Managing multiple roosters Can Give your farm an Advantage
We’ve all heard the complaints before. Roosters are so loud. Roosters are noisy. Roosters fight.
Roosters are even banned from many neighborhoods and settings because they are considered a nuisance.
Frankly, I don’t quite buy it. I would rather listen to a crowing rooster than a barking dog, any day (or night) of the week. And for good reason.
Why roosters are better than dogs
Roosters are simply better than dogs at relaying important information. A rooster’s crowing signals that all is well in the world. That familiar cock-a-doodle-do sound says loud and clear: “Everything is alright. There is nothing to fear. The world is good.”
But a barking dog . . . . . . maybe it’s telling you there is an intruder, or that a car drove by, or that the dog is bored, or there’s a fly on the wall . . .. it’s really hard to know.
Dogs are not honest signalers. In their exuberance to have our attention, they make a lot of noise which is pretty much always open to interpretation.
Perhaps if you know the dog for long enough then you have learned to decipher its sounds. Perhaps not. And someone else’s dog? Who knows why that one is barking? There are dogs who will happily bark all night long. I’ve lived near a few of those in my time and it’s beyond irritating.
Meanwhile roosters have more important things on their minds. Roosters need to let the world know all is well. And by that I mean that they need to let their flock (and any other flock within ear-shot) know that all is well here and now. It’s their job and they do it with infinite regularity. Rain, snow or sunshine. And yes, sometimes even at 3 am.
Because if you are a bird, danger is waiting for you everywhere.
Danger is a 24/7 anvil waiting to drop on you, if you are a bird. There can be no misinterpretation of when life is good and when the hawk is swooping in. It has to be clear.
Roosters are honest signalers. When you understand that, then a rooster’s crowing becomes cathartic. It’s your cue to stop and take a breath, and realize that all is well right now.
Our modern twisted view point that roosters are annoying exists only because so few people remember what it means to be connected to the land and to natural cycles and natural sounds of wellness. A rooster’s crow is a call to living in the present moment, which is something we should all be doing a lot more.
If, at some point in your busy day, you hear a rooster crowing then remember to stop and breathe and be thankful that the hawk is not swooping in. Right now is a good moment based on the keen eyes and ears of a watchful warrior. You are safe. Enjoy it.
You can improve your wellness significantly with this simple rooster-driven awareness technique – a call to be in the present moment and recognize that all is well.
So given how important roosters are to the wellbeing of their flock, and as your zen reminder to stop and notice how good life is in the moment, why stop at just one?
Roosters are a valuable farm asset
Beyond being your own personal wellness guru that is tied explicitly to your environment, roosters are important farm assets for anyone serious about creating a stable and self-reliant food supply. They complete the chicken social circle and perform a wide array of functions in the flock, many of which are poorly understood.
While you can order birds from hatcheries and sometimes pay extra to have pullet (female) only chicks, roosters complete the picture when it comes to raising chickens, hatching your own eggs, and establishing food security. They are 50% of the chick equation and need to be treated as well as we treat our hens.
Think of your rooster like a prize bull
So many people have such an odd distain for roosters. You would never catch a cowboy quipping that any old bull would be fine with the cows. Far from it. There is much time, chatter, devotion and money spent on choosing and acquiring the RIGHT bull for the cows. And for good reason.
One bull will breed a lot of cows, and the quality of the calves being produced next spring depends heavily on the qualities of that breeding bull. This affects the bottom line return on your efforts to raise beef. The general rule is to buy the best bull you can afford.
The same is true of a flock rooster. One rooster usually breeds all of the hens in a flock, depending on how big the flock is. He is responsible for the quality of the chicks that will be produced in the same way that the herd bull is. He will influence the size, productivity, and overall health of the next generation. And yet so often barely a thought is given to quality of the rooster involved? It is strange . . . . and fixable.
Because a great rooster can lead to big improvements in quality, yield, personality and, of course, color of your flock. A great rooster can save you money by helping to establish vigorous, hardy chicks. And with so much going for them it’s hard to stop at just one.
The benefits of multiple roosters
While keeping multiple roosters can give rise to a few logistically challenges (more on that in a minute), the benefits are clear.
Just as many cattlemen keep a young bull or two on the rise to see what they are made of and as a back-up plan, keeping multiple roosters creates breeding flexibility and security.
If a rooster gets injured or killed (and in my experience this seems to happen at the worst possible times), there is a replacement of known quality available at your fingertips. You need not skip a beat in your food production plans. There is always a rooster on hand ready to step up to a bigger flock challenge. And that is a form of business security that is usually much harder to come by.
