The Importance Of Choosing The Right Rooster

There’s much debate about the merits of keeping a rooster in a dual-purpose or primarily layer flock. We’ve chosen to keep a flock rooster (and would actually like to have two, if they could get along in the long-term), but have learned some things along the way.

When we first started our flock of chickens, we purchased straight run chicks and ended up two males (out of 18).  That’s a ridiculously low proportion of cockerels to hens, but we were tickled. What luck!

One was a very showy, gorgeous Brown Leghorn we named LaRue. The other was a larger, more docile New Hampshire Red cockerel we called Léon. LaRue was the alpha, but frankly, Léon would probably have been the better flock rooster…if he hadn’t become aggressive.

We don’t keep people-aggressive roosters, so he was culled. LaRue was not a particularly effective rooster: he wasn’t protective of the hens, he didn’t really keep the hens in line, and he wasn’t very gentlemanly when it came to breeding the hens. He was primarily – almost exclusively – interested in mating. We lost many hens to predators because he would let them wander off and wouldn’t bother going after them. He would also lead them into trouble, like leaving our property. LaRue eventually became very aggressive and went to freezer camp.

Our current flock rooster is LaRue’s son, Fache. He’s a New Hampshire Red/Brown Leghorn cross.  We had a number of roosters from which to choose LaRue’s replacement, but selected Fache primarily based on demeanor. He was the most mild-mannered of the group of potentials, and he has continued to be a mellow, curious bird. He’s constantly watchful of predators, and is always calling the girls over to some tidbit he’s found.

He’s not overly aggressive to the other cockerels, but he will put them in their place, if needed. He also doesn’t tolerate behavior from the hens like wandering away alone or not responding to alarm calls – he will collect the offending hen and scold her. His vigilance has kept his hens safe; the only loss we’ve had on his watch has been a juvenile pullet that would hang out with the juvenile subgroup, rather than with Fache’s main group, so he can’t be blamed.

Some people question the wisdom of keeping a rooster…they’re not needed for egglaying, they can be aggressive, they crow whenever it strikes their fancy, they can be rough with the girls (sometimes even causing injury), but we wouldn’t have it any other way. To have a sustainable flock, a rooster is critically important; we can hatch eggs whenever needed, so we’re able to (for example) keep abreast of predator losses. Without a rooster, a farmer would need to buy chicks each spring to add to or replenish the flock.

We’re happy with the job Fache has done, but know that if he becomes aggressive, we’ll need to replace him with another rooster. We have several juvenile cockerels that could become the new flock rooster, and we watch them carefully to assess their temperament. We consider a rooster an asset to our farm, and Fache has proven himself a good flock protector, so he’ll be around for a while yet.