I am always surprised when I’m asked this question. I suppose it’s a logical question for those not too familiar with poultry.
Do I need a Rooster for hens to lay eggs?
A rooster does serve a couple of useful purposes to the flock which can be a good thing for the hens and keeper alike.
However, egg laying is not one of them!
He can be a magnificent site with his full plumage glistening in the sun! Of course, he knows how stunning he is and just has to convince the ladies that he is the ‘best in the coop’!
So let’s take a look at what uses a rooster does in fact supply!
Eggs Laying and Fertility
First in answer to the original question – no, you don’t need a rooster for your hens to lay eggs. Your hens’ will lay an egg roughly every twenty five hours with or without a rooster.
However, if you wish to have fertilized eggs, followed by chicks you do need a rooster!
Many folks keep roosters for this sole purpose. If you have a good rooster that has a good temperament, it’s is likely that his offspring will be the same way. This is not written in stone, but it is usual.
To watch a rooster with the chicks is quite a sight, many roosters will help with ‘tidbitting’ the young and tolerating all sorts of precocious chick behavior! In fact, Barnevelder roosters are supposedly very good with chick care, but again, this is probably an individual thing.
Tidbitting is when a rooster finds a special treat or curious item and begins picking it up, showing it off, and dropping it again hoping the hens (or chicks) come running over. He will cluck, a very distinctive, tidbitting cluck, to alert those he loves. If you watch closely, he probably won’t partake in the feast, as he feels it is his job to give the goodies to the ladies.
Aside from tidbitting, roosters will allow their ladies to eat, forage, hunt, and peck while he busily watches for predators. He is very diligent about protecting his ladies.
So – why have a rooster in the first place? Roosters come in handy for a few things, so read on!
If you have a contained, secure flock, rooster security is not needed obviously. If your flock free ranges over a wide area, having a rooster (or two) is good, extra security.
Roosters will alert the hens to any perceived threat – in fact he has different vocalizations for aerial threat or ground threat. He will be alert at all times, it’s his job to ‘protect and serve’ and he takes it very seriously.
His little brain is wired to ‘spread his seed’ and protect and provide for his flock and a good rooster will do this to the best of his ability. If your rooster runs the other way, it’s time for a replacement!
Many folks think it’s important to maintain a ‘natural’ balance in a flock by keeping a rooster. It certainly does provide for a more natural state of affairs, but really I don’t think the hens mind one way or the other.
A rooster can cover around fifteen or more hens, so a larger flock can tolerate more than one rooster. There will definitely be one ‘alpha’ male with subordinate males.
The dominant rooster gets all the girls he wants, when he wants. He may chase off another rooster who is showing too much attention to one of the hens.
The subordinate rooster can be quite devious in wooing and winning over some of the hens. His behaviors and character will be assessed by the hens and if they like what they see they will likely mate with him.
Roosters are happy to stop a hen fight in its tracks. The pecking order is a delicate balance and sometimes there’s a hen amongst the flock that’s a bit more aggressive (or a bully).
When your rooster hears a valid hen fight, he will run to intervene and stop the girls from going overboard.
Compared to the majority of hens, rooster plumage is gorgeous and colorful. The plumage is so designed to be attractive to the females when mating season rolls around.
Roosters have long, pointed neck feathers, referred to as hackles. They cascade down onto his back and sides adding another dimension to the existing feathers. He will also have long, flowing tail feathers called sickles.
His comb will of course be larger as will the wattles he sports. It will depend on the breed as to what sort of comb he has, but they are always much more noticeable than the hens with few exceptions.
Good and Bad Roosters
Now you know why to keep a rooster, let’s look at the characteristics of good and bad roosters. Good roosters are seemingly hard to come by. They should exhibit the following traits:
- He will guard his flock. He’ll be out with them keeping lookout for predators. If a predator should be spotted, he will sound the alarm and if necessary may offer up his life so the girls can get to safety.
- He will find tasty morsels for them. He’ll call them over to see what he has found with a series of ‘tuk,tuk,tuk’ calls. This is called ‘tidbitting’ and is also part of the mating game.
- He will have a good temperament and not be mean or aggressive with the ladies.
- He will respect you. He won’t challenge you and will keep a respectful distance and tend to his ladies. He should also not challenge small children who may be around the hens.
- If you have a particular breed and wish to continue breeding, he must conform to the breeds’ standard. Information on breed standard can be found in American Poultry Association – Standard of Perfection.
A ‘bad’ rooster will:
- Challenge you every chance he can get. He may ‘flog’ you with his wings or try to rake you with his spurs. This must never be tolerated, no matter how cute it may seem the first time or how big the rooster is.
- If he is rough with the ladies you will see evidence in the form of broken feathers, bald spots and possibly lacerations to her head or back. The damage can be mitigated by using ‘saddles’ on the hens.
Unfortunately, you can’t tell a roosters’ disposition until he starts to exhibit those behaviors. If you know his ‘parents’ it may be possible to gauge how he is going to turn out, but really it’s a waiting game.
Introducing your Rooster to the Girls
If you have decided to get a rooster for your flock, there are a couple of things to do to help ensure success.
Firstly of course, is quarantine. Even if you know the previous owner of the rooster and the flocks are healthy, it’s always wise to isolate a new bird away from your flock for thirty days.
Once he has passed the quarantine stage, he now moves to the ‘look no touch’ introduction cage. This is to allow the hens time to assess him and get used to him being around. A flock of hens can and will kill a newcomer they see as a threat – rooster or not, so for his safety go slowly with the introductions.
It’s more than likely that the hens will be pleased to meet him especially if it’s springtime. My hens love to congregate around the bachelor pad in Spring – almost as if they are window shopping!
If you happen to find yourself with more roosters than you want or need and can’t relocate or re-purpose them, build them a bachelor pad! Roosters can exist happily together as long as there aren’t any female distractions around!
Although it may sound unnatural, apparently in the wild, subordinate roosters will spend time together in all male groups and get along well. Of course, there is still a ‘pecking order’, but this is usually sorted out within a day or so and rarely gets challenged.
The only caveat to the above is to make sure the roosters are all added around the same time otherwise a newcomer may be harassed or even killed.
Sadly, roosters get a rough deal. They are generally unwelcome in towns and cities, although they create no more noise than the neighborhood dog. Neighbors will usually cite the noise as the reason for not having one living next door.
Many other roosters are given away ‘free to a good home’ and find themselves used as bait for cockfighting. Some are lucky and get rescued, others are not so fortunate.
Although I don’t really have a use for my boys’, they live together quite happily in a bachelor pad. They may be separate from the ladies, but they still keep their eyes open and issues warnings as necessary to the hens in the pasture.
Do you have a rooster? Tell us about him, we love your stories…