by Jennifer Sartell
Photos by author
It’s getting to be that time of year when many of the cute little un-sexed chicks we raised in the spring are starting to develop those lavish tail feathers, the large wattles and the stunning plumage that many times their female counterparts lack. Roosters are beautiful, and can make wonderful additions to your flock, so don’t start putting up the re-homing posters just yet. There are some options.
I feel like for the first few years I kept chickens, I actually sold myself short. I only bought chicks that were sexed pullets … and prayed that we didn’t get one of the 3% who could be males. One year we had a great opportunity to get our hands on some rare chicks that I had been searching after for many years. Unfortunately, they were straight run. I had been looking for this particular breed for so long, though, that I couldn’t pass them up. I figured we’d hope for females and deal with the roosters when it came to that.
Sure enough, as the chicks got older, our batch of 10 chicks was split right down the middle: five pullets and five cockerels. Frantically, I started posting chicken pictures on every farm site I could find. I put up posters at the feed stores, and dropped hints to people I knew who had large farms that “we had some fine-looking cockerels that needed a good home.”
But to our dismay, no one bit. As the chickens got older, I kept watching for the classic sparring signs, the flaring neck feathers, the jumping attacks with legs, spurs and feathers flailing. But other than the occasional peck on the head, everyone seemed to be getting on just fine.
|“Maa-a-a-a get these chicken’s outta here!”|
We decided that we would keep the cockerels and pullets, unless something came up, and as any chicken owner knows, something always comes up. Once you seem to get down a routine, find something that works, the chickens change that all up, and you, in turn, must find alternative ways to do things. That’s one of the bittersweet things about raising chickens. It seems they’re always changing. Sometimes it’s exciting changes, like collecting your first egg … and sometimes it’s not-so-fun changes, like when all the chickens decide one day that they are going to sleep in the goats’ feed trough rather than their own roosts. (Then you find yourself washing dried chicken poo out of the goat feeders every morning. Yay!)
The “thing” that “came up” was, they all came of age. Everyone’s combs and wattles were turning vibrant red, the unmistakable teenage crowing began as everyone struggled to perfect their own version of “cock-a-doodle-doo” (they sounded like they were dying), and needless to say the poor females were loosing quite a few feathers from all the … ahem, attention. But still no sparring.
It was in the winter when I’d had enough, and so had the females. The chickens weren’t being let out as much because of the snow and the females couldn’t take the high ratio of males. So one by one I gathered all the roosters and put them in the barn. Surprisingly, they got along just fine. In fact, without the females as added jealous temptation, even the small pecking seemed to cease. Everyone lived out the winter in harmony.
So, needless to say you can keep roosters together successfully, but there are some things that I’ve learned over the years:
- The first being, if you’re going to keep roosters, you might have to think about separating them from your females. Too many roosters mating with the same females can really injure your girls. If you notice feathers missing from the back of the head or on their backs, it’s time to remove the boys. There is a product called a chicken apron/saddle that fits over the back of the chicken and protects from “over-mating.” (You can use a pattern to make one yourself.)
- Another thing to remember is that where one rooster goes, all roosters must go, or forever shall he be separated. We’ve found that we can keep roosters together, so long as we keep the roosters together. Sounds redundant, I know, but if you separate one out for too long, like to pair up for mating, all bets are off. I separated a pair of my best Black Coppers to mate for a week. When I had collected the eggs I needed, and went to put the Rooster back with his “friends,” relationships had changed. It was as if he was a whole new rooster invading the flock. Now I only keep breeding roosters with the females for a couple hours at a time. At night he sleeps with the rest of the flock.
- Finally, introduce new cockerels to the males after they’re feathered in, but before their wattles turn red and they start crowing. They will have to go through pecking order just like any other chicken, but chances are, the males will accept them without sparring. And, I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I’ve never had success introducing an adult rooster to a new adult rooster.
|We have a couple separation pens for breeding time. The roosters can still see the rest of the flock, which makes re-introduction easier.|
But even following these guidelines, chickens will be chickens.
For example, there was the time our Bantam Cochin Rooster woke up one day and just decided he hated the world. He came at me like a mad hornet when I went in to feed everyone. Thank goodness he’s pint-sized!
If you’re thinking about keeping roosters, have your options handy.
|Another example of a separation pen we use.|
- Make sure you have a couple of safe places to separate someone for a while until you can find a good, permanent solution.
- Sometimes it’s a good thing to keep the females out of site. Some roosters will get so fixated that they will pace back and forth obsessively trying to get to the flock of females.
- And finally, keep in mind that re-homing a rooster can be difficult. Unfortunately, not many people are looking for pet roosters. It’s a big step for some, but consider having them processed, and if it’s too emotional to eat yourself, donate the birds to charity.
Check out our farm website at www.ironoakfarm.blogspot.com.