On my farm, we are at the crossroads of chicks maturing into roosters or hens. When chicks hatch there is a seemingly long period of time that happens before you can visually tell which are hens and which are roosters. There is a 50-50 chance of them being male or female. Imagine that.
To determine the males, I watch for the tell-tale signs of longer tail feathers, bigger bodies, green or vibrant colors emerging, and bigger combs or waddles. My guessing is often confirmed by the awkward sounds a cockerel (name for juvenile rooster) makes learning how to crow.
I like to know that when my roosters crow, they are warning their hens that there is imminent danger looming, usually in the shape of a hawk or mongoose, but sometimes, I also like to sleep in.
For all you non-farmers out there, a farm is a cacophony of sounds coming from goats, sheep, cows and chickens. One learns to distinguish them from casual noises to warning sounds.
For instance, there is a myriad of tones a chicken makes to signify either her mood or predicament. There is the I want to lay an egg, easily confused with I just laid an egg cackle. Also, there’s a mongoose in near proximity of me alarm. (My dogs are quite familiar with that one.) In addition to, where is my baby chick? –a frantic call accompanied by the chick’s constant shrilled peeps to be noticed. The only thing. I particularly notice, is my sudden urge to want to grab that chick and fling it into oblivion. Luckily, sanity returns before any thing that might be labeled “crazy” happens.
Recently, we had two hens each with one small, chick. As the chicks grew, they started to look-alike. Once they became separated from their mothers, they banded together. I grew fond of them and would pick them up and hand feed them. I decided to name my favorite of the two, Phyllis. I had not named the second one, but soon started calling them Phyllis one and Phyllis two. which quickly became the Phillis’. I thought for sure they were hens. Until one day, it was obvious that they were both cockerels and I promptly renamed them the Phil’s.
I think the Phil’s know what becomes of crowing cockerels because they have the quietest immature crow I’ve ever heard. On a farm, you only need so many roosters. Otherwise, your farm will become a battle field of fighting cocks and maybe a few locals hanging around making wagers. Eventually, they will kill the weaker rooster by pecking and spurring him to death. As a farmer, you have to toughen up and take them out before their brothers do.
As hard as that sometimes is, on one occasion, I remember it being so urgent that it was almost enjoyable. My friend called me up one day and said she had this beautiful, Rhode Island Red rooster that someone gave her (there’s a pattern here) that she could no longer keep because the neighbors were complaining.
This neighbor had actually yelled out to her in the early dawn, that her rooster was ruining his life. Desperate measures, indeed. As she filled me in on the details, it occurred to me that I knew this neighbor personally. Now as I listened to the story, I see both my friends, one with a crazy, loud rooster problem and the other one, also with a loud, crazy rooster problem. I told her to bring the rooster to my farm. After all, I’m a real farmer and why this rooster was crowing on her land, would all stop as soon as it got to my farm. The plus side, is that I got to make both my friends happy in the process.
It was such a big, beautiful Rhode Island Red. I imagined my hens all flustered by the handsome new addition. Also, I imagined all of the beautiful baby chicks that would soon be forthcoming.
That morning or some time around 1:00 a.m., that rooster started crowing and didn’t stop until 10:00 a.m. when I separated its head from its body.
In the end, I never enjoy the part of farming that seems is what farmer’s have to do–cull the males. Sure, you could let them kill each other competing for the hens but that would mean no chicken soup for you. Chicken soup from organic, free-range roosters, I mean REAL free-range roosters, is an amazingly, delicious thing that makes having to dispatch them worth it.
So, if you are wondering, when one or two roosters start crowing at 4:00 in the morning, us farmer’s have learned to tune it out. Any more than that, is just chicken soup–the real kind without pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics or growth enhancers.