(As published originally for Backyard Poultry Magazine: July 2014)
Chicken Coop Chatter©
Many are not allowed to have roosters in their county or city boundaries, however roosters are invaluable. They are no noisier than a neighborhood dog that barks incessantly and city councils need to be educated about a roosters roll in the chicken dynamics.
A rooster is not just an alarm clock that raises the neighborhood out of their beds in the early morning, a rooster is not just a ball of pretty feathers. His function is no different than the male of any species. A good rooster is valuable for protecting his ladies, and will protect them with his very life if necessary. Many a good rooster has been lost to a predator that had visions of a nice flock to kill or devour, yet the rooster took the roll of protector and the predator may have had a battle and gotten away with a few wounds, but the flock was unharmed.
Free-ranging chickens is a goal that many wish to achieve, however without a rooster you can expect to lose your chickens to predators. The rooster is the go-between the predator and the flock. If you have no rooster or choose not to obtain a rooster, we advise that you do not even attempt to free range your hens. Hens are not as equipped to handle predators as a rooster is. A rooster will generally have longs spurs that he uses for defense, where few hens will have spurs that are effective, the rooster's purpose is as protector, not just for obtaining fertile eggs for hatching purposes.
Through our own experiences, we feel there needs to be a proper ratio of rooster to hens. 1 per 8-10 is one common opinion, however we have had great fertility with 1 roo for 12-15 hens We run two roosters at all times. The reason for two roosters, is fairly simple, partly for fertility but if one rooster is injured or lost to a predator it can be as much as a year to replace that rooster. That is a long time to wait for fertility in the flocks or for a guide and protector of the flock. Too many roosters will result in lack of fertility, and too few roosters produces the same result. Having a proper ratio is very important to the overall breeding program with any flock.
Roosters have a 4 to 5 year range of fertility. You need to be planning at least a year in advance to replace him if you wish to continue a breeding program; in addition, you need to decide what that roosters purpose is after his prime. Will he still be used to protect and guide the flock, or will he be used for other purposes or re-homed. Only you will know the answer to those questions, but you can't make that decision when he reaches his prime, it's a decision that needs to be made from the beginning.
We have no problem running two roosters together in a flock. They sort out their differences and one of them will become the lead rooster. It's rare for a younger rooster to become the lead rooster, but we have had that happen. As with all male species there is a defined order of alpha dominance that few young are able to cross, unless the lead rooster is old and ready to give up his station. We allow the roosters and in fact the entire flock to sort out their differences and their pecking order. Intervention is rare unless there is a definite crisis within the flock that prevents a new member from being established. We always monitor to make sure the transition goes smoothly. It is never wise to put new birds in with an established flock unless you are able to monitor the behaviors and intervene if necessary. This is especially true if you are introducing young birds to an adult flock. It only takes one swift peck to the head to kill a young bird. So always be sure there is a relatively peaceful integration before you dispense with monitoring.
We treat roosters the same as hens in that when they are integrated, they are introduced at night when the flock is bedded down and ready to sleep, where we can be assured there will be no fighting or rejection. In the daylight hours they are monitored to make sure the differences do not get out of hand. This may take a couple of days to establish, but the chickens make their adjustments and get on with their routines.
If you lose a rooster or do not have a rooster a lead hen will often take the roll of the leader of the flock. She may even develop the demeanor of a rooster as the protector and guide. It's not unheard of for a lead hen to develop a crow much like a rooster.
Never allow a rooster to have the upper hand. Any time you are confronted by an aggressive rooster he needs to be disciplined firmly to know that he is not the boss of you, he is only the boss of his flock. Usually a firm nudge with a broom will get the message across to the rooster. Never show any fear of the aggression and never run from an aggressive bird or you will never win the battle with his aggression. If aggression has become impossible to deal with, you then must decide if he needs to be re-homed or what you will do with him. Never allow children around an aggressive rooster and never allow a rooster to chase children. Instruct your children to either stay away from the aggressive bird (s) or above all, never run from them and never turn their back on them An aggressive bird as with most aggressive animals will take that as an indication that they have won and will become more aggressive the next time. Be prepared to deal with any and all aggression from the start, once aggressive behavior has been allowed, it is much harder to break that behavior. Be aware, the rooster is geared to protect his flock if he determines there is a threat and will act accordingly. With Children, they can be unpredictable in movements and actions, which can be deemed as a threat to a rooster.
Some roosters, even the most docile of the breeds can be pretty hard on the ladies during the mating game. The spurs can dig into the flesh of the hens and actually tear that flesh, but the least is loss of feathers. The sharp nails can be clipped with a quality dog nail clipper for large dogs , much the same as you would trim your dogs toenails. Some breeders remove the spur entirely, though that is not a practice we subscribe to at Just Fowling Around, it is a solution and there are instructions and videos to help with the procedure if this is something you are interested in doing. Be aware, the spurs are the defense mechanism for the rooster and if you choose to remove those or have them removed you leave that rooster defenseless and unable to protect his ladies. There are chicken saddles available to protect the hens, which is practical if you have a small flock, but not very practical with a large flock. Typically one or two hens will be preferred by a rooster, and those would benefit from wearing a saddle to protect them.
Though roosters seem to get a bad rap, they do perform a practical and honorable service to you and to his hens. If you intend to free range, you must seriously consider introducing a rooster to your flock or be prepared to supervise all free range time. It only takes a minute for you to turn your back before a predator lurking can snatch and kill your favorite hen. That predator can be and often is the neighbor dog. As for the crowing, most everyone gets used to the crowing, and you can wait until a proper time of morning to let the flock out so the crowing is delayed. However, it is not uncommon if there are farmyard lights, street lights or highway lights that a rooster will crow periodically throughout the night and you may not be able to alter his time clock.
Note, that any strangers that come to your home or farm will not get past a rooster. Chickens have very keen eyesight and studies have shown they can determine sizes, shapes and colors. If they see something unfamiliar, they may take exception and go after a stranger. It is not uncommon for delivery personnel to be accosted by a rooster as he is determined to protect his flock.
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