One of the young hens who hatched here over the summer has started to crow. He’s got that hoarse little crow they start out with, and I can tell by looking at our boss rooster Elvis’ feet that he’s been fighting. Our pullet, it seems, is actually a rooster.
That’s too bad. I’d prefer that all our chicks turn out to be hens. But of course that’s not the case. Half of them will be roosters.
We don’t raise “broilers” or meat chickens here. Our chickens are dual-purpose breeds. They’re layers, and when we end up with extra roosters they become food for me.
In the not-too-distant past that’s how all farm chickens were raised. The Cornish-cross broilers of today were an invention coinciding with the arrival of the chicken nugget and our cultural chickenmania. Now tens of thousands of them at a time are raised inside giant “poultry house” chicken factories, with well under one square foot allocated to each bird. The sex of these “broilers” is irrelevant since they’re incapable of reproducing and will be slaughtered when only 6-7 weeks old. Over the last 40 years the amount of chicken Americans eat per capita has tripled, and the number of birds raised this way has skyrocketed to meet that demand.
Of course there is no use at all for roosters in industrial egg operations. They hatch chickens in giant incubators then sort them by sex on a conveyor belt. The young hens are sent off to a brooding facility before going on to their miserable caged lives. The day old rooster chicks are tossed alive into giant meat grinders (or into large containers where they will die more slowly). About 200 million of them are killed this way in the U.S. every year.
So while I’m sorry that our chick has grown up to be a rooster rather than a hen, I’m satisfied that his life here has been pleasant and that he will now contribute to the sustainability of our farm.
That’s the way things ought to be.