Article updated April 2015 Some people struggle with the thought of owning a rooster and wonder if they should keep one with their flock. Others, wish they hadn’t got a rooster and now want to get rid of him. I can’t make the decision to get, keep, or remove a rooster for anyone; however, I can tell my experience with roosters and this may help others decide. Plus, at the end of this article I have included my Coq au Vin recipe for those who do decide to give their rooster the choppy-chop.
I only just recently turned our last rooster into a family meal, and yes, he was made into the famous Coq au Vin. The decision to slaughter our rooster was more of a shock to him than us. Even though, he had done a great job in fertilising our flock and producing almost 30 offspring; he had become a slight nuisance and it got to the point where no one but I was comfortable to visit the chicken pen and collect the eggs, so really, he had to go.
Roosters are inherently confident creatures and are very protective of their girls (image above)
Not that our rooster was dangerous but he could deliver a nasty double feet kick, which certainly had enough force to give, even me, a fright. The thing is, most roosters attack from behind so they wait until your back is turned and you may be unsuspectingly collecting an egg when… whooshka! You feel a strong jolt as two rooster feet are planted squarely on your rear end. Not pleasant…
Whilst this act of ambush comes as a surprise (always), no one in our family has ever been injured by a rooster attack (except from tripping over due to constantly looking behind to see where he is). However, rooster attacks can be scary especially for little children and my wife hates having a rooster around. Spurs can be a problem but roosters also have a concealed spike on their wings which can deliver a scratch. And after Mr Rooster started boldly attacking the children front on, his fate was definitely sealed and he was destined for the “cone of death.”
I would suggest to anyone whose rooster is turning the daily trip to the chicken pen into an unpleasant one, to get rid of him – backyard chicken keeping is meant to be fun not forbidding. At the same time, and if local laws allow the keeping of a rooster, I encourage people who are considering getting a rooster to go ahead because roosters make chicks and help protect the flock to some degree. Anyway, you can always get rid of a rooster if the experience doesn't work out.
As I said in my situation, our rooster had done his job and when we do decide to raise more chicks we’ll just buy another one because roosters are easy and cheap to buy. Our local pet food supplier sells roosters for $5 each – it’s almost worth buying them just to eat! Only kidding.
What’s the difference between your own chickens and the commercial variety?
If you do decide to get rid of your rooster and he’s in good condition then consider eating him.
It’s difficult to generalise about how a home raised and cooked chicken should taste like and if they are better than the commercial birds because it’s a matter of opinion, and it largely depends on the breed of bird. The main point is, backyard/farm roosters or hens which have been bred and kept primarily for laying eggs are not at all like the commercial meat chickens.
Commercial meat chickens are a totally different breed of bird to laying chickens. Meat chickens have a whiter flesh, grow faster, have more fat, eat a high energy commercial feed with little or no natural feed, and get hardly any exercise at all. We all know what a commercial chicken tastes like; and personally, I think they taste pretty good but most of us are used to eating commercially bread and raised meat birds so we would think that wouldn’t we?
The initial differences I noticed between my chickens and the commercial variety was the carcass of the bird is more trim and less fatty compared to the commercial variety and this is largely because free-range chickens get more exercise (they’re fitter). Secondly, I noticed the meat was slightly darker (especially around the legs) and this difference is likely due to the breed and difference in diet.
Apparently, chickens which have been home-raised and left feed free-range style (with a back-up of free-range commercial grain feed) have a more nutritious meat for consumption. I am not aware of any scientific evidence or studies to back this up but the same principals have indeed been proven in other foods grown in a more natural way (like cattle).
The thinking behind the healthier meat claim is the suggestion that chickens which are able to free-range eat a more varied diet, get more sunlight, and more exercise, than barn raised commercial birds and thus get essential micronutrients needed to make them healthier. Then, we consume the “healthier” meat (with more vitamins/minerals/antioxidants) and this is naturally better for us. The notion that a healthy free-range chicken is better to eat (nutrition wise) certainly makes sense to me; nevertheless, I can’t definitively say in this article if it has been proven so.
What does a rooster or old laying hen taste like?
