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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 10 October 2020  

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Bill Radford

  A tale of two roosters
  By Bill Radford

   Longtime local journalist Bill Radford and his wife, Margaret, live on 5 acres in the Falcon area with chickens, rabbits, dogs, cats, two noisy parrots, goats and two horses. Contact Bill at billradford3@gmail.com   Among the collection of eggs gathered from our two chicken coops the other day was an egg so small it almost got left in my pocket when I pulled the others out.
   
   It was perhaps half the size of a regular egg, and a sign that at least one of our chickens from the flock that grew up this spring had started laying.
   
   Since we let our older chickens "retire" instead of being dispatched to the stew pot, we replenished our flock early in the spring, getting four chicks from Stephanie Gagnepain, the "chicken lady" I've written about before who specializes in rare breeds, and two more from a woman at the twice-a-month Critter Swap outside of Big R in Falcon.
   
   Out of those, I don't know who started laying first. But I do know who to rule out.
   
   Early on, we suspected one of the baby Swedish flower hens we got from Stephanie might be a rooster — and we were correct. His talent at crowing — and later his habit of jumping on top of the girls — laid any doubts we had to rest. He also began to hang out at night in the coop with the older hens instead of bedding down with his peers.
   
   So I was confused recently when one of the chickens from the Critter Swap also crowed. Had I mixed up who was the rooster? I asked my wife, Margaret, to come out and survey the flock and she confirmed I was NOT confused; we now had two roosters.
   
   And that can be a problem.
   
   "Roosters guard their flock space jealously; they are conserving resources for their own flock," thehappychickencoop.com explains. “Fighting will ensue if you have too many boys and not enough space."
   
   In addition to potential squabbles amid multiple roosters, there is the "wear and tear" on the hens as the rooster follows his biological imperative to mate. That's why, if you do have more than one rooster, you're encouraged to have enough hens that the roosters can "share" properly.
   The desired ratio may vary depending on breed. According to the happychickencoop.com, ”The absolute minimum number of hens for one rooster should be three or four, and even this can be problematic depending on your breed of rooster." In our case, the ratio is six hens to one rooster; we also have an opportunity to quarantine a rooster if the girls need a break.
   
   Yet another issue is the noise. "When the alpha rooster crows in the morning, each rooster will follow along in order of superiority," thehappychickencoop.com states. Sure enough, when one rooster in our neighborhood crows, you can expect all the other roosters to follow suit. (The noise factor, I assume, is a key reason why roosters aren't allowed in the city.)
   
   The rooster, of course, has plenty of marks in the plus column, too, including being a fierce protector of the flock. The good news for us is that our roosters, at least for now, are getting along fine, perhaps because they grew up together. And since rooster No. 2 is still staying with the newer girls at night, they seem to have worked out the sleeping arrangements on their own.
   
   If you end up with too many roosters, one option suggested by thehappychickencoop.com is to set them up in their own "bachelor pad" away from the hens. They'll typically get along as long as there aren't any hens to fight over. Stephanie has established such a refuge for roosters at her place.
   
   You can also find a few rooster sanctuaries in the state, although there is no way they can handle the flood of unwanted roosters amid the boom in backyard farming. One group, Rooster Sanctuary at Danzig's Roost in Bennett, demands that if you want to surrender your rooster, you have to relinquish your entire flock.
   
   "We will not assist in breaking up a flock," the website states. "Roosters and hens do much better with their own flock rather than living a life of solitude. We also require a signed agreement stating no more chicks will be purchased in the future."
   
   The group supports what most would likely consider an extreme position by pointing out the dismal conditions even in some facilities labeled cage free or free range and the mass destruction of male chicks right after birth by commercial operations. The sanctuary advocates "for a vegan lifestyle as the ultimate solution to ending the atrocities committed against all farmed animals."
   
   We, at least, know our chicks were raised humanely. And we have no desire to try to re-home one of the roosters as long as everyone can keep the peace.
   
   Meanwhile, we're waiting to see the escalation of egg laying by the newer chickens. Of course, winter is just around the corner, and chickens cut back or eliminate their egg laying during the shorter days. Our older hens seem to shut down completely, usually in November, then resume in February. We could use artificial lighting to attempt to keep the egg "machine" going, but instead give the hens a break. It'll be interesting to see whether the new chickens keep us supplied through the winter or if it's back to the store for a few months.
  
This Swedish flower hen turned out to be a rooster. Photos by Bill Radford
 
On the right is a small egg from one of the Radfords' newer chickens, alongside a “regular” egg.
 
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