Nothing says "countryside" quite like the quintessential crow of a rooster in the early morning. These barnyard creatures are beautiful with their shiny and iridescent feathers and their confident strut, and can often be quite chivalrous with your flock of endearing hens. Though you do not need a rooster for a hen to lay eggs, they are necessary if you would like fertile eggs for hatching. And if you're interested in keeping a private guard for your ladies, these guys can also do a bang-up job. But not all males are created equal, so while some are kind and gentle in their protection; others might lean toward aggression and dominance. You'll never be guaranteed a gentle rooster or a protective rooster when selecting your rooster by breed, so here are eight factors to consider when deciding if a roo is right for you.
4 Upsides to Keeping Roosters
When a rooster happens upon a tasty morsel, whether it be the kitchen scraps thrown to the yard or something he has found while foraging, he will alert his flock with a quick, repetitive call. Occasionally he might even pick up the food and offer it to a nearby hen. This behavior, known as tid-bitting, is a manifestation of the rooster's natural protective instinct to put his hen's welfare before his own. Good roosters often eat last, making sure his hens are well-fed.
2. Protection from Predators
Roosters stay alert to the sky and their surroundings for signs of predators while the rest of the flock forages or dust bathes. They alert the flock with a call when they sense a threat, and they are the first to confront it to save the flock. When the end of the day draws near, a rooster will herd the hens back towards the coop before dusk, staying on the perimeter to buffer an attack, and being the last to safely enter the coop. Rooster owner, Matthew of Virginia posted the following testimony to his rooster's usefulness on the forums at BackyardChickens.com:
Without my roo I would be out several hens even with two border collies and two guard geese roaming. When a hawk swoops I hear him give his warning and the hens scatter. The geese and the dogs don't look up! I haven't lost any chickens to a hawk and I think it has a lot to do with the rooster.
3. Calm Hens & Controlled Hierarchy
It is a natural behavior for social birds like chickens to establish a social hierarchy to help maintain order within the flock. This pecking order dictates many behaviors such as who gets first rights to the dust bathing areas, the last scraps of food, or the prime roosting areas. Because of his strength and authority, it is natural for a rooster to take on the alpha role. This helps prevent stress in the flock by establishing a firm pecking order. Without a rooster, hens compete among themselves for the alpha spot which diminishes peace and stability within the flock.
4. Fertile Eggs
If you are looking to hatch chicks of your own, you will need a rooster to fertilize the eggs. When a hen is serviced by a rooster, all the eggs she lays for approximately two weeks will be fertile. Chicks will hatch after 21 days of incubation. You may also choose to sell your fertilized eggs which can fetch twice the price of regular eggs. Roosters are sexually mature at 25 weeks and will mate throughout the year anywhere from 10-30 times per day. To avoid excessive mating and stress on your hens, it is recommended to keep 8-10 hens per rooster.
3 Downsides to Keeping a Rooster
1. Day & Night Crowing
One glaring misconception of roosters is that they crow just when the sun rises. In reality, roosters crow for many reasons we understand, and many reasons we don't understand. A rooster might crow to announce the start of a new day, to alert the flock to danger, or simply to assert his masculine presence. Roosters will even crow in the middle of the night to scare away any potential predators making noise outside of their coop. To help minimize the sound from crowing, restrict the time chickens are let outside in the morning, close coop windows at night, and insulate coop walls to reduce sound. BackyardChickens.com user, melikamiki had this to say about crowing:
If you like crowing, you'll like a rooster. I don't mind crowing, per se. I mind the ceaseless crowing all day, especially when I'm sitting on my porch enjoying the weather trying to have a conversation. For someone new, I think it's a good idea to point out that they do crow all day long and mine does before dawn and after dusk, and sometimes at night when he hears something.
If you have more than one rooster, or multiple dominant chickens, they will compete for the responsibility and privilege of being alpha. It is easiest to raise roosters and hens together so that the pecking order is established at an early age. If a rooster is introduced to a new flock of hens, he will assert his dominance by fighting the alpha hen and other birds he views as a threat. If you would like to add more than one rooster to your flock, ensure that each male has adequate space. Roosters in close quarters will fight each other to protect their territory and their hens. Minimize fighting by adding feeding and water stations for each rooster at least 10 feet apart to give the boys enough space to claim their own territory.
Roosters can typically care for and fertilize about ten hens. In flocks with roosters that can service more hens than are available to them, you'll find evidence of over-mating. Hens will show signs of being mounted repeatedly, losing feathers around their back (saddle), and the top of their head where the males hold onto them. Cloth saddles can be purchased to protect the hens' backs, but not much is available to protect their head and neck from being stripped of feathers. Hens that are stressed from being over-mated will decrease their egg production and begin to fight among themselves.
4. Aggression Towards Humans
It's not fair to say that all, or even most, roosters are aggressive. And while certain breeds are predisposed to aggressive behavior (Modern Game, English Game, Polish, Malay, and Rhode Island), any breed of rooster can be aggressive. A rooster might show aggression if they perceive a human as a threat to himself or his hens, or if they're kept in stressful conditions. Unfortunately, even hand-raised roosters can turn on their caretakers; though this happens much less frequently.
To attack, roosters will use their beak and spurs. Spurs are the sharp protrusions on the backs of chickens' legs that roosters, and other dominant hens, use for attacking and self-defense. Beaks can cause some serious damage, but spurs can create deep puncture wounds and can cause very dangerous infections. If your flock is visited by young children, it is worth the extra consideration before adding a rooster to the flock. **(See the end of this post for tips on aggressive roosters.)
While some owners enjoy the rooster's call, other chicken keepers or neighbors find the constant noise to be an annoyance. Make sure to first check your local zoning ordinance to find out whether or not roosters are allowed in your community. Otherwise you might need to end up rehoming your rooster.
If you do decide to enjoy the benefits of a chivalrous and protective rooster, visit our online store to see if we have any roosters available.
**To avoid being attacked by an aggressive rooster or hen, train them to prove your dominance instead of fighting back. One method is to hold the offending chicken upside-down while firmly pressing it's head down with one hand. When the chicken relaxes, remove your hand. Repeat the motion until it stays still with his head down even after you have removed your hand.
If you've had wonderful experiences with keeping a rooster in your flock, we'd love to hear it from you in the comments. Lessons learned are also very welcome for other readers to take away!