There are many benefits to having a rooster in your backyard flock. The rooster will keep the girls in order, alert them to predators, and often give his life to protect the flock. And if you want to hatch your own chicks for a truly self-sustaining flock, you will naturally need at least one roo.
The problem around here - and in many other backyard flocks - is that we always end up with too many roosters. We hatch chicks every year, and around half are male. This year we had about 60% male chicks. We don't slaughter our birds, but when we give our cockerels (young roosters) away, we are aware that some of them may end up in the stew pot.
Considerations before You Add a Rooster
It's hard to be totally pragmatic and just weed out as many birds as possible when you have raised them from an egg. Plus, cockerels are fun and often so handsome it's hard to part with them. It can be tempting to keep a "backup" rooster or two in case something happens to your alpha roo. Keep in mind the following, though:
1. If you have more than one rooster, they might fight. It doesn't always happen. Often, birds that grow up together establish a relatively peaceful hierarchy — but in other cases, feathers will fly. We currently have two roosters, and one drew the other away from the coop so that the second roo sleeps in a tree.
2. With two roosters, you will have more than twice as much crowing. They will compete: one will crow and the other will answer. Then over and over. This might be a problem depending on whether you (or your neighbors) are light sleepers. We had to get rid of our "backup roo" for that reason before and eliminated not 50%, but more like 75% of the noise.
3. Too few hens per rooster means that the girls won't have a moment of peace. The roosters will fight for the hens and mate over-zealously, harassing them until they have bald patches on their backs. If you have 8-10 hens, one healthy, virile rooster should be enough for a high percentage of fertilized eggs. You may need one rooster per 4-5 hens in a less active breed, such as Silkies.
How to Choose a Rooster
If you have several cockerels, how do you choose the best rooster?
The rooster you choose now will sire all your chicks next season, so look for the traits you want to see in your flock. If you breed heirloom chickens, choose the rooster that displays the most correct breed traits. Otherwise, look for good size in dual-purpose birds, predecessors that are good layers, healthy appearance, and temper.
Whatever you do, don't put up with a mean rooster. Some people think all roosters are aggressive - not true! Choose a friendly bird with a docile or at least non-aggressive disposition, or you'll have hell to pay every time you go to tend to your flock. I want roosters that a toddler can comfortably pet without getting pecked. This depends in a large part on the breed — if you have Brahmas or Orpingtons, you have a better chance of a friendly roo. Hand-raised chicks that were handled frequently from hatching tend to be friendlier, too.
Good luck to you with choosing a healthy, easy-to-handle rooster that will protect your flock and sire many cute baby chicks!
Anna Twitto’s academic background in nutrition made her care deeply about real food and seek ways to obtain it. Anna, her husband and their four children live on the outskirts of a small town in northern Israel. They aim to grow and raise a significant part of their food by maintaining a vegetable garden, keeping a flock of backyard chickens and foraging. Anna's books are on her Amazon.com Author Page. Connect with Anna on Facebook and read more about her current projects on her blog. Read all Anna's Mother Earth News posts here.
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