Today we took the teenage cockerels to the slaughter house.
The big day was supposed to be next Tuesday, but the boys have becoming increasingly difficult to manage (Kim and I both sport wounds from a couple of particularly nasty young roosters) and increasingly hard on each other. That was to be expected. Dual-purpose heritage breeds take longer to put enough meat on their bones to make them good eating, but at the same time they are maturing sexually, which means more aggression. We bought ourselves extra time by giving them lots of room to range during the day, but even Kim's expert wrangling has been challenged to its limit. So yesterday, after a particularly tough battle with a particularly big and nasty cockerel, we called the slaughter house and pushed the date ahead to today. (That's him in the photo. He may be the meanest, most vicious rooster I have ever encountered, but he certainly knows how to pose for a photo.)
We started with 15 cockerels from the second batch of eggs we hatched. One was sold last week as a breeding rooster to a nearby farm. Kim needed to hang onto one Buff cockerel to replace Pee Wee, who was sold a few months ago when he started getting too aggressive with the hens. She also wanted to keep one Australorp cockerel, to expand her breeding options. That would leave us with three roosters in all, which we can easily manage given our two coops with multiple enclosures. But this all meant some tough decisions: which to keep and which to slaughter?
Kim decided to keep a big, dopey Buff cockerel - formerly named Red Left because of his ankle tag, but now christened Gump. He's huge, calm and has already been integrated into his future flock of Buff pullets - he was so picked on by the aggressive Buff cockerels that Kim pulled him out of that group a while ago.
But which Australorp should we keep? The emotional favourite was Hector Junior, but the judging at the Cowichan Exhibition underlined the fact he has a wonky tail, which rules him out as a breeding candidate. So, given it looks like there are some better candidates in the younger batch, Kim decided not to keep any of the teenage Australorps.
And so this morning we got up with the sun, loaded thirteen cockerels into crates on the truck and made our third trip to the slaughter house. It felt a lot harder than even our first trip. While I filled out tags and tried to ignore the squawking of the chickens all around me, Kim talked with the folks who gathered around our crates, drawn by the size and all-round magnificence of the birds we had brought in. (Most of the chickens there were small, dirty, bedraggled meat birds crammed into crates - so hard to look at.)
And then a miracle happened.
Hector Junior found a new home.
One of the people Kim spoke to is a young farmer from Salt Spring Island who has a small flock of Australorp hens. He was amazed by our birds' size, and asked if we would be willing to sell him one. Would we?!! He didn't care about wonky tails - he wanted big size and a good temperament, because his chickens free range and he has small children.
So at the twelfth hour Hector Junior was snatched off Death Row. Tonight he'll go to sleep in his new home, a family farm on an idyllic Gulf Island, with his own flock and a happy life ahead of him.
We cried on the way home - with joy, for Hector Junior.
Man, this part of the whole chicken business is hard. Thank goodness for one small, happy ending.