Keeping a Rooster? Tips You’ll Need
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A hen is a delightful feathered friend who will provide you with both eggs and entertainment. But in deciding to bring hens to your farm, you also need to decide if you will keep a rooster as well. Do you actually need a rooster? What are the pros and cons of keeping a rooster? How do you choose the right rooster for your home? And—the question everyone asks—what happens if you end up with a mean rooster?
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
Oddly enough, our own journey into the world of chickens didn’t start with chicks or even adult hens. Although we had talked about jumping on board with the backyard chicken craze, our foray into chickens actually started with a rooster we found on a cold rainy March morning, sitting half frozen in the ditch in front our house.
Folks, we didn’t live anywhere near anyone who had chickens or would keep chickens. It had to be a sign from God, right? Well, that’s what I took it as, and so our adventure with chickens started early by keeping a rooster that we nursed back to health from near frozen.
We’ve had many roosters over the years: Brownie, Winston, Pete, Norman, Chowder, and others. Some of them we remember fondly, some of them we remember as soup—with really good homemade noodles. Roosters can be super sweet or rather challenging, so there are a few things to know before you make your decision about keeping a rooster.
Keeping a rooster? Do you really need one?
There are many reasons you may choose to keep a rooster, but the only reason you actually need one is if you want baby chicks. Hens will lay eggs regardless of whether or not a rooster is in the picture, but those eggs will only be fertilized and produce chicks if a rooster is involved.If you want eggs, get a hen. If you want fertile eggs, you'll need to keep a rooster, too. Click To Tweet
Another advantage to keeping a rooster is they will warn (and potentially protect) the flock from predators. Amazingly enough, in their commotion to gather their girls to a safe place, it will also warn you. And this doesn’t matter if you have free range chickens or not—their protection and warnings have served in both situations at our homestead.
One of my favorite parts of keeping a rooster is watching their gentlemanly behavior with the ladies. A decent rooster will show his ladies where the food is, always offering it to them first. I love listening to their chickeny language, and I like to imagine the conversations they’re all having together. Roosters are noisy, to be sure, but all their chatter means something. I got very good at knowing when a hawk was flying overhead by the specific alert my roosters would give to the girls.
If you choose to keep a rooster…
- Don’t keep too many roosters. Most folks suggest that 1 rooster for every 8-12 hens is a good ratio. Too many roosters and not enough hens means those roosters will get rough with each other.
- Know the laws for where you live. Many urban/suburban areas don’t allow a rooster to be kept, mostly because of their incessant crowing.
- Roosters crow whenever they want, not just to greet the morning sun like we learned in Saturday morning cartoons of old. And some roosters are more chatty than others, so if you have neighbors, be aware it could be an issue.
How to choose the right rooster
You ordered a straight run of chicks. They’ve grown up and you can now tell which are gals and which are guys. Now you have to choose which rooster you will keep to entertain you, protect the hens, and provide fertilization. How do you pick the right rooster for the job?
Choose a healthy looking, strong, social, friendly rooster who doesn’t appear to be a jerkface. A rooster who gets along with the ladies and doesn’t seem to be an outcast is a winner in my book.
But, also know this: you, dear human, might not get to have the final say.
I remember before we lived at the farm, we ordered a straight run of chicks and ended up with a few roosters. As they grew, we had to decide which rooster we’d choose to keep. There was one particular rooster we really loved because of his personality and friendliness.
The hens, though? They had different ideas. They liked a different rooster. The rooster we liked hung out a lot with us, but the hens really didn’t want much to do with him. Hens will give their opinion if you watch them. That rooster on the fringes who never has anyone with him? That’s not the rooster to pick.
The tricky part about keeping a rooster…
Some roosters are very sweet and kind. Perfect gentlemen.
Other roosters will charge you or fly at you with spurs, chase your kids, or make it so visitors can’t get out of their cars.
We’ve had a lot of experience with different roosters in our many years of keeping chickens. The thing is, you really don’t know what kind of personality the rooster is going to turn out to have. Mean roosters don’t always start off mean. In fact, sometimes they’re fine for a couple seasons and it’s as if a switch suddenly flips and they become Psycho StudMan Rooster.
We’ve had roosters who have gotten along fine for a couple years and then one particular spring arrives and suddenly they decide they have to fight to the death—quite literally—to re-establish who is actually in charge. We’ve seen quite a few top roosters get tossed off their throne by younger roosters.
Life in the animal kingdom is rough, folks.
I remember the first time we dealt with a mean rooster. It was our very first rooster—yes, the same one we nursed back to health from the cold ditch in front of our house. Brownie had it pretty good at our house. We provided him with six lady friends, a warm coop, a spacious yard, and treats at our campfires when he’d jump up in our lap. But one day, several months into his life with us, something flipped in his bird brain and he started testing the waters of who was in charge. First he chased me, then he chased my kids.
I remember asking in a farmgirl forum about how I could deal with this. There were several ideas: pick him up and hold him. Pick him up and carry him upside down. Don’t back up when he charges at you. Carry a broom to swat him away. Yell at him.
He’ll get the idea, they all said. It worked for me…
But regardless of what suggestion tried, Brownie was a tyrant, and nothing we did worked. It got to the point that my kids didn’t want to be in the backyard playing because gasp, what if Brownie was out there?
A gal in the farmgirl forum finally said what I needed to hear: you don’t need to keep this rooster and it’s ridiculous for a bird to hold you hostage in your house when there are plenty of other nice roosters out there.
And as I walked around the yard, pondering if I was really okay with getting rid of Brownie, the rooster we’d nursed back from a certain frozen death, I realized that Brownie was flying at me with spurs.
That’s the last thing I remember about Brownie.
Some roosters just need some reminding that they’re actually not #1 at your house, and with a reminder or two they back down. Other roosters belong in the soup pot. And that’s a decision for you and yours to make depending on your own circumstances.
Although some roosters can be challenging, I find roosters to be an amazing addition to the homestead: they fertilize eggs, protect the hens, and provide entertainment with their antics and personality. Are you keeping a rooster at your homestead?
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