Everything You Need To Know About Keeping Roosters
Most chicken keepers limit their attentions to hens and eggs. Roosters – or cockerels, as they are often called in the UK (and definitely not to be confused with roasters!) – are simply not on their tick list. After all, roosters are territorial, keen to defend their flock of hens, and famously noisy first thing in the morning.
But they are also beautiful birds, and if you intend hatching your own chicken eggs, your hens will certainly need the attentions of a rooster.
There are several cockadoodle-dos and cockadoodle-don’ts to consider if you are thinking of adding a rooster to your flock.
First, the good stuff
Cockerels look fantastic as they swagger across their territory. Their huge combs and wattles quiver like jelly, their pointy rear-end feathers and ‘mane’ of spiky neck feathers are wonderfully showy, and their posture suggests someone who has just strutted onto the dancefloor to show off some amazing moves.
But it’s not all about beauty. Roosters always have an eye out for danger, and will fight off any intruder they think they can tackle. The bird is not silly enough to attack dogs or cats, but it will make it clear to them that they are not welcome, through body language and alarm calls. This gives the hens time to flee for shelter, and the rooster will beat the retreat too, if things start to look too dangerous.
A rooster will add harmony to a hen flock, making sure none of his birds are bullied, and keeping everything in order, a bit like a hands-off, benign sheepdog.
If you want to hatch chicks, hiring the services of a rooster is the only way forward. Fertilised eggs are still edible, as long as you collect the eggs on a daily basis. Any fertilised egg taken away from the warmth of a broody hen will not develop into a chick.
And the downsides?
If you live in a town or village, noise might be an issue with the neighbours. In many places in the USA, roosters are banned for this reason. However, if your bylaws don’t place an outright ban on male chickens, you’ll have the law on your side. But what about those irate neighbours?
The irony is that people who keep roosters – and many others besides – love the sound of early morning cock-crow. I raise my hand, as the author of this post, and admit to loving the sound of a rooster at daybreak – and I live in a village with half a dozen cockerels battling it out first thing in the morning. It’s a much better sound than car engines and slamming doors as people prepare for the working day. If people can live with the sound of road, rail and air traffic, surely they can get used to the wonderful sound of a full-throated rooster?
Sadly not, in many cases, and a crowing cockerel can be the subject of arguments and recriminations. So, so if you have nearby neighbours, it’s an issue you can’t ignore. Start off by speaking to everyone who live near enough that they will hear a cockerel crowing in the morning and see how they feel about the idea. You never know, they might be really excited about the prospect of a new alarm clock!
There are ways to keep roosters quiet before everyone has got out of bed. Some people swear by anti-crow collars, Velcro strips that restrict airflow to the rooster’s voice box. They don’t hurt the birds or affect their breathing, but they transform the noisy COCK-A-DOODLE-DO! into a much quieter clucking sound. If you have a large rooster you may also be helped by a coop with a low roof. Roosters must stretch their neck to crow, and if the coop roof is not high enough to allow him to stretch the neck fully, he will have to wait until you let him out.
With that being said though it’s worth noting that roosters naturally crow, and if you (or your neighbours) can’t stand being woken up at the crack of dawn, you might be better off sticking to hens.
The rooster is not just a chicken version of a sheepdog, he’s a guard dog too. At the sight of any intruder, he’ll let you know. This is just the kind of vigilance you’d expect from a bird once declared to be the messenger of the sun god. And that’s a lovely image – he’s not crowing to annoy anyone, he’s crowing to announce the arrival of the life-giving sun. Who could say no to that?
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