Brutally Honest: No Males Required – Part I: Chickens

5x5-chick-looking-out-windowAfter more than five years of homesteading, I’ve come to the conclusion that a homestead does NOT need male animals. The disadvantages to having them far outweigh their advantages. In most instances, they do not produce anything.

Stop: I know. They are needed to produce young, but in many instances, a homesteader doesn’t need to have their animals reproduce. So before everyone jumps on a wagon and starts seeing red, let me explain.

I personally do NOT need male animals on the farm at this stage of the homesteading life. I have them, and they cause more problems than they are worth. Let me break this down for each animal. In this post, I’ll discuss chickens. I’ll include other birds I’ve raised too: ducks and turkeys. In the next post, I’ll discuss goats and sheep.

CHICKENS

We have two roosters. Both are five years old, originals from our first year of homesteading. They grew up together and for the first year or so were best buds. Okay, not great friends, but they lived contently together running free range and sleeping in the hen house at night. One is a buff Orpington named Roody. The other is Red, a Rhode Island Red. They are about the same size.

Roody the Rooster

Roody the Rooster

Other roosters came and went, some into the oven and others to people looking for roosters. A farmstead—I believe—should have only one rooster. We kept both because we liked them. Then Red began picking on Roody. Then he plucked out his eye. Instead of punishing Roody, we put Red in the hen house that was permanently locked up, so he doesn’t free range anymore. He’s been in the pen for a little more than two years.

Roody is a great rooster. He’s never attacked anyone, and when he finds food (a bug, slug or piece of bread), he calls the hens over to eat it. He roams all over the property and comes when he’s called. He’s a bright golden colour and visitors have often admired his feathers.

Red is equally great. My kids have handled him since he was a chick. He has never attacked or acted aggressively towards anyone. He is content living in the large hen house with the ten by ten run.

These roosters are exceptional. Not all roosters are great to have around or are non-aggressive towards humans. I have found the bantam roosters to be the meanest. Your experience may differ, but I will never own one again because everyone we’ve had attacked the children and me. We’ve had roosters—both bantam and regular size—attack us from behind and aggressively challenged us. These fellows were sent to slaughter without hesitation. I’ve seen what a rooster can do to someone’s face, and that was not happening on my homestead.

In contrast, hens have never attacked anyone here and have never been aggressive. My mother—well into her 80s—raised hens until a few years ago. She never felt threatened by them. Roosters crow, but hens give us wonderful, tasty and nutritious eggs. We could easily survive on these eggs if circumstances came to that. We don’t need the roosters. They are here because they came the first year.

The problem with having two roosters who don’t get along is I need separate houses for them. If I had just one rooster, all the birds could go into one house and they could all free range during the day. But instead, I keep two coops, which means double the work with regard to feeding, watering and cleaning. And my chickens locked up all day don’t get to run free to forage, which means I need to feed them a little more grain.

If I had no roosters, all my hens would live happily together. In my experience, the rooster does nothing to protect the hens from predators. They run away from the fox just as fast as the hens do. Over the years, I’ve lost three hens to foxes but not one rooster, so they run faster, leaving the hens to defend for themselves. Where were they when they were needed?

Meat Kings

Meat Kings

EXCEPTION: Of course, there are always exceptions. When it comes to meat birds, it doesn’t matter. They’re not around long enough to cause any issues, and the males grow bigger, producing more meat.

Others feel like I do, and this is seen in the many roosters that appear on Kijiji, being given away for free. No one wants to feed, house and referee a yard full of roosters. The bleeding hearts can take them in but to be efficient and cost effective, a homestead does not need roosters.

As for restocking the hen house (reproduction), I buy chicks from a reputable organic farmer. If I kept a rooster for breeding, I’d have to sell him every few years and get another to keep the gene pool fresh. Inbreeding causes issues with chickens as it does other animals.

I say this knowing I have that supply of chicks from the farmer. If for some reason society crashes and that source dries up or I lived a great distance from a supplier, I would keep two roosters to breed.

DUCKS

We’ve raised both Indian runners and Muscovy ducks over the past five years. We have one male Muscovy left from the first year of homesteading, one female white runner from the same year, and four dark runners (two males, two females) from 2014. We do not eat our ducks. We use them as pest control, and they are my kids’ pets. If you were eating ducks, males would be fine. They grow larger, so produce more meat.

The Muscovy—in spite of many articles on the Internet stating otherwise—is a calm duck that has never attacked anyone or acted aggressively. He’s about 15 pounds. He’s an armful to pick up. While he may be eating bugs, he produces nothing. And he eats like a pig even though he free ranges throughout the day. As soon as I scatter food for the free-range chickens (I feed them in the morning and evening), he rushes over and gobbles up as much as he can, taking food from my hens that actually produce food I can consume. He’s my oldest boy’s pet, but I won’t shed a tear when he dies. He consumes too much feed in the winter, which means my costs are higher.

Indian Runner ducklings

Indian Runner ducklings

Indian Runners—if anyone eats these slim ducks, they don’t get much meat per bird. They are tall and slim, so can reach into the garden beds and dig out the bugs and slugs. The females lay wonderful large eggs that are great for cooking. Males…they eat the food I put out and chase the females and gang rape them. Continually in the spring. Less in the summer. At times, the females look horrible with their head feathers ripped out from the males hanging on.

If I keep ducks in the future, they will only be females (ducks). Males (drakes) will be not be permitted.

TURKEYS

Like the meat birds, they are here for only a short time. The males grow larger so provide more meat. My male turkeys did not fight. If anyone is keeping turkeys past the growing season, they are obviously interested in breeding them, so they should keep a male. Otherwise, eat it.

As I mentioned, your experience may differ. Also, you may be in a different circumstance or your time, resources and finances may be more open to accommodating males. We all need to find our efficiency zone. When I have an animal, I prefer to keep it for the long term. We get attached, so we don’t want to swap out breeding males every season. Others have no problems doing this, and that’s okay. We all have our own paths to follow.

Do you keep male birds around? If so, do you breed them?

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