heartbreak in the hen house

our mean rooster killed our sweet rooster this week.

we are so sad. and annoyed. and bummed. and angry.

a little background. we never wanted roosters. we never purposefully bought roosters. roosters were never part of our plan.

we ordered our day-old baby chicks from a large, well-known hatchery. they give a “free chick” with every order, if you want one. well, I did NOT want one. why? because it would be randomly selected, and WE DIDN’T WANT A ROOSTER. we didn’t want to take that chance. so I clicked the box: NO FREE CHICK.

delivery day arrives, we open our box of precious yellow meat birds, only to find included a black chick chilling in the box with 27 other yellow chicks. we were confused. we had also ordered 6 other hens. where were they?! did the other box of chicks get lost in the mail? what’s going on? and where did this random black chick come from?

I called the hatchery, perplexed and anxious. come to find out, when you order from a large hatchery, if the chicks don’t hatch as expected, they will send a replacement breed. well, being the beginner homesteaders that we are, when I saw “do you want replacements?” I didn’t quite understand the concept. I thought if I checked that box, they would send me ducks lol and I don’t want ducks. so I didn’t check the box. haha looking back maybe it was obvious to the novice chick buyer, but not to me. so when our chicks didn’t hatch like expected, they saw that I didn’t want “replacements” and instead of letting us know, they just *didn’t send anything* – not even an email lol weird. however, we got it sorted out, and the hatchery agreed to send us some buff orpington day-old chicks two weeks later and all seemed smooth sailing.

but now we have 27 meat birds and a random black baby chick …. oh by the way, while I was on the phone with the hatchery, I forgot to ask why we were sent this bird…. but honestly, at this point, it didn’t matter. we figured we would keep her with the meat birds until the new baby chicks arrived 2 weeks later, and then we would move her in with them.

the meat birds are monsters, growing astronomically faster than your typical hen. baby black chick was growing at a normal hen rate, while the meat birds were towering over her. she was pecked, but not to the point of bloody harm, thankfully. she was just clearly bullied from basically day one. she was in a hood of 27 monsters, and she was learning to be a tough little hen, by no choice of her own. (did I mention we are rookies?)

finally, the new “replacement” hens arrived. this is when we realized baby black hen is HUGE (2 weeks older) compared to the new baby hens. hmmm.

we moved the meat birds out of the brooder (they are only in the brooder for 3 weeks bc they are monsters, remember?!) and onto grass – and the baby black hen stayed in the brooder *alone* and separated from the new baby hens. (if you’re following all this, good for you! it’s such a complicated story.)

eventually baby black hen was a similar size to the little hen girls, so we added her in with them in the brooder. did I mention hens stay in the brooder for at least 6 weeks? so this is a long process, lots of touch and go, deciding day by day what works best with trying to integrate differing-aged chicks. our son affectionately named the baby black hen, “Black Beauty” and although she was cute, her personality was far from “beautiful” . . .

we watched as Black Beauty dominated the little girl hens. and while again, no physical harm was done, Black Beauty was turning out to be quite the bully.

we decided that when she turned about 6 weeks old, we would introduce her to our older hens in the backyard. it took a few days for her to learn the ropes of the coop life, and of course, she now understood she was no longer at the top of the pecking order. she was with the big girls now. and the big girls showed her who was boss.

meanwhile, back in the brooder, we started to notice one of the little girls looking different than her identical sisters. she was developing quite a pronounced comb and wattle. was this little hen actually a ROOSTER?! ahh, a new dilemma emerges.

when it was time to clean out the brooder and get all the chickens in one spot, it was obvious – our little girl was actually a little boy. a rooster. my husband named him “Mr. Gibbles.”

he was the sweetest. Grant would hold him all the time, he would sit in his lap with no problem. He protected his girls, and slept close by every night to watch over them.

around this same time, Grant also had a sneaky suspicion that Black Beauty was no girl, but rather a rooster as well. yup. a dang rooster. that free chick we didn’t ask for because we didn’t want a rooster ended up BEING A ROOSTER. if you’re a chicken owner, you know it takes a while for the rooster to develop, so you can imagine our surprise that we suddenly had two roosters morph in our flock. sigh.

over the last few weeks, Black Beauty found his crow and woke us up to a cock a doodle doo, and this is when his aggression started to vamp up as well. we would see him mounting any girl he could reach, and although it’s a natural part of life, it definitely worried us because he was still SO big compared to the little girls. our mature hens seemed to handle it much better.

one Sunday afternoon, we had a hawk scare. it swooped down, and we thought it injured one of our little girls. however, when we came outside to all the raucous, we saw Black Beauty on top of her, having a go, and she was clearly not having a good time with it. we shooed him away, put her in a kennel inside to recoup from all the trauma, and allowed her to heal for about a week.

she’s doing well now, not 100% healed, but she is back outside with her flock. it was a huge learning experience. we blamed the hawk at first, but after seeing Black Beauty’s aggression with the others in the days after, we think that it was one big ball of coincidence – a freak accident some might say. yes the hawk swooped down and scared her or rolled her, but Black Beauty was aggressively mounting as well, at the same time or right after. honestly, we will never know the full story, but the blame is on Black Beauty for now. and we should have separated him from the flock then….

but we didn’t. so, this past week, I went out to the coop a little after dusk, to close up the doors to the coop like I do every night. all the hens were accounted for, but I couldn’t find Mr. Gibbles. I panicked. after walking around with the flashlight, I found him behind the coop. He was dead. I rushed inside to call my husband, he came home from work to investigate, and we came to the conclusion that Black Beauty and Mr. Gibs must have had a fight, and he unfortunately lost. I’ll spare the details, but we had our moment, and Grant buried him in the backyard.

we’ve learned a lot the hard way with our chicken journey. we never wanted roosters so we never really researched any part of being rooster owners. hindsight is 20/20. this was truly a disaster story with no real solution. I’ve tried thinking about what we could have done differently, and without writing all the boring details, let’s just say this – when you get sent a random HEN (which is actually a ROOSTER) with your MEAT BIRD order, it’s probably best to give it away. we had mature hens in the backyard and baby chicks coming two weeks later. and remember, the meat birds were only going to be 9 weeks old before we harvested them, so they were not available to her for companionship for the long-haul either. Black Beauty never had a chance to be with a flock her own age and size from day one. It was unfair. It was wrong. It was kinda cruel.

we also did not order a rooster with our replacement hen order either and yet, surprise surprise, we ended up with ANOTHER rooster (Mr. Gibs). It’s frustrating. Raising roosters has to be intentional and done right. the minute we saw any aggression, we should have separated Black Beauty from the bunch. it’s hard to think of how we messed this whole thing up, but at the end of the day, one rooster must reign supreme, and Black Beauty earned that title. and sadly, we live with that.

we’ve since separated him from the flock. we are letting our emotions simmer before making any decisions about what we will do next. not gonna lie, we were ready to harvest him the next day because we were so mad. but since he’s been separated and the days go by, we have softened to the idea of keeping him. but he will never be allowed around the kids or have free reign with the flock (at least not until the little girls are full, mature size.)

speaking of our kids, they really liked mr. gibbles. he was so gentle with him. he was a sweet protector and would have really flourished with our flock. it’s too bad it didn’t work out that way.

so looking forward to this spring weather; the soggy leaves unveiling grubs and worms and bugs, the warm sun drying out the snow-soaked ground. we have even more chickens arriving this week and again, next month. we will move forward, grateful for the lessons we learned even though it was with the sacrifice of such a sweet roo. it’s so so hard to swallow. we miss the “hen-turned-rooster-that-we-never-ordered.” 🙂

happy spring friends.