The three strike rule for bad boys

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Aggressive roosters can hurt you and your hens. When do you choose to shoot?

History and photo of Bruce Ingram

LAST SUMMER MY WIFE, Elaine, and I had only one of our Rhode Island Red hens go broody, and that hen only hatched two chicks, which we named Augie and Angie. We were particularly happy with Augie’s arrival as we had a single rooster for our two runs and were desperately looking for a second rooster to grow our herd. This largely explains why I was hesitant to dispatch Augie in April when he charged and tried to whip me twice. Both times, in self-defense, I firmly pushed him away when he attacked my legs. This seemed to stop her aggressive behavior towards me for a moment, although Elaine was understandably afraid to get into Augie’s race.

Modification of the rooster

During this time, I tried several standard methods of rooster behavior modification with the rogue roo. I picked it up and held it (especially its trunk and two wings) firmly against my side. Sometimes I also cradled him against my body with his head held firmly and pointing down. The point of both of these actions was to show who the alpha male and backyard legislator was. I also visited the herd several times and distributed treats, again to reinforce my role as master and food giver. Also, every time I entered the race, I walked free and didn’t fear Augie – again to show who the alpha was. For a while, the modification program seemed to work.

However, one of the traits of some young roosters is that they are very sexually active in their first rooster year – and that was the case with Augie. In fact, he was so aggressive towards the hens in his run that I had to send him to the adjacent coop to give his old ladies a break. I moved his dad of three on Friday to Augie’s old estate.

Nevertheless, shortly after the cock exchange, I was walking outside the race when Augie aggressively approached the edge of the fence, lowered his head and executed the mating cock towards me – a sure sign of hostility. Augie also continued to be rather persistent in her mating efforts, which is normal with roosters. But he also had a tendency to peck his hens harshly when they didn’t submit – again a concern, but part of rooster behavior… to some extent.

Go too far

One morning, however, Augie went far beyond acceptable mating behavior, even for a rooster. One of the females refused to submit and he chased her for over a minute. Finally, the hen stopped, lowered herself into the submissive mating posture, and waited for Augie to mount her. He charged the hen and, instead of mating, began to pound her on the head with his beak. The hen collapsed in fear; and horrified, I ran to the race gate, burst in and picked up Augie who was still attacking the helpless hen. I immediately took him inside our woodlot where I sent him.

Cruelty-free butcher

I don’t like to kill a wayward rooster, but I firmly believe that the primary motivation of chicken farmers should be to maintain the health and safety of their flocks. Quite simply, Augie had violated my three strike rule with his attacks on me, the fence incident and, last but not least, the roughing up of a hen. For the health and safety of his herd, Augie simply had to leave the premises.

I know killing a bird is understandably difficult for many backyard hobbyists. For example, earlier this year a reader of this website emailed me about a roo problem that was terrorizing his chickens and also attacking him. She added that her cock was “such a good boy”. My response was that the bird’s actions were not those of a good boy and that she should, at the very least, remove that rooster from the flock before he actually kills one of his hens – and don’t think it can’t happen.

When and how to humanely send a rooster

The ideal time to send a rooster is about half an hour before sunrise. The bird will have spent everything it ate the night before and will be fairly calm when it perches on a perch in the coop. Still, there will be enough light for you to see what you are doing.

After taking a rooster from the roost, I take it to our woodlot and cut its neck with a sharp butcher’s knife. Even roosters possess very sturdy and thick necks, and this is the most merciful and quickest way to end things.

Why we prefer simmering roosters.

Rooster meat can be a little tough, especially if the bird is older. This problem can be solved inside a slow cooker. Covering the poultry with chicken broth, Elaine cooks our poultry for 4 to 5 hours over medium heat.

When Elaine and I started raising chickens, we had a very aggressive rooster that would even kick the hens out of their nest boxes when he wanted to mate with them. This roo had a favorite hen that he often attacked several times a day in order to corner and mount her. One day we found the one-year-old female dead in the coop, her back largely devoid of feathers from the incessant mating. Yes, it’s true that we didn’t see the rooster kill that hen, but the circumstantial evidence was overwhelming.

So, of course, before you decide to kill an overly belligerent rooster, try some behavior modification methods. But also remember the three strike rule and our responsibilities to our herds as a whole.

Bruce Ingram is a freelance writer and photographer. He and his wife, Elaine, are the co-authors of Living the Locavore lifestyle, a book about the life of the earth. Get in touch with them at

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