We often get asked how many roosters should be kept with a flock of hens.
Although this question is a moot point for folks who cannot keep roosters because of city or byelaws, it is a valid question for those who want to keep a few roosters for breeding or ‘just because’.
Roosters can be incredibly beneficial for your flock if integrated properly.
Today we will explore the ‘ideal’ ratio of how many hens per rooster. We will also cover how the pecking order is affected along with the pros and cons of the whole thing.
Hopefully we will give you enough information to make a wise decision for you, your flock and the neighbors!
How Many Roosters Should I Keep?
To successfully keep more than a couple of roosters requires a good number of hens and lots of space. A small backyard area would not be suitable for more than a couple of roosters, unless you are going to keep them confined.
If that is your plan, you should make sure either you have no neighbors or they are ‘on board’ with your plan…did I mention roosters can be a bit noisy?
As an example, when the alpha rooster crows in the morning, each rooster will follow along in order of superiority. You might like it, but will your neighbors? Crowing can begin as early as 2 a.m.!
Now for the numbers.
A rooster in his prime can ‘cover’ 1-16 hens. As he ages, he can successfully cover less hens, at age 3 years he is considered ‘beyond prime’.
A rooster’s job is to ensure the success of his kind so mating with the hens looms large in his mind for many of his waking hours. Therefore the size of your flock will determine how many roosters you can comfortably keep without worrying about fighting or wear and tear on the hens.
Most people say the optimum number for a rooster is 10, but this can vary with breed.
As an example:
- Leghorns- 12 hens : 1 rooster
- Bantam Silkies- 6 hens : 1 rooster
- Turkeys- 4 hens : 1 rooster
The absolute minimum number of hens for one rooster should be three or four and even this can be problematic depending on your breed of rooster. Several people have noted that Rhode Island Reds, Easter Eggers and Ameraucana roosters can be more aggressive with other roosters and a bit rough with the hens.
In order to minimize the damage to the hens, you need to have sufficient hens to spread the load. Often a rooster will have a favorite hen so watch her carefully to make sure she doesn’t get too badly worn from repeatedly mating.
The usual culprit of a violent mating is a young, immature rooster. He should get better with practice, but until then keep a very close eye on the ladies for possible injuries.
When mating, a rooster can be hard on the hen, causing broken feathers, bald spots and even skin tears when he is ‘treading the hen’.
Hens can also become fatigued and may hide to avoid the roosters’ attentions. If you notice these signs and the hen is looking a bit ragged, it’s time for the rooster to have a ‘time out’ in separate quarters.
If you can only have one or two hens, you may have to pen your roosters for a few days a week to give the hens a rest from his attentions. This method does work well for many folks, especially if you are space restricted or number restricted.
How Much Space Do Roosters Need?
In an average small backyard, you will likely have room for two roosters at the most – even if they are ‘free range’.
Roosters guard their flock space jealously; they are conserving resources for their own flock. Fighting will ensue if you have too many boys and not enough space. If you have too many roosters but don’t want to part with them, you can build them a ‘bachelor pad’. In the wild, flocks of males exist and get along well as long as there aren’t any hens around!
Consider building a coop and run for boys only. This way you can keep them from fighting over the ladies, resources and territory. It also allows you to change out roosters in the flock if you need to.
If you have several ‘mini flocks’ of different breeds, you should have one rooster for each of them.
Each of these roosters and flocks should have their own little ‘kingdoms’ so they are effectively kept separate. The area doesn’t have to be huge, just make sure it is well delineated with fencing or a barrier of some sort.
Make sure to read how much room do chickens need, for more information.
Why You Should Keep Roosters
A great many people see no use to a rooster whatsoever – they are viewed as unnecessary and a nuisance to deal with. I have heard them described as ‘aggressive, useless ornaments’ – sadly, a not uncommon attitude.
Although some roosters can be a nuisance and be aggressive, not all are the same. It is very much an individual thing, much as you get mean or kind people.