What I can say with some experience, is what home-grown chickens (the non-meat bird variety) do taste like. Most backyard, chicken keeping, self-sufficient, hobbyists like me will likely eat their roosters or older laying hens, at one time or another, and both taste similar in my opinion.
Home-grown chickens and even meat birds grown at home for personal use are usually completely different in taste. I once heard the taste of home-grown chicken described as the way chicken would have routinely tasted a hundred years back. And that is, with a darker flesh, less meat on the bone, less tender, and a “stronger” flavour. Some people swear by eating home-grown chickens and prefer them over commercial poultry.
I would describe the taste of a typical rooster or old layer chicken to be closer to duck or turkey than its commercial meat bird sister. The legs of the chicken have the biggest difference in flavour between the two with some birds I’ve had tasting nothing like the chicken legs I was used to from the supermarket or fast food chain. A rooster I recently prepared for the family had legs which tasted almost like lamb shanks!
It goes without saying, old home-grown layers or roosters aren’t normally cooked the conventional way (like roasting) and are much better made into soups, nuggets, or slow cooked meals. Roosters or spent layer hens made into chicken mince patties and concealed with lots of tasty herbs and spices are a real winner with children and a more aesthetic way to present an old bird meal. My mother, who grew-up on a dairy farm, advises me not to bother with cooking-up old layers. She reckons, these older birds are best buried under a fruit tree and used as compost rather than going through the trouble of preparing and eating them.
My honest opinion on home-grown vs commercial chicken?
What’s my honest opinion about the taste comparison of a home-grown chicken (not specifically bred for meat) to a commercial one? Shamefully, on taste, I usually prefer the commercial variety of meat chicken to my own home-grown birds. However, many people are discovering home-grown tastes much better and I should clarify my preference meaning the commercial meat chickens raised organically because there's a big difference in eating quality between farm raised organic chickens left to free-range and those kept in cages or tiny barns!
We don’t regularly eat our own chickens, it’s more likely to be the odd meal made from an unwanted rooster or a laying hen in the twilight of her laying days (but still in good condition).
Having said that, we’ve just recently hatched-out 20 plus new chickens and it’s looking like we’ll have at least half developing into roosters and I don’t intend to keep any of them so home-grown rooster will soon be a regular special on our dinner menu.
Of course, we never eat sick hens or any layers that are obviously too old as we have a tendency to let our older layers continue on (even if they have stopped producing eggs) because we think they deserve a good retirement after several years of service – as long as they stay healthy. If we do need to euthanize any old or sick chickens they do end up as compost.
When/if you decide to eat your rooster…
So, when/if you decide to eat your own rooster… good for you. When I made the decision to eat one of my roosters for the first time, I made an absolute “cock-up” of the cooking. For a start, we were having a family gathering at our place and because I had lots to do to prepare for the day I made the decision to roast the rooster in the oven so I could just bung it in to cook in the background and get on with other duties.
Roosters are more “gamier” than commercial meat birds, so care needed to be taken not to over-cook; however, I still stupidly thought I could get away with roasting. The thing is, the rooster was a big bird and he definitely had a lot of meat on him so I thought roasting wouldn’t be a problem.
Well… the flavour of the rooster was good (surprisingly) but that was the only plus. Apart from the breast meat, the rest of the bird was virtually mummified and I was absolutely shocked when I retrieved this leather handbag (with legs) resembling a chicken from the oven. I carefully carved up the rooster keeping mainly the breast and thighs and discarded the legs and other pieces to the side.
My second shock of the day was hearing my father in-law (Doug) explain over the dinner table about how he quite liked the rooster but the leg he had eaten took a heck of a lot of chewing to get through it! The other leg was so rock hard I gave it to our dog, and even he sheepishly took it away to eat later (probably to bury).
The roasted rooster may not have been a crowing success but I did learn a great deal from the experience and my brother in-law (an avid and excellent meat cook – South African braai extraordinaire) suggested next time I make Coq au Vin. I had no idea what he just said – I thought he was swearing at me in Afrikaans… Seriously, he (and everyone else within earshot) explained the recipe to me and I vowed I would try it; albeit a little perplexed at why it seemed I was the only person at the gathering who hadn’t heard of this dish.
