The Big Red Rooster Rescue
Helping abandoned cockerels in the UK
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Big Red Rooster cockerel rescue in Wiltshire, England, is a small sanctuary that takes unwanted roosters and gives them a home for life. Helen Cooper, who owns the sanctuary, was disappointed to see a considerable surge in abandoned roosters during the COVID-19 pandemic. She’s been trying to help those cockerels, some dumped in towns and villages and left to fend for themselves.
How It All Began
“I started Big Red Rooster in 2015,” she explains. “I had been working for a particularly unpleasant woman who bred hundreds of chicks every year for sale. Obviously, that meant an awful lot of ‘surplus’ males, which her elderly husband dispatched. There was one nightmarish day when he made me and another girl who worked there accompany him to the poultry pens and — I’m not sure how graphic I ought to be — let’s just say some of the deaths were inhumane and horrible. I had a favorite boy there, and I couldn’t allow what I’d just seen to happen to him, so I told them I’d found him a home and took him.
“I already had quite a few cockerels and didn’t really have room for another, so I thought I’d Google ‘cockerel rescue.’ At that point, I discovered that there wasn’t a single dedicated cockerel rescue in the UK, so I had to start one!”
Helen is a vegan, passionate about animal welfare, and her rescue is the UK’s first cockerel rescue. She already had a habit of taking in cockerels and rehoming them when she could. “We decided to make it an official and registered as a not-for-profit organization,” she explains. “This enabled us to raise funds, expand, and ultimately to help rescue and find homes for more lovely boys. Most of our residents have lifelong sanctuary with us. We currently have around 200 residents, mostly boys, although we do have some hens as companions too.”
The Effect of Lockdown
2020 was a challenging year for people worldwide, but when the UK went into lockdown in March 2020, Helen saw a new problem emerging. There was a surge in demand for hens. Some people decided to buy eggs and incubate their chickens.
“I naively thought that because the schools were closed and there were no hatching programs, we might have an easier year. Oh no, it seems half the country decided to hatch at home to entertain their kids.”
The result of this was a definite increase in dumped cockerels in 2020. “I’ve had emails asking me to take cockerels where the people have said they hatched at home to keep the kids amused,” she adds.
“We took in three boys just before Christmas, all dumped in the same place, left to die. I’ve had to frantically reshuffle birds to squeeze them in. I offer to do posts on Big Red Rooster, share them around the rescue and vegan communities, but it’s tough to find homes for boys.
“We do manage to rehome some of our boys occasionally, but it seems to be getting increasingly difficult to keep cockerels. People are sadly very intolerant.”
Highlights and Challenges of Running a Rooster Rescue
“The biggest challenges would be the aforementioned school hatching programs,” says Helen, “plus the usual things like cost. It’s always a struggle, and of course, the good old English weather makes it a horrible chore when it’s constantly raining and muddy. The roosters’ housing doesn’t last too long in our climate.”
Fortunately, she loves roosters, and there are plenty of highlights too. “The benefits are the lovely little things. Finding the perfect home for a cockerel is always a highlight. I’ve had so many lovely photos and messages sent to me, showing the cockerels in their new homes, being loved and spoilt rotten! It’s satisfying to nurse a poorly bird back to health and see them become beautiful and happy.
“I did have a very funny (and adorable!) moment a while back. I attended a vegan fair, and a lady on one of the stalls was staring at me intently. As I went to pay her, she gasped and said, ‘I know who you are! You’re Chesney’s mum!’ Chesney is our most famous resident, a special blind crossbeak boy from a nursery hatch. This lady introduced herself, and I recognized her name as one of his super fans! We had a lovely chat, and I told her lots of Ches stories.”
After the first lockdown in March, the UK had two more lockdowns in November and January. Demand for hens surged, yet early cases of abandonment are all too common. Selfless people like Helen are essential in helping abandoned birds get back on their feet and find new forever homes or sanctuaries for life.
Do Similar Rescues Exist in the U.S.?
There are rooster and chicken sanctuaries across the U.S., but if there’s not one near you, and you want to find one, Helen says, “There is an excellent group called Adopt a Bird Network on Facebook which tries very hard to help people. The best advice I can give is PLEASE DON’T HATCH! I know chicks are adorable, but it’s so very difficult to find homes for them.”
The Big Red Rooster website: www.bigredrooster.org.uk
An adorable example of a rooster rescue in the U.S.: www.heartwoodhaven.org/adoptions/roosters
Originally published in the December 2021\January 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.