How to Cook Stewing Hens and Roosters

How Aggressive Rooster Behavior Turned into a Culinary Learning Experience

stewing-hens

A friend of mine approached me several months ago and asked if we wanted a few roosters. I sighed and asked what was going on knowing that if we took them, they would end up as a stewing hens and roosters project. She explained her predicament.

She had wanted to raise Silkie chickens but lives in the city with limited space for her backyard chickens. She only wanted a few birds and was having difficulty finding a company that would ship a small batch. Then one day she was at a flea market, a farmer was selling chicks, and they were Silkies — what luck! Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out as planned.

She bought five of the chicks and brought them home to add to her backyard chicken flock. As they grew, something became clear: These birds were not behaving like the ones she had had in the past. She had some experience raising Silkie chickens as well as other breeds, and she knew what had happened. Though this farmer had told her the birds were pullets, they were in fact, all roosters.

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If you have raised chickens before, you know that rooster behavior is fairly distinctive. There are the telltale crowing and mating behaviors, but there are many other signs as well. Generally speaking, roosters are larger in size with more colorful or bounteous feathers. They are often the last to go to bed, stalking around the chicken coop or run to make sure everyone else has gotten safely to bed. Roosters will usually protect the flock from any threat they perceive, puffing themselves up, squawking loudly, pecking at, stomping on and charging at dangers. Most small backyard chicken flocks can support no more than one rooster. This is where my friend’s trouble arose. She had five roosters in a flock of fewer than 10 chickens.

The aggressive rooster behavior became an issue as the birds reached maturity. They began fighting endlessly. She separated them into different parts of the yard, but as winter got worse, she had to put them back together for warmth or they would all die, and so she did. One morning she came out and found one of them had been killed by the others during the night. She knew she had to do something different.

This is when she called me to ask if we would take any of them. I told her that we had no desire to add a rooster to our backyard chicken flock but that we would gladly take them for harvesting. Generally speaking, we aren’t in the business of raising meat chickens. We are raising chickens for eggs, but we did harvest a few birds in the past year. We had a rooster who nearly killed several of our babies; he became a roast. Similarly, our neighbors asked us to harvest their male when his rooster behavior became unmanageable.

Now, if you know anything about raising Silkie chickens, you may recognize that harvesting these birds was perhaps a silly thing for me to offer to my friend. When she eventually came to terms with this option, and the chickens arrived at our house, I laughed at myself. They were seriously tiny! We wondered if this was worth the effort.

My husband felt like it would be good practice for him to go ahead and harvest them. Besides, what we were going to do with them otherwise?

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While he got to work in the yard, I went to the kitchen to do some research. I had heard of stewing hens but didn’t know much about them or how to cook them.

After a lot of reading, I decided this was the way to go with these tiny birds. Whatever meat they had could be salvaged and their bones would contribute toward a rich and healthful broth. When the birds were ready, I set to work.

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How to Cook Stewing Hens

Now for the nitty-gritty: How to cook stewing hens.

1. Put your birds into a large pot and fill with enough water to cover them. I had a little extra broth leftover in the fridge from something else, so I threw this in as well.

stewing-hens

2. Put the pot on the stove and bring to a boil. As it comes to a boil, scum will rise up to the top. Skim as much of this off as you can. I dumped the scum in my compost bin.

stewing-hens

3. Put the lid on the pot and turn the heat down to a slow simmer. Now you’ll need patience. It’s going to be a long haul! Leave your broth alone for four to eight hours. Check on it occasionally just to make sure your bird is not completely disintegrating. If you leave it to that point, it will be more difficult to pick out the meat and bones but not impossible if you strain it.

stewing-hens

4. When you and the broth are ready, use whatever tool works for you to remove the chicken from the broth. I used tongs and a slotted spoon.

stewing-hens

5. Use your hands to separate the meat and bones into separate containers. Work with care because these birds have some tiny bones, which are easy to miss. Our three little Silkies yielded a couple cups of usable meat, which I put into the refrigerator for later use. The parts that were too sinewy for us, I added to the dog’s food. Nothing goes to waste around here!

stewing-hens

6. Return the broth and the bones to the pot and return to a boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and cover. Now you wait. Your broth should cook at least 12 hours total, but up to 24 if you have the patience. The longer it cooks, the more nutrients you leach out of the bones. At this point, you can also add some things like celery, onion skins, garlic, or parsley to enrich the flavors of the broth.

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7. When you declare it finished, pour it through a strainer to get all the bits and pieces out, and you’ll be left with a beautiful homemade chicken broth full of nutrition and usable in so many ways!

stewing-hens

What to do With Your Products

The most obvious choice, of course, is to make a soup. I used some of my broth to prepare a vegetable soup for our family. It was simple. I raided the freezer for items from last year’s garden: corn, carrots, peppers and green beans.

stewing-hens

I also added a couple small jars of diced tomatoes, an onion, and some of the chicken I pulled off the stewing hens after the initial few hours of cooking time. Some herbs rounded out the flavor. My favorites for soups are rosemary, thyme, and sage.

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stewing-hens

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The remaining broth and chicken I but into plastic containers and froze for future dinners.

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You can also pour the broth into ice cube trays to freeze if you tend to use it in smaller portions.

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I add chicken broth to everything from stir-fry to soup to sauces. It gives a boost of protein and tons of flavor to just about any savory dish. The leftover shredded chicken will make for a nice chicken pot pie, tacos one night, or a second round of hearty soup. It’s always a nice thing to have on hand in the freezer for a last minute meal.