The moral of the story is this: unless you grow chickens purpose bred for meat only, don’t expect them to cook or taste even similar to a commercial chicken you get from a supermarket. Nevertheless, a home-grown non-meat bred chicken can still make a good meal (even a fantastic meal) if the bird is prepared and cooked the right way.
The following recipe gives an example of a correct way to prepare and cook a rooster or old layer – Coq au Vin style.
Coq au Vin (Rooster and Red Wine) Recipe
Born out of necessity like so many European classic recipes, Coq au Vin or rooster made with red wine was initially a peasant food in France made from old chickens scavenged from wherever they could get one. Since, only one rooster is required in the flock for breeding and roosters can’t lay eggs they were the prime target for a cheap meal in these depressive times.
Due to the toughness of these birds, something needed to be done to make the meal more inviting and being French there are no better ingredients to enhance a meal than wine and butter. Also, the way the rooster is cooked being a slow braise is important as this process tenderises the meat and keeps it moist preventing the dish from drying out.
Whilst I know the below Coq au Vin recipe images don't look amazingly appetising, let me assure there is plenty of flavour in this dish.
Chicken/rooster cut into pieces
Salt & pepper for seasoning as necessary (salt may not be needed as the bacon and stock also has salt included – test before adding extra)
In a frypan, fry off bacon, onion, garlic, and then add the mushrooms cooking until they are wilted.
Step 2 – Render chicken
Remove the fried bacon, onion, garlic, and mushrooms and place them into a large pot, crockpot, or slow cooker. Then, brown-off the chicken pieces in the same fry pan so the skin is rendered nicely.
Step 3 – Deglazing
Remove the chicken pieces in place them in the pot with the other fried-off ingredients, also add the bay leaves and thyme. To the pan, add the wine and deglaze the bottom of the pan by stirring with a wooden spoon or chad to get all the tasty, cooking juices. After about 2 minutes of simmering the wine glaze, pour the liquid into the pot over the chicken pieces.
Step 4 – Slow Cooking
Add the chicken stock to the pot to totally cover the meat (use more chicken stock at this stage if needed to cover). Set slow cooker to cook for at least 3-4 hours; or if using a pot, bring to the boil and then turn down to a slow simmer and cover with the lid to either cook on stove-top or oven (depending on your pot design and method).
Step 5 – Straining
The chicken is ready when the meat is tender and easily comes away from the bone. At this stage, remove the chicken pieces transferring them to a serving dish (oven proof if possible). Then, strain the liquid in the pot through a fine/medium strainer. Collect the mushrooms and bacon sprinkling this over the chicken. Place the serving dish in the oven on a low heat just to keep the chicken warm whilst the sauce is made.
Step 6 – Sauce
Add the strained pot liquid back to the pan (or pot) and bring it to the boil then simmer. At the same time, melt the butter in a small saucepan on stove or in a microwave (with a safe dish) and stir in the cornflour making a runny paste.
Add the paste to the pot and mix well then monitor and stir the sauce until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon or to your liking. Taste and season if necessary.
Step 7 – Serve
Remove the chicken from the oven, pour the sauce over the chicken, and serve with roasted vegetables, or mashed potato and peas, etc. A nice rich, deep flavoured Shiraz goes well with this wonderful French style cuisine. Enjoy.
Whether a person is deciding to keep, get, get rid of a rooster, the main points are to evaluate what you want out of the bird. If you want to grow your flock totally DIY you'll need fertilised eggs and therefore a rooster is required. But, if you are thinking of getting a rooster just for "fun" you're probably going to regret the decision and I would warn against it.
For those who have a rooster and are totally over the experience, consider eating him (if he's in good condition) as it would be a shame to waste a good dinner. And, if you do decide to eat your rooster, why not try Coq au Vin? Whatever you do though, please don't roast him for visiting relatives – unless, you don't want them to come back…
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Mark Valencia – Editor SSM
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Mark Valencia retired from the Australian Army in 2008 after 21 years of service and is married with two children (boys). He has always been passionate about self-sufficiency (even as a child) and he is now enjoying the opportunity to communicate this passion through his Blog and YouTube Channel.
Self Sufficient Me is a blog about self-sustainment by growing our own produce (plant/animal), and self-fulfilment by looking after our health (physical/mental) through exercise and slowing life down a little.