reading time: 4 minutes
Story and photos by Jennifer Sartell Many of my chicken-keeping friends marvel at the group of roosters we live so harmoniously together. At one time, we had 14 roosters happily coexisting in the same barn/yard.
It has become that time of year when many of the cute little unsexed chicks we raised in the spring are beginning to develop the luxurious tail feathers, large wattles and striking plumage that their counterparts often lack. Roosters are beautiful and can make great additions to your flock, so don’t start putting up recombination labels just yet. There are some options.
I feel like for the first few years I was keeping chickens, I actually sold myself short. I only bought sexed chicks…and prayed we didn’t get one out of the 3% that could be male. One year we had a wonderful opportunity to get hold of some rare chicks that I had been looking for for many years. Unfortunately, they were running straight. I’ve been looking for this particular breed for a long time, though I just couldn’t pass up them. I figured we were hoping for females and dealing with cocks when it came down to it.
Sure enough, as the chicks got older, our group of 10 chicks was split down the middle: five young and five young. Frantically, I began posting pictures of chickens on every farm site I could find. I put up posters at feed stores, and gave hints to people I knew who had big farms that “we’ve got some lovely roosters that need a good home.”
But to our dismay, not one thing. As the chickens got older, I kept watching for the classic sparring marks, flared neck feathers, leg-jumping attacks, bumps and feathers falling off. But other than the occasional head tap, everyone seemed to be fine.
We decided to keep cockers and pallets, unless something pops up, and as any chicken owner knows, something always pops up. Once you seem to get up into a routine, find something that works, chicken changes all that, and you should, in turn, find alternative ways of doing things. This is one of the bittersweet things about raising chickens. They always seem to change. Sometimes they’re exciting changes, like collecting the first egg…and sometimes they’re not-so-pleasant changes, like when one day all the chickens decide they’re going to sleep in the goat’s feed trough instead of their roosts. (Then you find yourself washing dried chicken feces out of goat feeders every morning. Awesome!)
The “thing” that “turned out” is that they are all adults. Everyone’s combs and dwight turned a vibrant red, the obvious teenage screams began as everyone struggled to master their own version of “cock-a-doodle-doo” (they sounded dying), and needless to say, the poor females were losing quite a few feathers. Of all… ahem, attention. But there is still controversy.
It was in the winter when I had enough, as well as the females. The chickens weren’t allowed out much because of the snow and the females couldn’t stand the high ratio of males. So I collected all the roosters one by one and put them in the coop. Surprisingly, they are doing well. In fact, without the females as an added jealous temptation, even the little pecking seemed to stop. Everyone lived the winter in harmony.
So, it goes without saying that you can successfully keep roosters together, but there are a few things I’ve learned over the years:
- First, if you are going to keep roosters, you may have to consider separating them from your females. Lots of roosters mating with the same females can really hurt your daughters. 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 bib/saddle that fits over the chicken’s back and protects against “overcooling”. (You can use a pattern to make one yourself.)
- Another thing to remember is that wherever the rooster goes, all roosters must go, or he must be separated forever. We have found that we can keep the cocks together, as long as we keep the cocks together. I know sounds redundant, but if you separate one for too long, like a pairing for mating, all bets are off. I separated my best pair of Black Coppers for a week mating. When I collected the eggs I needed and went to return the rooster with his “friends”, the relationship changed. It was as if a whole new rooster was infesting the flock. Now, I continue to raise cocks with only the females for a few hours at a time. At night he sleeps with the rest of the herd.
- Finally, introduce new male cockatiels after they have feathered, but before their wattles turn red and begin squawking. They will have to go through the pecking order just like any other hen, but the male will likely accept them without sparring. And I’m not saying it can’t be done, but I am never Successfully introduces an adult rooster to a new adult rooster.
But even by following these guidelines, chicken will be chicken.
For example, there was a time when the Bantam Cochin Rooster woke up one day and just decided that he hated the world. He came to me like a mad hornet when I came in to feed everyone. Thank goodness it’s pint sized!
If you’re thinking of keeping roosters, keep your options handy.
- Make sure you have a couple of safe places to separate someone for a while until you find a good and permanent solution.
- Sometimes it is a good idea to keep the females out of sight. Some roosters cling so tightly that they will pace back and forth anxiously trying to reach the flock of females.
- Finally, keep in mind that cock rerouting can be tricky. Unfortunately, not many people are looking for pet roosters. It’s a big step for some, but consider treating it, and if eating birds is too emotional, donate the birds to charity.
Check out our farm website at www.ironoakfarm.blogspot.com.