Mild and juicy, chicken meat is a favorite of many people. When looking closer at where the meat we eat comes from, pictures both of factory farming and free-range farms show an abundance of female chickens with often no roosters in sight. Do people eat roosters? Are roosters even edible?
Yes, roosters are edible, and they even are the preferred variety of chicken meat in some cultures. In America, though, eating roosters is not common, especially not in households that do no raise their own meat. The meat that you see on the shelves of the supermarkets always comes from female chickens, since raising hens for their meat is easier and more cost-efficient.
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There are several reasons for this: For once, there are not many roosters needed when raising a flock of chicken. One or two are enough – one rooster per ten to fifteen chicken is a common ratio – to fertilize the eggs, and since these roosters have important jobs to do, they must not be eaten.
Households that raise hens only for their eggs, do not need a rooster at all, since hens lay eggs without a rooster. The male counterpart is only needed when the eggs are supposed to be fertilized and hatched. What is not there cannot be eaten, and raising roosters simply for eating them seems like an unnecessary amount of effort and financial investment when hens are all that somebody needs.
It makes sense to assume that in pre-industrial times, households that bred their own chicken would have consumed a lot of roosters. When eggs are hatched, about half of the resulting chicklets are male. Since only a few roosters are needed to fertilize the eggs, it would have made sense to eat the rest of these, rather than the hens that can lay eggs.
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Breeding male chickens for meat on the same scale on which female chickens are bred would be logistically very difficult. In industrial breeding, thousands of chickens are often kept under the same roof. This can make the most mild-mannered hen anxious and aggressive, and since roosters are by nature more aggressive, keeping so many of them at the same place would not work.
Since they are so aggressive and loud, raising roosters is illegal in many cities, which poses a difficult predicament for urban hobby farmers. Those that are too good-natured to kill male chickens once the sex is clear tend to abandon them in public places, zoos, or the flocks of other farmers. These roosters then have to hunt down by animal control, and their fate is only deferred rather than avoided.
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For all these reasons, male chickens are typically considered to be superfluous waste that is not worth the logistical efforts and financial costs and are disposed of while still baby chicks. This means that they are being killed, or culled, as it is called in the poultry industry.
Technically, the word rooster only refers to male chickens that are kept for breeding purposes. Castrated male chickens that are valued for their meat are called capons. They grow more slowly than roosters, which gives them time to attain more body fat, which makes for juicier meat. Since castrating male chickens is very complicated and painful, it is not recommended, though, especially since the same quality meat can be attained from hens.
Do Roosters Taste Differently From Hens?
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Nowadays, the chickens that are mostly eaten are called broilers. These are industrial chickens especially raised for meat production. They have white meat and grow so fast that the period between birth and butchering block only lasts six weeks.
When compared to broilers, rooster meat is of darker colors and has a much stronger flavor. Their meat is also tougher and more stringy. In comparison to what are called stewing hens, which are laying hens that are used for broth and slow-cooking dishes, roosters do not taste much different at all.
Because of its stronger and dryer texture, roosters, as well as stewing hens, have to be prepared differently from broilers. They should not be roasted, but instead, be cooked with moist heat, slowly, and on low heat.
Do Roosters Crow All Day?
Unfortunately, yes. This is a big part of the reasons why most farmers do not keep more roosters than absolutely necessary. Like all birds, roosters are regulated by light, which is why the rising sun often causes their first crowing of the day.
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Surprisingly, roosters often crow a few hours before daybreak, which has confused farmers for a long time, until a research paper published in 2013 described a reason for this: Roosters have a circadian rhythm of 23.8 hours, which means that a rooster day is a bit shorter than a human day.
Even after daybreak, roosters will find countless other reasons to crow: to mark their territory, to display dominance when hearing another rooster crow, to communicate happiness about a hen laying eggs … the reasons to make noise are sheer endless!
Sometimes they also crow at night, mostly, when they hear an unusual sound. This might be a predator, but also simply a passing car.
Do Roosters Have Testicles?
Even children learn to differentiate roosters from hens by their mostly more colorful feathers and their impressive red comb. But if you have ever looked at the other end of their body, you will have seen … nothing.
Roosters do have testicles, but these are located inside their body! Two testes shaped like kidney beans are found in front of their kidneys against their backbones. This makes castrating – or caponizing – male chickens such a difficult and painful procedure.
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Like more than 90% of all bird species, roosters do not have a penis. Instead, they inject sperm into hens in a process known as the cloacal kiss – probably one the least appealing descriptions of sexual intercourse ever! In a rooster’s cloaca, there are two papillae (nipples) at the end of ducts that transport sperm from the internal testicles outwards.
Roosters can control how much sperm they release during every mating act, so they can ration themselves when fulfilling their duty of fertilizing ten to fifteen hens a day.