A rooster at Wheaton Mountain Farm in Bucksport. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki / BDN

Rosemarie Pomarico is fed up with chasing down and rescuing scared, disoriented roosters that show up this time of year around her Somerville property. Meanwhile, a livestock rescue in South Berwick has stopped accepting roosters despite daily calls asking them to do so. These are examples of what can happen when people are desperate to get rid of unwanted roosters.

Liam Hughes, director of animal welfare with the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said that while he has not gotten any recent calls on wandering roosters or reports of people abandoning roosters, he wouldn’t be surprised if it is happening in Maine, especially this year.

“With all the panic around the pandemic last March we had all these people rush to get chickens for eggs, which is nice in theory,” Hughes said. “But many did not understand when you get chicks a lot of the times you get roosters.”

That’s because it is almost impossible to determine the sex of a 1- or 2-day-old egg laying chick, which is the age at which most are sold. Six months later, any roosters in the flock are reaching sexual maturity. At that point they can become aggressive, start to crow noisily and want to mate with as many hens as possible as often as possible.

“Up until recently, when people got chicks they were not pets and unwanted roosters became Sunday supper,” Hughes said. “But now we see people treating chickens like pets and those options people used in the past might not be acceptable to them.”

Abandonment is not just cruel, it’s illegal

There’s nothing wrong with not wanting roosters in your henhouse, but it is illegal to simply abandon or dump them on the side of the road. Hughes said anyone caught abandoning a rooster can be charged with abandonment. If the rooster dies as a result of being dumped, the owner can also be charged with animal cruelty.

Christine Dudley, president of The Farm Animal Rescue in South Berwick, sympathizes with people who suddenly find a rooster or two among their hens. Some people, she said, may well believe that life in the wild is preferable to ending up on someone’s dinner plate. A rooster can survive on its own in the warmer months by eating bugs, grubs and some vegetation. But colder months can be a different story.

“They are pretty self sufficient,” Dudley said. “But at the end of the day they will eventually come to an untimely death either by freezing to death or predation.”

Pomarico fears people don’t think about that or if they do, they don’t care.

“Just last week two Rhode Island red roosters were dumped in the ditch next to my house,” Pomarico said. “Poor things. People don’t have any morals to give them at least a quick death. Instead they’d let them starve or get ripped apart by a raccoon.”

Not a lot of options

So what can you do if you find roosters among your flock? The options are limited in Maine. Many local animal shelters are not equipped to handle the male birds, which can’t be kept together in groups as they are prone to fight and attack each other. There are a few livestock rescue operations in Maine like Dudley’s, but they, too, can become quickly overwhelmed.

Hughes recommends people looking to rehome an unwanted rooster start by contacting their local animal shelters as they may be able to recommend a place for them if they can’t take them.

Dudley suggests turning to social media to try and find a home for the birds. She cautions that with so many people looking to rehome their own unwanted roosters, it can be a challenge to find a home.

“It’s really a matter of luck and timing,” Dudley said. “The right person who is willing to take in a rooster has to see your post before they see someone else’s.”

Talking to the experts is another option, according to Hughes.

“Go to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension Service or talk to the people at [ Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association] about any information they may have,” Hughes said. “They might know what could be done with the roosters.”

A quick option is slaughtering the rooster and processing it for your freezer yourself which is a legal and more merciful alternative to abandoning it, Hughes said. Anyone can butcher their own birds on site for home consumption. There are also slaughterhouses in Maine who will butcher birds, but Hughes said this time of year many are already booked up.

Not all who wander are dumped

It’s easy to assume any rooster found walking the road has been dumped off by someone who no longer wants him. While that does happen, Hughes said it’s not as commonplace as people think.

“There could be people dropping off unwanted roosters,” Hughes said. “It could also be the rooster or roosters wandered off from their farm and the owners never bothered to go looking for them.”

A rooster with wanderlust can travel several miles or more, Hughes said. And if it happens to be an unwanted bird, wandering away from a farm or backyard flock can be viewed by some as the problem taking care of itself.

Whether they are dumped or simply wander off and good riddance to them, a homeless rooster often becomes the responsibility of someone more caring and responsible than the original owner.

“My son found one a few weeks ago on a back road far away from houses in Albion,” Maribeth Beland York said. “He couldn’t leave it there plus the rooster walked right up to him and he was thirsty and hungry, poor thing.”

Do your research and have a plan

The issue of any unwanted animal being abandoned, roosters included, could be resolved if people took the time to get as much information as possible about the animal. The time to do that, Hughes said, is before getting it.

“When you are looking to acquire an animal in the future, always research what it will take to care for the animal,” Hughes said. “I encourage anyone to thoroughly investigate using any resources available on what those animals’ needs are. It can be chickens, dogs or cats or whatever but ask the really good questions so you can do everything you need to provide for those animals.”

That research includes knowing what ordinances your town has when it comes to livestock and if they even allow roosters in city limits and your neighbors’ feelings on pre-dawn rooster crowing.

Knowing ahead of time that getting chicks in the spring can result in one or more unwanted roosters means having a plan going in on what you are going to do with the male birds.

“People rely heavily that if they buy chicks they are getting all hens and you need to have a gameplan on what you are going to do with any roosters,” Dudley said. “That’s a big part of the responsibility of getting chicks that too many people don’t think about.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.