Multiple roosters means you can keep different color variations of the same breed, trial stock from several different breeders, or test out variations on a trait you are interested in. I am keenly interested in crown size, trying to reduce the crowns and wattles down so there is less issue with frost bite. So keeping roosters chosen for progressively smaller crowns, while still displaying good meat characteristics, makes a lot of sense to see if I can really change this feature or not.
But you can go one step further, if you become a full-on, borderline crazy, chicken tender (like me), then it’s likely you will end up keeping multiple roosters from multiple breeds just because you can. This gives you the ultimate flexibility in working towards your breeding goals, and a pretty much endless supply of chicks which translates into meat, eggs and birds to sell (depending on your priorities and sensitivities).
But how exactly do you manage multiple roosters?
At the heart of a rooster is a great warrior spirit and a watchful guardian. Roosters will fight and can cause serious injury to one another and anything that gets in their way while the fight is on. Some roosters will fight until they literally drop and cannot possibly fight one second longer. It can be an awful bloody mess if they decide to go to war.
There are many different ways to manage more than one rooster. With some set-ups and some breeds, you can simply keep two (sometimes more) roosters with a large flock of hens. The success of this strategy usually depends on having enough space for the roosters to get away from each other and enough hens that there isn’t serious competition for breeding opportunities.
Other times it is possible to “seed” a young rooster under a mature flock rooster as long as the introduction happens well before the young one starts crowing. Most flock roosters will tolerate having a young apprentice, at least to a point. Come springtime and the peak of breeding season though, this tolerance can change very fast. Intervention and separation might become necessary.
Rather than courting disaster, setting up separate pens that house one rooster with a set of hens is often easiest. I find that I still need a 2-foot physical barrier between adjacent pens housing roosters. If they think they can access the other rooster (as with wire mess), then they will keep trying to fight. This is essentially a solo pen set up where each rooster has his own pen and/or his own flock of hens too.
It is usually possible to group all the roosters together in one pen if there are no hens included. Creating a boys-only pen can let you continue to grow out roosters and hold on to secondary options without placing each rooster in an individual pen. It can be a very effective solution to holding onto options.
So, in summary, the main methods of keeping multiple roosters include:
- One flock, multiple roosters and LOTS of space.
- Solo pens, where secondary roosters can wait their turn or have one or two hens with them for company.
- The All-Boys Club – where all the roosters are kept together without any hens
- The Apprentice – seed a young rooster in under a flock rooster to see how he matures, and decide who stays later.
I’ve tried all of these methods and a few more that are non-starters. I like to keep roosters with flocks that range from 1 to 10 hens. I don’t typically go larger because I am set up to keep multiple flocks. I do usually create one all-rooster pen for taking multiple young roosters through the winter to see how they mature. And I often have a young rooster in under a flock rooster to let me have a back-up bird for some of the breeds. So these strategies are in play most of the time at Rose Hill Farm.
Tolerance can be a breed specific and individual thing. Not all roosters of a breed will accept a secondary male. And some breeds are generally less tolerant than others. I find my Americana roosters are the least tolerant, whereas I have kept two rooster flocks of barred rocks easily and with few issues.
I pretty much never try putting two fully mature roosters together. The exception to this rule seems to be my Silkies. They appear to have different fight behaviors (it’s more about pulling feathers than biting and clawing) than my other larger breeds and this has allowed me to mix and match roosters and hens much more freely than in other cases. But again, this is not true of every Silkie rooster. I do have one that won’t accept other roosters unless there are no hens in the pen at all.
Roosters are simply delightful
I truly love having roosters and their fascinating array of color, charm, behaviors and gallantry. There is nothing else quite like them.
More importantly, owning a breeding flock of chickens is a great way to be in control of my own food supply. I can produce as many (or as few) chicks in a season of whichever breed I want, each year, every year, without the hassle of waiting for eggs or chicks to arrive by mail. I know the quality of my breeds and flocks and that gives me the ability to fine-tune what happens with each hatch.
There is nothing quite like sitting down to a meal you have raised yourself. And there is nothing like being so food rich that I can choose to give away a roasting bird or eggs with a flourish and a smile.
While I know it isn’t possible for everyone to own their own rooster based on life circumstances, but you can always appreciate roosters when do run across one or watch a video.
Recognizing the iconic rooster call as nature’s own reminder that all is well is a first step in acknowledging the wonder of roosters and all they stand for. The benefits of having these guardians on the farm far outweighs any challenges they create.
For the aficionado who loves roosters but cannot keep them all, I have created a line of feather art featuring different breeds that I raise on Rose Hill Farm. You can see the latest creation by visiting the Rose Hill Farm Store:RoseHillFarm
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