This fine looking rooster below represents many generations of selective breeding, but right now he is not needed in our breeding programme. He has to wait on the sidelines, just in case we may need him. He may get an opportunity to make his mark, but he might not. It’s expensive to keep spare roosters, and we have up to four generations on our farm at any one time, but this post is about the difficulty of caring for them humanely.
What happens when you put a group of roosters together? They don’t all hold hands and play nice. What happens when you put a group of roosters together on a long term basis? When the initial fighting subsides, and the pecking order is established, those at the bottom continue to have a hard time, sometimes they don’t survive. What happens when you bring a rooster back from the field and place him in with the rest of the boys? The pecking order is disrupted and the fighting begins again, in earnest, and the new arrival can be badly knocked about. However aggression is often linked to fertility in roosters, so it’s not something we want to select out of them. These are the issues we have been dealing with for many years.
When we first began breeding our meat chickens, we knew this reality about roosters, so we invested in individual cages. That may sound strange to those who consider a caged animal as a stressed animal, but when an animal is at the bottom of the pecking order, sometimes a cage is their haven. We gave each rooster the opportunity to feed and water without being attacked, and we also took them outside on a rotational basis to spend the day in an enclosure on the grass. This was labour intensive, but our endeavour to improve their quality and length of life.
We then decided to take the plunge, and place all our spare roosters together outdoors. We gave them double storey shelters, and large range areas – all in an attempt to alleviate anti-social behaviour (i.e. give the roosters at the bottom of the pecking order enough room to get away from their attacker).
On the surface this seemed better than cages, but we found the roosters at the bottom of the pecking order were suffering more than we were prepared to accept. So it was back to the drawing board.
We designed and built pens that allow room and height for the roosters to stretch and crow, and they have litter on the floor, not wire, so they can scratch for their grain. There is also good air flow and light.
I walked between the pens with Michael, and listened to his husbandmen’s heart as he spoke these words. “Look at this fellow” he said, as he pointed to one of the roosters. “His comb is now redder, and fuller in the short period of time he’s been in here. I’ve been working on getting food into him, and I may have just saved him.”
It would actually be easier for us to keep them all together outdoors, and would cost less in labour to feed them, but we have made this decision based on their well-being, and continue to monitor them daily.