What do I do with my extra cockerels? I sell hatching eggs, so that’s a question I often hear from customers. Realistically, in any hatch, half are gonna be boys and half girls. Until scientists figure out how to sex eggs, and they are certainly working on this, there are going to be surplus males. Millions get euthanized every year. So I always admire the pragmatic customers who ask me this question. They’re thinking ahead!
In the wild, the males of most species compete to mate with females. Mother nature’s plan for the losers is that they don’t get to pass on their genes. Instead, they can only contribute to the circle of life as food for other organisms. Darwin’s survival of the fittest, or whatever you want to call it, it’s reality.
So if one is going to hatch eggs or buy unsexed chicks, like Mother Nature, one needs a plan for dealing with surplus males.
- Sometimes you can find them homes. When I notice a particularly gorgeous, gentle male in my bachelor pen, I will offer him for free on my local “classified ad” websites, making sure to post pictures. I’ve rehomed a few over the years this way to people looking for purebred flock guardians.
- Once in a while someone wants chicks to grow out for their own soup pot, and I’m always happy to give away extra males.
- Occasionally I come across someone who wants to process unwanted birds for animal feed. Often though, these folks have more offers of free cockerels and spent hens than they can possibly take. They also want bigger birds. It costs me about $20 in feed to grow out a cockerel to eating size, not to mention the labour. It certainly doesn’t make sense for me to grow them out then give them away.
So one of the things I do to avoid a rooster surplus, is try to hatch no more extra cockerels than I have room to grow out for my family to eat. I try to time it so I grow out one big batch a year.
Lazy me, I take them to the processor too. I’m happy to pay the $4-5 it costs per bird to be saved all that drudgery. I am by no means an expert at chicken gutting, plus it is a lot of work, not only the actual killing, plucking and cleaning, but the equipment set up and tear down too. And let’s be frank, it isn’t a whole lot of fun either. Resident Gardener leads and I assist, and neither of us enjoys it.
Both Maria and me like donkey scratches way more than processing chickens.
I mostly hatch dual purpose heritage breeds, that give lots of eggs and make a nice carcass. I feed them all they can eat of a varied diet plus lots of fresh clean water because I know that whatever they eat eventually ends up in me and my family. My cockerels are ready to go to freezer camp at around 20 weeks, about the same time as they really start to get noisy. The crowing definitely helps me to say goodbye easily, although I find that due to flock dynamics, in any bachelor pen it is usually one or two dominant birds who do most of the crowing.
Now, the chicken you end up with when you grow your own is not like grocery store chicken. Home grown birds are harder to carve, because their bones and tendons are so much stronger. They are leaner, their breasts are smaller, and their dark meat is firmer. They also taste amazing. After you eat home grown, you will find most grocery store birds to be mushy, very fatty and tasteless.
Because homegrown birds are more robust, braising is my go-to cooking method. Coq a vin. Butter chicken. Chicken paprikash. There are so many delicious ways to cook one, low and slow, in the oven.
Or I will use my instant pot, laying the pieces in a neat pile with the legs on the bottom, the breast meat on the top, adding a couple cups of water, then doubling the grocery store bird cooking time. I use the meat in chicken teriyaki or quesadillas etc., returning the bones to the i-pot with an onion or carrot or some celery trimmings, then topping up with water for a batch of yummy bone broth.
Two 90 minute pressure cooks, with the second set to start just before bed, makes for a pot full of still warm perfectly done bone broth ready for straining in the morning and soup in the evening plus a cup or two for the freezer. In this way, one bird feeds us for several days. There is certainly something to be said for producing one’s own food. It takes lots of effort, and can be frustrating, but the results when you succeed are invariably delicious. Mmmmmmmm, chicken for dinner!