Friday, January 18, 2013

No Rooster, No Problem

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by Shannon Cole of Country Girl In The Village

 I first became interested in backyard chickens almost four years ago. Two friends of mine were starting flocks and I could not resist the excitement that came with getting that first set of day old chicks. My requirements in getting backyard chickens were a little different than my rural land owning friends. I had to get birds that fit within the rules of my Village. These rules included a set number amount but also restricted having roosters. With no rooster to maintain a flock dynamic, my ladies were on their own to establish a pecking order to live by.

Head Hen stands tall over her flock
Pecking Order is something that is established through sheer confrontation. It can be messy, mean and in some cases even fatal to birds. Roosters in a flock, for the most part, take the lead role. This leaves the hens to figure out their pecking order down from the rooster as head to the lowest lady on the totem pole.  Once pecking order is established the flock dynamic is usually settled until a new comer takes a place within the flock or someone is usurped from their leadership position.  This social hierarchy is what determines who eats first to who gets to roost at the highest point in a coop. There can even be egg box territories based on pecking order.

When there is no rooster to take the lead role, a hen is forced into the spot light of Head Chicken. She could be an older chicken or maybe just the largest or sassiest in your group. This Hen will take over the rooster duties of helping to find food in the yard to keeping an eye out for predators. I have read reports that some head hens will even attempt to crow after time and have been seen trying to mate with other hens.

The head hen is kept busy working to manage the flock. She is often too busy watching for predators and food scraps to even lay eggs. In multiple flock experience that I have had with no rooster, the head hen lays minimal eggs even if she is a breed known for being good layers. My first head hen was a Buff Orpington and she only laid once a week at most. Next, I had a Black Australorp and she too almost completely stopped laying once she came to her position of power. I now have a young but large Blue Laced Red Wyandotte as head hen.  As a new addition, she took her place in my flock after a dog attack left  my Black Australorp dead. The BLRW became head hen after a bout of pecking order antics that helped reestablished flock dynamics. She also rarely lays now.   

Could this be only my experience? Maybe, but after speaking with many backyard chicken keepers as well as researching through online forums, I have come to the conclusion that without a rooster, a head hen will take the lead of the flock. She will act as manly as her fluffy hen butt will let her. She may even attempt to crow. A head hen instead of a rooster is not a problem per say. Roosters are not needed for a hen to lay an egg and let’s be honest those wonderful treasures are why we get into chicken keeping. It does, however, change a flock’s dynamics. It is also equally important that when choosing hens for a backyard flock, to choose layers who will compensate for the diminished laying of the lead hen.

If you are planning on starting a flock soon or adding to one you have, be sure to keep in mind that in a backyard situation, when you are limited to number of birds, to choose the best breeds for your goals of raising chicken whether it is for egg production or ornamental pets.

20 comments:

  1. In a flock, do all of the chickens have jobs or just the lead hen?

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    1. That is a great question! In my situation, the lead hen takes on a more active role within the flock. The other members do have roles as far as helping to find food. Chickens have a way to communicate using verbal ques, they use these ques to alert others of tasty treats as well as to keep in contact and not wander too far from the group. Roles can also come into play when a hen goes broody. She may mother other hens' babies. They certainly are entertaining to watch and I love to see the different characteristics they take on. Thanks for your question.

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  2. I am also in a roosterless world for similar reasons. My "flock" consists of 2 banties and 2 speckled sussex. The Queen is a cochin bantie, lays for about 5 days out of every month, and goes broody regularly. But she marches back into her Big Cheese role as soon as she leaves the nesting box. She is tiny and fluffy but definitely the boss.

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  3. Oh I love those sassy banties! My boss of the coop is the youngest bird. I thought for sure it would be an older one, but no my youngster was the sassy addition.

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  4. Sometimes the hen wi;; try to mate with the others too. I lost my rooster this summer, and his son is just begining to get old enough to take his daddy's place. While we were without an active rooster our Delaware hen took over. I also noticed the hen squated for us more now that we dont have an active rooster. Roosters also make sure all the hens are in the coop for the night. He will start calling for them and not go into the coop without all the hens being present. Since we lost our guy we have had a few that accidently got left out over night. Never had that problem with the rooster around. We have 35 chickens and sometimes its hard to keep track. Espically when hubby has to close them up for the night. He is not real good at counting them.

