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8 Things to Do with an Unwanted Rooster

Two photos, one of a rooster standing between two hens, one of four small chicks.

Getting a clutch of chicks is always fun. I don’t care how old you are; those sweet little peeping balls of fuzz melt even the hardest of hearts. But most of us only want chicks that will grow to be laying hens. In fact, most of us pay for sexed pullets because we really don’t want to deal with a rooster.

Some, like our family, live in a township that doesn’t allow roosters. So, what do you do when one of your fuzzy little girls turns out to be a boy?

Four chickens pecking at the grass.
Hmmm, something doesn’t look quite right here.

Chicken Sexing and Sexing Guarantees

Chicken sexers are very good at what they do. Most of them are 95% accurate. Your local meteorologist can’t even boast stats that great.

We’re talking about professionals who can determine the sex of a chick with a quick look that takes them mere seconds before they move on to the next bird.

But they’re also human. And they do make mistakes.

However, it can be a real headache when their mistake lands in your batch of pullets.

Four fluffy chicks in pine shavings.

Many big hatcheries that offer mail-order chicks have a sexing guarantee, which sounds great when you’re adding all the colored egg-layers to your cart. But most have a waiting period of about ten weeks before they will honor their guarantee, as that’s generally how long it takes to be sure your chick is a rooster. The reality of the situation is you end up with your money back or store credit…and you still have an unwanted rooster on your hands.

Clues He’s a He, not a She

It can be tough to be sure your chick is actually a rooster when they’re young, hence the necessity of that waiting period. It’s even harder if your little brood is made up of different breeds. Some grow quicker than others; some have more pronounced combs, which might make you think you have a rooster.

It’s best to wait to determine the sex of a chick when they’re closer to sexual maturity. Otherwise, you may end up getting rid of a late-blooming hen.

Here are some general characteristics of roosters to help you figure out if he’s a he and not a she. It’s important to consider the breed, as certain breed characteristics can make it difficult to tell the difference between a rooster and a pullet until they are closer to sexual maturity.

4-5 weeks

Two one month old chicks in a pen.
You can already see by the comb that we’ve got a rooster on our hands. It’s redder and more pronounced.

Roosters generally have a much more pronounced, redder comb early on. You’ll note I didn’t say larger, as comb size and shape depend on the breed. When small, pullets have very small combs. Their combs will remain pale pink or orange and only redden when they reach the point of lay. If you’ve got a chick with a bright red comb early on, chances are good; it’s a rooster.

Wattle growth is another early indicator of a rooster. Like the comb, a rooster’s wattle will grow faster and be red long before a pullet’s. If you have a bearded breed, however, pay more attention to the wattle color than the size, as the beard gene means a much smaller wattle in both males and females.

10-12 Weeks


Roosters generally have showier plumage, but they also have different-shaped feathers. Look closely at the saddle – the feathers on the back — roosters will have slimmer, pointy feathers, whereas pullets’ saddle feathers will be shorter and rounded. A rooster will also have a more pronounced “saddle” with more feathers that generally spill down his sides. Most breeds will have elongated tail feathers as well. Look for a waterfall of long, curved tail feathers.

Three chickens, one a rooster. Rooster is labelled with four numbers to denote rooster characteristics.
1. Bright red/pronounced comb & wattle. 2. Long, pointy, full hackle feathers. 3. Long, pointy saddle feathers. 4. Long, curved tail feathers.

16 Weeks

Hackle feathers are more pronounced. While both males and females have hackle feathers, the rooster’s hackle feathers will be long and pointy and will grow further and thicker down the neck.


And then there’s the obvious one – crowing. If you hear that first crow from the coop, you probably have a rooster on your hands. That being said, hens can crow, too. We have a hen who, in the absence of a rooster, has taken it upon herself to watch over our flock. Now and then she crows. But once a rooster realizes he can crow, he rarely stops.

It’s always a good idea to look at numerous photos of roosters for your particular breed online to determine if your chick is a boy.

Now that you know for sure, what will you do with him?

Young rooster standing between two hens.

1. Keep Him

Roosters aren’t inherently bad. If you’re able, keeping your rooster offers your hens a level of protection you can’t give them. A good rooster will show your hens the best places to forage, alert them to possible danger, and, if necessary, lay down his life to protect his ladies. A good rooster can be an invaluable addition to your flock.

