Why Not to Keep Roosters

This is a post about why not to keep a rooster. First of all, hens lay eggs whether there is a rooster living with them or not. You do not need a rooster to get eggs. A backyard flock of laying hens gets along perfectly nicely without a rooster. In fact, they do better without a male in their midst. In almost twenty years of chicken keeping I’ve never kept a roo. Yes, like everyone who purchases supposedly sexed chicks, a boy has found it’s way into the mix. The male chick is always the most out-going, the most charming, the one that you get attached to. I’ve sent them all away. Luckily for those boys, I know people, and have been able to find them homes that needed roosters. That’s not usually the case.

In the past, and this is not the recent past, but more like eighty to a hundred years ago, chickens were kept for both meat and eggs, and so the male birds were useful. They were what you had for Sunday chicken dinners. The only roosters that remained with the hens were the very best of the best.

Before the advent of mail order hatcheries (which really got going in the 1920s), you’d have to breed your own stock. Prize roosters were highly valued.

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Since half of all eggs develop into males, there were a lot of roosters to choose from. For a breeding program, one rooster covers about eight hens. Only the ones with the best temperaments were kept to maturity.

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Mean roosters went into the stew pot. Even those used for breeding were rarely kept for more than a year.

Some people keep a rooster to keep peace among the hens, and believe that the pecking order is minimized with a rooster to quell spats. Although roosters can change the flock dynamic, I don’t find a rooster necessary. I’ve never had a rooster, and my girls get along peacefully with each other. If you do have a rooster, your relationship with your hens will change. My hens are very friendly and hurry over to see me when I go out to their pens. But, a rooster will keep the girls focused on him.

It is true that roosters will stay on the alert for danger. The boys will keep an eye on wandering hens, and another eye on the sky looking for hawks. For a flock that free-ranges, this can add a level of protection. However, it’s not fail-safe. I’ve heard of plenty of roosters eaten by foxes.

Most backyard flocks are not free-ranging. Being let out for forage in a small yard is not the same thing as being able to wander in fields. Backyard flocks are kept in a confined space, and that’s not suitable for keeping a rooster. Roosters mate the hens, and they do this by pinning the hen down with a beak on the neck, and treading the hen – stepping on her and flattening her down to the ground. A rooster will do this many times a day. He’ll often have a favorite hen that he bothers incessantly. Some hens will lose all of the feathers off of their backs, and some will get scratched from the rooster’s spurs. In a truly free-range situation, the hens can avoid the roo, not so in a backyard. Experienced breeders recognize this. They’ll put a mating trio together for only a short week, and then the rooster is removed from the pen. If you do keep a rooster with your hens, the ratio is one rooster per eight to ten females. Fewer hens than that, and the rooster will abuse the flock.

A rooster protects his flock, and that often means that he will chase people. An attacking rooster is a scary thing. The beak is sharp, and the spurs are dangerous. This aggressive behavior doesn’t turn on until the rooster hits maturity, so it can come as a surprise. That said, some roosters remain gentle, even as they age. The more handling they have, the better they are.

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However, some are never safe to have around. Sadly, I heard from one mother whose daughter needed reconstructive surgery after the pet cockerel tore into her daughter’s face. It used to be that chickens were expected to live amiably with others in the farmyard, and breeding stock was selected for temperament. Only the nicest roosters were bred. But, that is not the case today – hatcheries select solely for looks or egg production. If you end up with an aggressive bird, please don’t keep him.

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The main objection to roosters is that they crow. Although children’s books tell stories about roosters that crow to wake up the farmyard, which seems rather sweet and useful, in actuality, the rooster begins crowing at daybreak and doesn’t stop until nightfall. Some roosters even crow after dark. Crowing is deeply ingrained in roosters. I’ve recently seen a product that purportedly stops the rooster from crowing by restricting the neck. I believe that, contrary to the manufacturer’s claims, that it is cruel.

You might not mind the sound of a rooster crowing, but it’s likely that someone will. In my small town we’ve had a dispute between neighbors. It escalated into a terrible situation of animal poisoning. That can never be condoned. (I’ve written about that in a letter to the editor of the Boston Globe.) However, what’s clear is that a rooster’s crow is often not welcome. Since your laying hens are productive without a rooster, be considerate if your neighbors are within earshot.

