In the last week members of the Eagle Harbor Congregational Church community garden in Winslow have reported incidents of roosters being left in their garden. The large fenced garden is a beautiful sprawling area with dozens of well-tended beds and a chicken coop.
Several days ago members discovered a small Bantam rooster in the garden hanging around the coop. Concerned for his safety, they attempted to integrate him into the coop, but the presiding resident chickens attacked him, nearly fatally, so community members released him back in the open garden.
A few days later another unknown chicken was found in the garden, its carcass picked clean by a predator. Angered and concerned, Maradel Gale, one of the community gardeners, posted about the incidents on the online forum Bainbridge Islanders late Sunday night, July 20, concluding with, “PLEASE DO NOT DUMP YOUR UNWANTED ANIMALS!!”
Oops, It’s a Boy
I asked Gale if she could confirm that the carcass was a rooster, and she said given its state she could not but that common sense would dictate that it was another dumped rooster. Indeed rooster dumping is not new. With the rising popularity of urban chicken farming, there are more roosters than people know what to do with since chick sexing (gender identifying) can be unreliable.
Rooster dumping is a big pet peeve of Edmonds-based urban homesteading writer and founder of Northwest Edible Life Erica Strauss. Strauss told me, “Rooster dumping is an obscene practice where people basically don’t know what to do with a rooster so they abandon it. Sometimes the rooster becomes a “midnight gift” to some unsuspecting neighbor, or it might get dumped in a park or along the side of a road. I talked to one lady who watched a car in front of her on the freeway pull over onto the shoulder and release a rooster out of a box. The woman I talked to pulled over to try to catch the rooster, but at that point it was so frightened she couldn’t get it. You have to stop and think, what’s the likely fate of a rooster let loose next to a major freeway?”
Several years ago this writer observed a rooster dropped out of a car on Bainbridge Island’s Miller Road, where it flapped around in disoriented distress in heavy traffic. With help I was able to capture the abandoned rooster and find a home for him in a local coop.
Strauss continued: “People raised in a rural, farm environment with livestock tend to be comfortable slaughtering and sending roosters to “freezer camp,” but that’s not necessarily part of the urban experience, and it can be uncomfortable. So honestly, I think a lot of urban chicken keepers who find themselves with an unexpected rooster don’t know what to do, and they just panic. They try to make it someone else’s problem.”
The fact that chicks sometimes grow into roosters isn’t the only thing many urbanites don’t consider when they undertake chicken keeping. Strauss pointed out that people don’t always think about the reality that hens typically outlive their fertility, often by several years. “It’s crucial to decide up front if your chickens are pets or livestock. If they are pets, you are responsible for appropriately caring for them until their eventual natural death, which could be 10 years from when you adopt cute little fluffy chicks. And for most of that time period, your hens won’t lay very many eggs; after about 3 years, the egg production of an average hen really declines. If the chickens are pets, that’s not a big deal. Responsible people don’t dump other pets because they get older. But if they are livestock and their role is to provide you with eggs, compost, and insect control, you have to have a plan to refresh your flock. That plan will probably involve slaughtering your birds, or selling them to people who will slaughter them. That’s the reality and it’s important that people understand it before they come home from the feedstore with a box full of peepers,” said Strauss.
Moral Issues of Chicken Rearing
As for purchasing chicks, most people don’t consider the industrial system behind the scenes, which produces some 50 percent male hatchlings for which there is virtually no market. Strauss explained that male hatchlings are literally thrown into a trash can unless they are mistaken for females and sold off.
As for chicken keepers dumping unwanted juvenile or adult chickens, she said, “My personal take is that dumping roosters or old hens is about the least ethical way to manage your flock. These are domesticated animals. They aren’t wild creatures, and their fate when not under human care is typically to become dinner for a raccoon or a dog or a fox. I also have a real issue with people who deliberately set up their own personal alternate food system by bringing in animals to their property and then try to dump those animals on someone else when their perceived usefulness is over.”
Are Roosters Legal on Bainbridge?
According to Bainbridge Island municipal code, both hens and roosters are legal to keep outside of Mixed Use Town Center areas, which are confined to the small commercial zones around immediate Winslow, the ferry gateway, High School Road, Fletcher Bay, Rolling Bay, and Lynwood Center (see BI’s municipal zoning map showing Mixed Use Town Centers in red, pink, and purple). In other words, people who keep roosters are well within their rights on residential Bainbridge Island. (The Church’s Winslow garden has grandfathered-in permission to keep chickens.)
What to Do with an Unwanted Cockadoodledoo
If you don’t want to keep or eat your rooster, there are a few options. Melissa Byrd of the Kitsap Humane Society, in Silverdale, said the organization takes roosters, along with dogs, cats, rabbits, and other animals, for adoption. Bainbridge Island’s West Sound Wildlife Shelter (WSWS) will take roosters to feed to its carnivores. Because it takes time and money to euthanize a rooster, WSWS asks that people make a donation of $20 when they drop off an unwanted bird.
What About the Bantam Rooster?
Wondering about the fate of the loose Banty? Currently he is safe in this writer’s chicken coop.
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Photos by Julie Hall.