Monday, 24 November 2014

Let's Hear it for the Boys

One of the advantages of going to the feed merchant is picking up a magazine to browse through with a cuppa once all the animals are in bed. Practical Poultry is a fave, not least because they have a lovely pin-up poster in the centrefold and it's always of a stunning-looking cockerel. The temptation to pull it out carefully and stick it on my wall as I used to do with pop heart-throbs is enormous though as yet unrealised.

There is an excellent article in this month's edition (Issue 131, December 2014) called 'The Cockerel Conundrum' highlighting the sad fact that for every hen produced commercially, there is a brother who probably doesn't get to spend more than 24 hours of this world as they are gassed and put in to the pet-food freezer for pythons, falcons and other such beneficiaries. The genetics to make an excellent laying hen mean the males are worthless and useless and literally a waste product as it's not like the old days when the females laid some eggs through the year and the boys would be reared for meat as utility breeds are not specialised enough for today's market; it's exactly the same with the dairy cattle industry.

The problem of too many males is of course the same for domestic hatching with many people brooding a batch of eggs, some of all of which could be unwanted cockerels. These end up in all sorts of horrendous situations such as being dumped for a fox to get, or put in the paper under 'Free to good home' just to be dispatched unceremoniously or worse, in pain and suffering. However, at least the offspring can potentially be reared for meat depending on the parentage.

I think it's a huge shame that urban henkeepers are obliged to be cockerel-free because of the perceived nuisance of crowing. It seems bizarre when the songbirds' dawn chorus is mourned for being lost, or swamped by car alarms, drunken revellers, dogs barking and sirens yet a cockerel announcing the beginning of another day is somehow abhorrent. Are we that detached from our agricultural roots? Besides, anyone who keeps hens knows that the girls can make quite a racket when they see something unnerving, lay an egg or run out of food. Cockerels are a charming addition to the flock as he will balance the hierarchy and find nice things for the girls to eat (theoretically) and generally add a certain flair to the proceedings. They are equally if not more characterful than the females, and the plumage can be beyond handsome.

A solution is to cull the males, however, this to me is not as straightforward as it's sometimes portrayed. I wouldn't be able to do it. Not only would I struggle to actually kill one of my birds for all sorts of pathetic anthropomorphic reasons as well as lacking the necessary technique, but I don't have anywhere to process the bird, even if I did know how to dispatch it humanely. It seems odd that if one owns a pig, or a cow then one can contact an abattoir and a butcher and if both are willing, the deed can be done for a single or small number of animals in a legislated and skilled environment and then the meat returned having been professionally taken care of.

Anyway, it would present less of a problem if the boys were held in higher esteem instead of being viewed as a troublesome inconvenience. With beekeeping, there is a similar view about drones, the male bees. A lot of beekeepers remove the comb with drone brood as they are seen as a drain on the resources in the hive but once again, we are skewing the natural balance without knowing the whole story. Cockerels are not dispensable but without the forethought to produce a reasonable meat bird from the males and accessible facilities to process them, they will need to be enjoyed for who they are. I think they're great :-)

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