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?
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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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6 thoughts on “Keeping a Rooster? Tips You’ll Need”
A mean roo is a dead roo at my place. No foolin’ around. I have zero use for an aggressive animal and I treat mine well. They better do the same to me. Glad you had the experience.
My present flock will be one year old next week. I bought 8 New Hampshire Red pullet chicks and 8 Delaware pullet chicks, plus 2 blue Cochin pullet chicks (couldn’t resist them!) at the local feed store. One of the New Hampshire Reds turned out to be a sexing mistake so I wound up with a rooster. I just kept him. But I’ve had similar experiences. A rooster is protective, but I keep my birds in a pen with a top because we are surrounded by woods and there are too many hawks around, including those smaller agile Accipter types that have no problem dodging through woods. I’ve never had a rooster that was super aggressive to humans, or at least nothing that I couldn’t handle, but definitely to other roosters. And like you said the personality can change. Roosters that got along fine can turn mean as they get older (a lot like some people I know LOL!). And pick on a subordinate rooster to the point of death. Also, you do want to have the hen ratio right because if you have too few hens, they’ll pull all of the feathers out of their backs mating with them. Or else keep your rooster penned separately and only let him in with the hens occasionally to get fertile eggs, which of course means having to have another, separate pen and coop. I guess the only sure way not to get an occasional rooster is to buy sex-linked chicks or chicks of an autosexing breed (love to try Bielefelder Kennhuehner someday…perhaps because I’m Pennsylvania Dutch and they are a German breed).
I’m all for keeping a rooster, Or 3. When I bought my chicks I ended up with 4 hens and 3 roosters, and I still have 4 hens and 3 roosters! One is in with the hens and he’s the only one who didn’t chase my daughter. The other 2 have their own private coop and run. I love how the rooster will get excited and call then hens if he’s found something good for them to eat. And all the roosters call to each other if they see something potentially dangerous. I worry about the 2 bachelors, so I try to give them extra attention and treats. I’d like to figure out away to give them free range time without them being preyed on or getting into a fight. For now one is in a tractor I move around and the other has a good size coop and run. But I know how much chickens love to forage in the grass. And a rooster really loves to have a flock to watch over. He keeps them safe and takes them around the yard during free range time. It’s so fascinating to watch.
I have two roosters at the moment, one is dominant and the other one minds his manners and keeps a short distance from him. One thing must be said – different breeds of roosters have different personalities. Mine are Bielefelders, which are known for being docile, and they are. They come running for treats, they get out of my path when I say “Excuse me”, and are never aggressive. Actually quite friendly. On the other hand, when growing up, we had Rhode Island Reds and I had to shoo the roosters away with a broom. When a rooster stabbed my mother in the toe with his spur, they all ended up as meat in the freezer. So choose your rooster carefully on breed personality and you will be pleased.
I have a very detailed question about young cockerel behavior. This is my first year owning a small free range chicken flock. My flock consists of seven birds, one rooster and six hens. They were all raised together from chicks and are all only 9 months old. My rooster is pretty mild. He alerts the hens of predators and he frequently calls them over for food that he finds for them. He rarely disciplines them and is pretty much a gentlemen except for one factor – He mates without consent from my hens. He will suddenly grab their heads while they are forging and mate. Sometimes the hens will even run from him but he chases them down, catches them, and mates anyway. The hens never seem to be hurt. They will just shake their feathers off and run away afterwards. Sometimes I will see my rooster attempt a one wing mating dance but he stops after a few seconds and never mates afterwards. The hens just ignore him. My question is, will he eventually fine tune his mating skills as he ages and matures? How long does it take for roosters to mature and learn to mate? Will my hens mature further and learn to consent as well?
The reason I ask is because I have done some research on rooster behavior and I read that “mating without consent” is an unnatural behavioral defect caused by selectively breeding them for hundreds of years. And, if your rooster has this trait, you should not breed him. I have been trying to decide whether or not I should keep him and feed him through the winter or use him for meat. However, I don’t know if he will mature to be a good rooster and learn to mate properly? I am a little worried that the hens are used to the way he mates now and he will not learn to fully do the mating dance and mate properly.
I need an experienced chicken keeper whose raised several roosters over the years. Do I need to be more patient because he will eventually learn? Or, if he doesn’t have the skills, then he never will? Please help!
In my experience of raising chickens, roosters all have different personalities. The difference in what we do here is that we generally have a bunch of roosters (from a hatching, when we decide we need a new rooster) and the hens usually end up choosing which roo they like best. So as far as “will my rooster figure out what he’s doing and get better at it?” I’m not exactly sure, because the hens here have chosen the guy they like best, and we get rid of the rest.
I will say, however, that I’ve never seen chicken mating be anything super spectacular, so make sure you’re not putting “human expectations” on the chickens. Sometimes there is a dance, sometimes not. Sometimes there is a chase. Sometimes he grabs her head. At some point, the hen is like, “hey, okay” and then it happens and she shakes her feathers and goes back to what she was doing like nothing happened at all.
In your situation, would I keep the rooster? He sounds similar to some roosters that have been chosen by the ladies at our farm. He sounds like a gentleman rooster… who also happens to want to mate a lot. My two cents is if he’s not ripping the hens up and they aren’t legit hiding from him, I’d keep him… assuming that this rooster is also nice to his humans.) 🙂 Thanks for the question!