Some people keep roosters because they want to breed their own chicks. This is wonderful if you are a responsible breeder. Remember that half the chicks will be boys. You will not be able to find homes for them, and you can’t keep them as pets. Are you prepared to raise them for your own table? Will you send them to the livestock dealer so that someone else can harvest them? If not, then you shouldn’t hatch out eggs.

I love going to poultry shows and seeing 4-H kids carrying their pet roosters around. I very much appreciate the people dedicated to perpetuating historic breeds by hatching eggs and raising chicks. But, just like I love dogs, but don’t breed them, so too, I love my chickens but rely on responsible breeders to supply me with stock. I hope that you do, too.

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  1. I tried keeping a rooster from a set of baby chicks that I raised because he was so beautiful. As he got to be 4 or 5 months old he had one thing on his brain. Since he was among the younger chickens in the flock, he went for the girls on the bottom of the pecking order, always sneaking up behind them. My littlest old hen, which I think is part bantam, used to turn around to him when he tried to sneak up on her and gave him the meanest stink eye saying ” don’t even think about it buster.

    He had to go. He totally disrupted the girl’s serenity.

  2. Early on, I ended up with boys because I got fertile eggs to put under my girls. They were broody and I felt sorry for them. They wanted some babies, so I got them some. The babies grew up. More than 50% turned out to be boys which was very unfair of nature, I thought. They spent all day long, when bigger, squaring up to each other and being butch and stroppy. They crowed in sequence, altogether, alternately, CONTINUOUSLY. In the end, we had no choice but to cull them, prep them, freeze them and eat them, on principle really – because to do anything else seemed wrong – but it was a miserable experience. T here was no way we could have re-homed them – I phoned everyone I could think of and they all laughed. Just to add insult to injury, guess what?
    The very same girls went broody again as quick as can be. And again. And again. Did I get them more fertile eggs? Nope. Never again.

    • Thanks for sharing your story. As an artist, I’m sure you appreciate how gorgeous roosters can be – but practicality rules in the end :)

  3. I’m with you on this one. My neighbors love my girls because of the fresh eggs they get. But if I had a rooster crowing at all hours, I doubt the fresh eggs would win them over. I prefer to keep the peace. My broody recently hatched 3 eggs and I have a strong suspicion that one of them is male. He already has a good home picked out for him.

  4. A good rooster is a staple in my flock. I have the best rooster I’ve ever had right now. Such a gentleman, very kind to his ladies. He only has 3 ladies to tend to, and I infact just let one out of her integration cage today. He is so kind to her, feeding her, dancing circles around her, and trying to woo her nonstop. He doesn’t wear out or abuse anyone. If he dances and the ladies don’t squat, he walks away to find them some treats. We have 3 children under the age of 4 at my house daily, and he has never once threatened them or shown any suggestive body language towards them or anyone else who visits. When it comes to predators, he sounds the alarm for everyone to hide. My last roo died to protect the flock. Unfortunately, the predator also took a hen. We suspect a hawk because the hawk free ranges and it was at about 2 o’clock.

    Therefore, I HIGHLY recommend bantam cochin roosters. I’ve owned Light Sussex, RIR mix, and sebright roos and they were all total jerks.

  5. When we were building our chicken house this spring, a neighbor asked if the chicks she bought at Easter time from the local feed store could come live at my place once they grew up. I said yes, but made it clear that if any of them were roosters, I’d be butchering them. Turned out that five of the seven chicks she carefully picked were roosters. I researched what age they should be when butchered, and found that that age was precisely when they start acting out. I am happy to now have five fresh farm-raised roosters in my freezer.

  6. The rooster dumped into our flock at the farm was nothing but trouble. Hens with bloody backs and bums and eating up pricey organic feed was all he was good for. When danger was near he would take cover! He would attack people, though. Luckily a soup kitchen made good use of him in the end. By the way, making your recipe for rice pudding in the oven right now. The house smells so good.