A rooster in the flock adds a degree of security and equilibrium to a flock. In general, he will intervene if there is a problem, he will warn the flock of impending danger, watch over chicks (this is definitely a huge variable) and find tasty morsels for his ladies.
While a flock of hens will do just fine without a rooster, I really think it is a benefit to have a rooster for the ladies.
I should explain that I used to think roosters were not needed in my flock and resisted getting one for several years. A ‘pullet’ that turned out to be a rooster changed my mind – he gave up his life for the girls, so I have had a rooster or two ever since.
Yes, there have been a couple that went to the soup pot because of their attitude, but on the whole, those I have raised myself have been good boys. I think part of the secret to success is how you treat them and raise them.
Of course, genetics plays a huge part too. Cockerels will generally turn out much like their father, so if you have a good rooster you will most likely have good offspring.
Let’s take a look at the two main benefits of keeping roosters:
Benefit 1: The Pecking Order
Having a rooster in your flock does initially affect the pecking order. As we know, the pecking order is a complex social stratification of the flock. In the pecking order, each hen or rooster knows his or her place in relation to all other flock members and recognizes flock members and their place in the hierarchy.
The pecking order has three distinct levels of relationships:
- rooster to rooster
- hen to hen
- rooster to hens
The older and smarter hens will be at the top of the ladder along with the ‘alpha’ rooster. His favorite ladies will not be too far behind in the social order.
The alpha male has the responsibility of caring for the flock and providing security and food, he also gets the benefits too – best food, best perches and the pick of the girls.
Any secondary roosters will be much lower in the order. They don’t get the perks and privileges of being at the top of the ladder. A young rooster may try to ‘dethrone’ the alpha male periodically and may eventually succeed if the alpha male is old, sick or injured – this will alter the pecking order.
If you need to learn more read, what the pecking order is and how to avoid problems in your flock.
Benefit 2: Flock Behavior
A flock with a rooster seems to be more cohesive, peaceful and focused. A good rooster actually works quite hard if you stop and watch him for a while.
He will escort a hen or hens to a good feeding spot and stand guard while they feed. He is also watching those independent ladies to make sure they don’t get into trouble!
He guards them against all sorts of predations and dangers, including other roosters! I sometimes watch my rooster flying across the yard at top speed to investigate a strange noise or a hen’s distress call – he must put in a good few miles each day!
A rooster does not cut any slack to his offspring either. The males will be chased away from the flock repeatedly and they will linger at the edges of the flocks’ area hoping to entice a hen or two.
If you plan to keep more than one rooster in either confinement or free-range, it’s best to raise them together. It is much easier to keep more than one roo if they’ve been in each other’s company since a wee chick.
Adding a rooster to an existing flock is never a good idea.
Benefit 3: More Chickens
Another obvious benefit of keeping a rooster with your hens is the option to incubate. If you love your flock and the attitudes of your birds, you may want to breed them and keep the lineage intact. With a rooster on hand, he will surely make your chick-rearing dreams come true.
Note: Fertilized eggs can still be consumed without harming yourself or the fertilized egg. In most cases, you won’t even notice that an egg is fertilized aside from a small white bullseye hanging out amongst the yolk.
In a standard backyard flock, a rooster should have no less than four hens. If you have fewer hens, you might want to keep the rooster penned for a couple of days a week so that the girls get a break, especially in springtime which is really the beginning of the mating season.
Having a rooster in your flock adds another level of security for the flock. You cannot watch them every minute of the day, but he can and will raise the alarm if there is a problem.
I must admit, I do enjoy having a rooster with the girls. If he sounds the alarm I go out to investigate – without him I may have missed something that was dangerous to the flock.
Keeping a rooster with the flock is not for everyone, it is very much personal choice. You may feel that the cost of feeding and housing him outweighs the benefits of having him – and that’s fine. There really is no right or wrong side to the question.
We hope we have given you some good information on keeping your flock healthy and happy and that you enjoy keeping your rooster.
Let us know in the comments section below, would you get a rooster? Or, do you already have a rooster?