Do Your Backyard Chickens Need a Rooster?
The pros and cons of adding this feathered friend to your flock…Posted Jun 14, 2016
Planning a backyard chicken flock for egg production brings up many questions. From choosing breeds to preparing housing to feeding and watering, you have the opportunity to match your needs with those of your flock.
Deciding whether or not to include a rooster in the mix is no different: do your hens need one of these feather-daddies or not? Here are some challenges and benefits to think about when considering the various roles roosters can play.
1. Protector of the Flock
- Benefits: First and foremost, a rooster offers protection for hens that are vulnerable to the innumerable predators lurking around them. To keep hens safe, roosters will often herd their flock into the same general area and will sound the alarm when danger is near. A protective rooster will also approach predators (and often people), and pretend to peck around while keeping his eye trained on suspicious activity. Depending on his size and temperament, a protective rooster will also fend off attackers or sacrifice himself for the flock. If you want to range your hens in an uncovered area, a rooster with this protective instinct is worth his weight in chicken feed.
- Challenges: A rooster’s instinct to protect his flock from danger may extend to you and your family members. Whether or not you’re the hand that feeds him, and despite early training and care, some roosters turn out aggressive, fancying themselves bouncers who have been given carte blanche to turf you or anyone else from the chicken run. Depending on their size, this can result in injury from spurs, beaks, and claws. Temperaments change with age, but most roosters will show their true colors by the end of their first year.
- The Bottom Line: If you want a rooster for protection, look for one with a protective instinct who knows the difference between friend and foe.
2. Fertilizer of Eggs
- Benefits: If you would like to expand your flock or raise your own chicks, adding a rooster to the mix is a necessary ingredient. The rooster will fertilize your eggs, ensuring any hen that does decide to sit on eggs will have something viable to hatch. Fertilized eggs look and taste the same as unfertilized eggs, unless they have been incubated by a hen (or incubator). This means you don’t have to worry about encountering a developing chick in your eggs unless you have a sitting or “broody” hen in your henhouse. A chicken that sits down to lay an egg will not trigger embryo incubation, since this takes several hours at a minimum and hens rarely sit for that long unless they are broody. Similarly, changes to the yolk are not visible until about 24 hours of incubation have passed.
- Challenges: Depending on the size of your flock, a rooster bent on fertilizing hens may run them ragged and cause damage to feathers, combs, and back. For this reason, many farmers prefer a ratio of one rooster to 10 or 12 hens. This is also a good ratio if you are looking to incubate fertilized eggs—any more hens and you risk the eggs selected for incubation not being fertilized.
- The Bottom Line: If you want fertilized eggs and happy hens, ensure your rooster to hen ratio is as close to 1:10 as possible.
3. Wake-up Caller
- Benefits: Perhaps most famous for their ‘cock-a-doodle’ doing, roosters will crow early in the morning, signaling to your flock (and to everyone else in the neighborhood), that dawn is coming. Most roosters will also crow periodically throughout the day, asserting their place in the flock and sounding the alarm when predators are near.
- Challenges: Early wake-up calls can be a nuisance in spring and summer when the sun rises long before you do. A rooster with a constant crowing habit can also earn the wrath of neighbors if properties are situated close together. For this reason, many towns allowing backyard flocks are now instituting rooster-free zones and bylaws to guard against nuisance complaints and complications. Before adding a rooster to your flock, be sure to check in with your local planning council for regulations. If you do add a rooster and encounter problems with noise, consider a restrictive collar made to inhibit constant crowers from reaching their full volume. These collars restrict the expulsion of airflow from lungs and air sacs and can reduce noise if used correctly. However, they can also cause distress or even death, so there are associated risks.
- The Bottom Line: Consider your proximity to others, your local zoning regulations, and the amount of neighborhood goodwill you might spend before adding a rooster to your flock.
4. Mr. Fancypants
- Benefits: There’s a reason why roosters are most often featured in country depictions of chickens. From combs to capes to sickle feathers, roosters are the showier of the two chicken sexes, sporting radiant plumage that exceeds what any modest hen can produce. If you are a connoisseur of fancy feathers or are simply looking for a decorative addition to your flock, roosters come in a many stunning varieties. This makes them a favorite at fall fairs and exhibitions.
- The Challenges: Fancy roosters may also come with a fancy price tag. If you aren’t looking to exhibit your birds where they will be judged against the Standard of Perfection, finding an affordable (or free) rooster is usually possible.
- The Bottom Line: Roosters add a pleasing and often showy variety to your flock. Depending on your aims for the bird, this may or may not cost you, since surplus roosters are easy to come by in some communities.
5. Forager Extraordinaire
- Benefits: Roosters are natural foragers and will spend the better part of any day scouting out treats and edibles in the landscape. If successful, they will often alert hens to foraging opportunities and will stand back, allowing hens to feed first and protecting them while they eat. If you are looking to reduce your feed costs and have the space to free range your chickens, adding a rooster to the flock is worth considering.
- Challenges: Not all roosters are created equal. Some roosters are not so dashing and will use their brawn to muscle to the front of the line.
- The Bottom Line: When adding a rooster to your flock, choose a breed known for its calm disposition and good manners. If raising from starter chicks, handle your birds often and lay down the law if aggressive behavior starts to arise. If that fails, send your rooster packing and try another.
Wherever you live, it’s wise to consider the goals for your flock, local zoning regulations and proximity to neighbors before bringing home a rooster. In many cases, roosters are not necessary for a productive backyard chicken flock. In others, they offer the security and protection you need to ensure your flock has a long and productive life.
Shannon Cowan is an author, editor, and teacher who lives on six acres of land with her husband, daughters, and backyard chicken flock.