Lessons Learned from a Difficult Situation

Raising meat chickens can be an emotional topic for many, but if we are going to eat meat, we have to come to terms with where we get it. We have no meat without animals. Though our backyard chickens are primarily for egg production, we are fully aware that someday they may also provide meat for us as stewing hens. This experience taught us that even the smallest birds have much to offer us nutritionally and we are grateful for how they sustain us with their lives.

What would you do if you ended up with too many birds or aggressive rooster behavior in half your flock? Could you use them as stewing hens and roosters? Let us know in the comments below. Hopefully, you have learned about one option that may work for you, with even the smallest breeds of chickens.

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Comments
  • I harvested our first rooster when his behavior became too much. He was the only rooster in a group of 12 girls. He was very violent towards the hens. They were all hand raised and he would peck and attack them if they would eat treats offered by them. He was a feathered tyrant. The final straw was when we watched half a watermelon rot as he pecked and attacked any hen that dared go near it.
    It was the most delicious chicken and dumpling soup we ever ate.
    I’ve also processed a cayuga drake duck for his aggressive behavior towards our laying hens.

    Reply
  • I have ended up with…at least 4 out of my 6 chicks this spring being roosters, we have been entertaining the idea of eating them but all i hear is that its such hard work to prepare them for the pot. we can go to the store and buy a clean chicken for $5. is it really worth it to do all of the (slightly traumatizing )work yourself? Also i have heard that silkies are quite a delicacy! So i suppose in that case yes it was quite a treat as you cannot usually find those in the butcher shop.

    Reply
  • I have 2 roosters in my freezer right now, and one in a pot on the stove. We have hens by choice but when a chick turns out to be a rooster instead of a hen, we do butcher and eat it. I don’t want to waste the meat and I know that since my grandmothers could do it, so can I. It’s my pioneering gene. The first one was the hardest because I didn’t know what I was doing. After that, it was better, still messy and not fun, but better.

    Reply
  • We’re going through this now. In the last two months our rooster went from the every so often bouncing off of my son to full on attacking me every chance he gets. My legs are covered in bruises and puncture spots and I finally gave the green light to my husband. I hate it because he’s so good to all the girls (14 now & adding another 14 this weekend), but I just can’t take the chance of him attacking my son like he does me.

    Reply
  • One of the staples in my household when my kids were growing up was chicken soups and stews. I’ve always said you’ll never starve around here if you can catch and kill a chicken. The rural area where I live seems to be a magnet for people from the cities and suburbs who want to escape to the country lifestyle. They want to be homesteaders so they get chickens and then don’t feel too comfortable about butchering them, hence the more neutral term, “harvest.” Eventually many would-be homesteaders will offer their extra roosters free to anyone who will take them off their hands, even if it’s maybe not a good home. Part of the problem is sometimes these roosters are not young, and even after stewing overnight are like eating a rubber band. An old farm wife once revealed to me the secret for turning even the toughest old fighting game rooster tender in the stew pot by adding two or three tablespoons of apple vinegar to the stock. The vinegar also leaches the calcium from the bones into the broth. This form of calcium is highly absorbable and much cheaper than pills from the health food store.

    Reply
  • A pressure cooker will greatly speed up the process of cooking the meat off of the bones and then returning the bones to flavor and reduce the broth. Great investment.

    Reply
  • I had 6 rooster that needed to be culled. They were so tough and stringy. I pressured cooked them and had to give them to the dogs. I guess I should of cooked them slow and long. Is that the trick to get a edible rooster?

    Reply
  • We recently had to do the same. We had 2 roosters and only 5 hens. One had to go. It was alot harder doing the actual butchering than I imagined it would be. I was so emotionally ready for one to be gone; they were tearing up my poor hens. But when it came time to actually do the deed, I cried like a baby. Sobbed, actually. Hard, wracking sobs. Even though my husband was the one actually doing it, I just held the rope.

    And then when it came time to actually eat the poor guy, we couldn’t do it. We ended up feeding it back to our hens. I figured it this way: he was the one that destroyed their feathers. The protein in the meat was helping to repair the damage that he’d done to them. Sad lesson learned. I think if there is a next time, we’ll plan on re-homing. That was an experience I don’t think I can repeat anytime soon… But maybe it’s like childbirth, time helps you to forget. We shall see.

    Reply
  • Lea Anne S.

    I have eight roosters in the freezer right now from bantams to home grown reds. They all serve a purpose and yes there were entirely too many roosters. Not only are they aggressive they cause the hens to quite laying regularly when there are too many.

    Reply
  • I am contemplating butchering one of my roosters. We have too many for the number of hens and he can be aggressive toward people. Our flock is free range so he struts around the fields with the hens. I have a young grandchild that visits and I don’t want him or anyone else to get hurt. I have bought several books on butchering with very detailed information and photos. I won’t attempt it unless I feel confident I know what I’m doing and can do it quickly and humanely. Then I will make bone broth and dog food? I’ve heard the meat is very tough.

    Reply
  • How old should they be before you can harvest? I have 4 (out of 6 chicks) and I’ve been trying to find them homes, but it seems nobody wants them. 1 has turned really mean, to me and the other chickens. I was just wondering when it would actually be worth the trouble to make rooster stew!

    Reply

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