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Story and photos by Jennifer Sartell – Many of my friends who keep hens marvel at the array of roosters we have living in harmony together. At one point we had 14 roosters happily co-existing in the same coop/yard.
This is the time of year when many of the cute little sexless chicks we raised in the spring begin to develop those sumptuous tail feathers, large wattles and stunning plumage that their female counterparts often lack. Roosters are beautiful and can make wonderful additions to your flock, so don’t start putting up the rehousing posters just yet. There are a few options.
I feel like for the first few years that I kept chickens, I actually sold myself short. I only bought chicks that were sexed pullets…and prayed we didn’t get one of the 3% that might be males. One year we had a great opportunity to get my hands on some rare chicks that I had been looking for for many years. Unfortunately, they were direct. I had been looking for this particular breed for so long, however, that I couldn’t pass them up. I thought to myself that we hoped to have females and that we would take care of the roosters when it came to that.
Indeed, as the chicks got older, our batch of 10 chicks was divided into two: five pullets and five roosters. Frantically, I started posting pictures of chickens on every farm site I could find. I put up signs in feed stores and suggested to people I knew who had big farms that “we had nice roosters that needed a good home.”
But to our dismay, no one bit. As the chickens got older, I watched for classic fighting signs, flared neck feathers, jumping attacks with the legs, spurs, and flapping feathers. But aside from the occasional kiss on the head, everyone seemed to get along well.
We decided to keep the roosters and pullets unless something happened, and as any chicken owner knows, there is always something going on. Once you seem to have a routine, find something that works, chickens change everything, and you, in turn, have to find other ways to do things. This is one of the bittersweet things about raising chickens. They seem to be constantly changing. Sometimes it’s exciting changes, like picking up her first egg…and sometimes it’s not so fun, like when all the hens decide one day that they’re going to sleep in the goats’ feeder instead of their own perches. (Then you find yourself washing dried chicken poo from goat feeders every morning. Yay!)
The “thing” that “came” was that they had all come of age. Everyone’s combs and wattles turned bright red, the unmistakable teenage chant began as everyone struggled to perfect their own version of “cock-a-doodle-doo” (they looked like they were dying), and he goes without saying that the poor women were losing a lot of feathers from all the… uh, be careful. But still no fight.
It was in winter when I had had enough, and so did the females. The chickens weren’t out as much because of the snow and the females couldn’t handle the high ratio of males. So one by one I gathered all the roosters and put them in the barn. Surprisingly, they got along very well. In fact, without the females as an added jealous temptation, even the little foraging seemed to cease. Everyone lived the winter in harmony.
So, needless to say, you can successfully keep roosters together, but there are a few things I’ve learned over the years:
- The first being that if you are going to keep roosters, you may need to consider separating them from your females. Too many roosters mating with the same females can really hurt your daughters. If you notice missing feathers on the back of the head or on the back, it’s time to remove the boys. There is a product called a chicken apron/saddle that fits over the chicken’s back and protects against “overmating”. (You can use a template to create one yourself.)
- Another thing to remember is that where a rooster goes, all roosters must go or he will be separated forever. We have found that we can keep the roosters together, as long as we keep the roosters together. Sounds redundant, I know, but if you separate one for too long, like pairing up for mating, all bets are off. I separated a pair of my best Black Coppers to mate for a week. When I collected the eggs I needed and went to hand over the rooster with his “friends”, relations had changed. It was as if he was a brand new rooster invading the flock. Now I only keep raising roosters with the females for a few hours at a time. At night, he sleeps with the rest of the herd.
- Finally, introduce new roosters to males once they are feathered, but before their wattles turn red and they start to crow. They will have to go through the pecking order like any other chicken, but chances are the males will accept them without a fight. And, I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I have Never managed to introduce an adult rooster into a new adult rooster.
But even following these guidelines, chickens will still be chickens.
For example, there was the time our Bantam Cochin rooster woke up one day and decided he hated the world. He came at me like a mad hornet when I walked in to feed everyone. Thank goodness it’s the size of a pint!
If you’re thinking about keeping roosters, have your options handy.
- Make sure you have a few safe places to separate someone for a while until you find a good permanent solution.
- Sometimes it’s a good thing to keep the females out of sight. Some roosters will be so obsessed that they will obsessively go back and forth trying to reach the herd of females.
- And finally, keep in mind that rehoming a rooster can be difficult. Unfortunately, few people seek companion roosters. This is a big step for some, but consider having them transformed, and if it’s too emotional to eat you, donate the birds to charity.
Check out our farm’s website at www.ironoakfarm.blogspot.com.