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
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
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.