Boom in backyard chicken flocks produces rooster glut

No one has expressed interest in adopting 1-year-old Hanz from Montgomery County Animal Shelter in Rockville, Md.
Ricky Carioti/Washington Post
No one has expressed interest in adopting 1-year-old Hanz from Montgomery County Animal Shelter in Rockville, Md.

WASHINGTON — A dozen or so pet seekers crowded the front counter at an animal shelter in Maryland’s Montgomery County on a recent Saturday. A few feet away, a woman lingered in front of a photo of a rabbit. Over in the dog kennels, a little girl pointed out a puppy to her father.

But no one asked about Hanz, the orange and white rooster that was pecking at feed in an outdoor kennel in the back. He didn’t even have a name card on his cage. And unlike the schnauzer inside, he had no sign that read, ‘‘Adopt me! I’m cute!’’

Animal Control picked Hanz up in mid-October in Germantown, Md., after some homeowners found him in their yard, according to Paul Hibler, deputy director of the county police’s Animal Services Division.


The question of what to do with Hanz — and other roosters like him — is an unforeseen byproduct of the growth of backyard chicken flocks, which proponents promote as a more-nutritious and humane source of eggs.

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Recently, efforts to amend laws that prohibit chickens in densely populated areas have gained momentum. But that has meant a proliferation of unwanted roosters, many of which arrive unexpectedly from hatcheries along with the first chicks.

They are difficult to keep in urban settings, they crow, and many places that allow chickens ban roosters. To get rid of them, some owners turn to Craigslist, sanctuaries, and animal shelters.

When that fails, the less squeamish eat them. Others set them loose and hope for the best. In the Washington region, roosters have been found wandering in parks, cemeteries, and alleyways.

Russell Crowe was one of the lucky ones: He was found five years ago, crossing Connecticut Avenue in Northwest Washington. (Why he crossed the road, no one knows.)


Eventually, he ended up at Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary in Poolesville, Md.

The refuge stopped accepting roosters a few years ago because of a lack of space, said director Terry Cummings.

The United Poultry Concerns on Virginia’s Eastern Shore reached maximum rooster capacity last month. There are still farmers who are willing to take them, but finding suitable homes is getting increasingly difficult.

The ranks of homeless roosters are still small and don’t come anywhere close to the 3 million unwanted cats and dogs that are euthanized each year in the United States.

But Paul Shapiro, vice president for farm animal protection at the Humane Society of the United States, which supports backyard chicken farming, said that figuring out what to do with unwanted roosters ‘‘is a very serious problem, and one with no easy answer.’’