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    1. I have noticed the squatting more too. Not having a rooster does change things up a bit doesn't it?

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  5. all righty then, this may be why i seldom have three eggs in a day?? I have three black sex link hens. Im pretty sure which one is boss, but i sure was wondering who doesn't do the best job of laying. but then they have only been laying 2 or three months. thanx for the info. Love my three!!!!

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    1. She is maybe not doing the best at laying right now but she has found a different role, maybe, to excel at. I do love my 4 backyard hens too! They are so much fun.

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  6. My leading hen (black Australorp) which is looking over the small flock (no rooster) lays at least 5 eggs a week. So, I don't think leading position has an influence, as was described above, on eggs laying or at least it's not the rule. Thanks.

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    1. Very interesting. I began to notice the difference in laying with my hens because they all laid different color and size eggs so it was easy to track, in my case, who was laying and who was not as often. Flock dynamics are certainly a fluid thing, always moving and changing. Thank you for your comment.

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  7. I've had flocks with a rooster and currently have a flock with no rooster. I have 12 hens and consistently get 12 eggs a day - I don't see any of my hens acting as a lead hen. Maybe it's the breed I have - they are a cross between Rhode Island Reds and White Rocks.

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    1. Wow, a dozen eggs a day. That is awesome!! Flock dynamics are individual in each flock. There could be many factors but with your egg production, it is probably safe to say they have it figured out just right.

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  8. In one coop I have 4 roosters and there is still a pecking order among the hens just as there is a pecking order among the roosters. As for laying it's the breed not the dominance. I also have bantam Cochins they are very cute but are not good egg layers where there is 2 bantam Brahmas hens they lay much better. The rooster in there cute little Snowball if loose will chase all the big roosters and win. I also have the very pretty Blue Red Lace Wyandottes they are gorgeous but are also TERRIBLE layers that is why at this time I'm trying to decide if I want to raise them or not. When you pick out chickens you have to decide on lots of eggs or pretty.

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    1. I agree that there is always going to be a pecking order, with or without roosters and even in cases of multiple roosters. There are lots of factors to egg production as well, breed is certainly one of them. I do love a chicken with a personality. That is probably why I always seem to have a Polish hen. Not prolific layers but they crack me up.

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    2. I've not had a Rooster with my Girls now for last few years, Its been my finding you'll have a Boss Hen in the them, I've not notice She stops or slows down her egg laying tho. 8--10--12 Girls(Gold Comets)--Has always got me 8-10-12 eggs a day. This sex link to me is the Best Chicken I have ever had in the 40 or so years I have fooled with a Chicken. Great egg layers, Very friendly once they know you. Make Great back yard Birds too.

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  9. Roosters do not establish the pecking order of the hens they establish ther own

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    1. In cases where there are more than 1 rooster, there is another set of pecking order/hierarchy among the roosters in the flock. If a flock has only one rooster he will be the top bird in the coop. In my experience, when there is no rooster, there is still an established pecking order.

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  10. The chickens are like children there is a top male (most popular) in the class and there is the top girl (most popular) neither the boy or girl has anything to do with each other who is most popular.

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  11. I had 4 hens, 1 buff orphangton, 1 barred rock and 2 RI reds. I had a "buff" rooster but he got killed. This past yr, the 2 red hens became aggressive (1 esp.) They chased the b. rock into the nest box and wouldn't let her out, I was afraid she would die. Then I went out and found l red dead in the nest and cannibalized. The red left is very aggressive, pecking the B. rock's feathers out. Will it help for me to get a rooster? I have added space, checked out about their diet, any other suggestions. They all 4 lay every day.

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  12. In my flock of 7 hens and no rooster, a Rhode Island Red hen is ruler of the flock but she continues to lay an egg every day and has for 3 1/2 years. So does her sister!

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