Of course, not everyone lives where roosters are welcome.

2. Process and Eat Him

Chances are, if you’re reading this, you aren’t the type of person who will choose this option. If you were, you would already have had a lovely roast chicken dinner, not Googled what to do with a rooster. But it is a completely reasonable option, not to mention a tasty one. I will acknowledge that it’s not for everyone. Still, it might be a good opportunity to challenge yourself about the realities of keeping livestock and the hard decisions that come with it.

It is odd when you think about our disconnect with food these days. How many of us keep chickens and eat chicken but would never in a million years eat our chickens? (Raises hand.) It’s something to think about.

3. Ask a Local Farm/Farmer/Friend to Take Him

Rooster watching over a flock of hens.
A good rooster is worth his weight in gold when you have a large flock.

When you’ve only got a few chickens in the first place, a rooster can seem like a huge deal. But if you’re a farm that regularly keeps a couple dozen chickens, another mouth to feed is less noticeable. And a working livestock animal is generally a welcome addition to a farm. Ask around, as this is usually one of the easiest ways of rehoming a rooster.

4. Craigslist

Craigslist is still a great place to list an unwanted rooster. (It’s also a great option if you’re looking for specific breeds of chicks in the spring.) List your rooster for sale or for free. Of course, it also depends on where you live. If you’re in a more urban area, you might have a harder time rehoming a rooster via Craigslist.

5. Donate Him to a Local 4H or FFA Group

Many kids in 4H or Future Farmers of America raise animals for showing. These groups are always looking out for free animals for their members. If you want to sweeten the deal, offer your rooster with a pullet as a breeding pair.

Breeding pair of Austrolorp chickens.
If you can offer up a matched set, you’ll have an easier time of rehoming a rooster.

6. Rescue Groups

Look for a local animal rescue group that will take roosters. Calling your local animal shelter is a good place to start, too. While they may not take roosters, they may know of someplace that will.

7. List Your Rooster on a Local Poultry Group

Facebook is a fantastic place to meet other chicken folks. There are usually plenty of poultry-keeping groups to choose from based on location, which are excellent resources for rehoming a bird. Again, offering a rooster and pullet or hen as a breeding pair will make a more attractive offering.

8. Have Your Vet Euthanize Him

Ultimately, if you’ve done all you can to rehome an unwanted rooster, you might be left with the unpleasant task of having him euthanized. Chances are it won’t come to this, but it’s important to remember the responsibility of owning livestock, even if we didn’t plan for a rooster. Call your vet and have the rooster euthanized.

Avoid This Problem in the Future with Autosexing & Sexlink Breeds

Three Bielefelder chicks.
Breeds with the barred-gene are autosexing, such as these Bielefelder chicks.

We ended up with a surprise rooster one spring. After dealing with the stress and heartache of figuring out what to do with him, we decided we were only keeping autosexing breeds in the future. Sexlinks and autosexing breeds are chickens with distinguishable feather markings at hatching that denote males and females.

If you want to avoid rooster troubles in the future, consider keeping a sexlink or autosexing breed. There are some beautiful, sweet and prolific layers to choose from.  

Three Bielefelder hens.
Bielefelders are a marvelous autosexing breed.

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Tracey Besemer

Hey there, my name is Tracey. I’m the editor-in-chief here at Rural Sprout.

Many of our readers already know me from our popular Sunday newsletters. (You are signed up for our newsletters, right?) Each Sunday, I send a friendly missive from my neck of the woods in Pennsylvania. It’s a bit like sitting on the front porch with a friend, discussing our gardens over a cup of tea.

Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 18 years.

I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead, where I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.

I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.

Whether it was pressing apples in the fall for homemade cider, trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, or canning everything that grew in the garden in the summer - there were always new adventures with each season.

As an adult, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. And I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.

These days, I tend to be almost a homesteader.

I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood as they suit me.

I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.

I’ve always had a garden, even when the only space available was the roof of my apartment building. I’ve been knitting since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. If you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. And I can’t go more than a few days without a trip into the woods looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.

You can follow my personal (crazy) homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram as @aahomesteader.

Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,