran counterpart hen. He takes up precious coop space, eats the feed, and does not produce eggs. That is a problem for a lot of people because the biggest day to day expense in keeping chickens is feed cost. It's something worth considering.

The third big problem with roosters is their temperament. No two birds are alike just like all of the other creatures in God's kingdom. A rooster's whole existence is to guard and guide his flock. To him, you are a threat. Can you blame him? You're a giant weird wingless creature that talks funny. Scary! So unless you show him that you are a "rooster" higher up on the pecking order than him, he is more than likely going to try and bring you down. So far Marshall is kind of a wimp. He's pretty confident with the young hens (wink, wink), but the old bitties aren't impressed and shut him down if he tries anything fresh. It makes me laugh every time. That poor guy.

If you can't tell from how I talk about Marshall, we have decided he's going to stick around. He's learning how to do his job a little better each day, and we're hoping that next spring, instead of buying chicks, we are going to try hatching out our own chicks. Here you can see the egg colors of our three surviving young hens (we lost one Easter Egger to a cooper hawk).

Two Easter-Egger eggs and a Cuckoo Maran egg

If we hatched out eggs from these layers, we would end up with more chocolate colored eggs, and a range of olive colored eggs as well. It would be awesome to have a fully sustainable flock, so for that primary reason, Marshall is going to stay.

Marshall the rooster and hens

Disclaimer: Keeping a rooster is a personal decision. Do your homework, and make an informed decision based on your situation. It's all about good animal husbandry and management. You do what works for you and your animals. I am no chicken expert. These are merely my observations. Good luck!