  7. Re. that event in your town: I think the guy who poisoned his neighbors’ flock should be strung up by his you-know-whats; there is absolutely no excuse for that kind of action. At the same time, he had apparently taken more appropriate measures to deal with the irritation of the rooster, to no avail. But it sounded like those folks had been feuding, in general, for some time. The saddest thing of all about that story, to me, is the failure of all those people—and so many other humans everywhere—to consider what it means to be a part of a community, and to act accordingly. We are each in it for our own pleasure, our own gain, it seems, and to hell with anyone who gets in the way of that. Life, in many aspects, has become a war—not just in crazy, far-away places, but in our own neighborhoods. And of course, nobody ever really wins a war.

    I am lucky enough to be able to keep my chickens (in urban Los Angeles) in an enclosure that faces the street on one side. This means that I am able to “share” my hens—while they are separated from the sidewalk by chain link and heavy mesh, they have been a part of the community for thirty-plus years. There is a steady stream of kids and adults passing by daily to “see the chickens,” and when I lost my entire current flock of 10 to a raccoon a few months ago, there were flowers and notes and photographs stuffed in the fence for days afterward. And, while I’ve never kept a rooster, my hens are anything but quiet; they sing their songs all day. Yet, no one complains, ever, because I think my neighbors consider these hens to be a small part of their own lives. (Plus—the eggs!) I wouldn’t have it any other way, because it’s important to me to have some kind of positive, tangible connection to the people who live around me.

    P.S. Terry, I’ve just gotten 12 little girls (8-12 weeks old) to fill up that hole in my yard and my heart! Life is good again!

  8. Thank you for your important article!! We’ve only had chickens for a little over a year and we had to learn the truth about roosters the hard way! Just two days ago we had to cull our beautiful roo and a nasty little roo too who hatched in our coop because of their abuse of the ladies. :'( It took us months to come to this decision – and we had to break the news to our three children. Chicken keeping has not been easy but we’re hoping it’ll be better now with peace in the coop! Thank you for your blog! You have given me so much useful information that I couldn’t find in any books!

  9. I guess we got lucky and have the best roo in the world. He is the sweetest thing and treats the girls well.He is a gentleman and not a human aggressive bone in his body. He is a joy to have around. That being said…..I understand he is an exception. So if in doubt – don’t. If you don’t have a compelling reason to have one, then life is much easier. I doubt I would replace him with another after his time is done. I would not want to go through the mess of trying to find one with his stellar characteristics. Hope he lives a long time.

    • Eggs are fertile up to three weeks after a rooster is absent. After he passes, hatch some eggs and keep one of his sons. Apparently temperament is genetic, and I definitely believe it is.

  10. Thanks for this, Terry. My resolve was weakening just the tiniest bit this morning…. My broody Wyandotte just hatched three of someone else’s eggs and then she adopted five hatchery chicks. I’m very entertained by the chest bumping and circling between the little white bantam and the Speckled Sussex, who may be alpha hens, but they’re sure behaving like Roos.
    They are adorable now, at one month, but they’re heading to a friend’s farm at the first crow.

  11. One part missing!
    Many years ago I worked on a farm that produced hatching eggs. The ratio of hens to hardworking roosters was much greater about, 30:1, but the roosters paid a great price ‘henpecking’. Each time his honor passed a hen he would receive a good peck at his feathers continuing until he was almost bald. Having only a few feathers remaining at the tips of his wings, we relocated him to “The Old Folks Home” for a few weeks of recuperation and feather development. Then handsome, happy and eager for work, he rejoined the hens who were thrilled to assume their responsibility at defoliating his honor. Only a few managed to survive for a second visit to the OFH.

  12. I have happily lived in the same home for almost 40 years. All of the neighbourhood properties are 1/2 acre parcels and equally shared by home-owners and renters so there has been constant change over the years. We are now the residents who have lived here the longest time.
    When we were raising our 5 very active and loud children our next-door neighbours on one side had just retired here from a busy life in the city. They chose to embrace the craziness on our side of the fence and were great friends and neighbours until the Mr. died and his wife moved into care. We have had young party throwers living both next-door and directly across the street at a time when we were both working shift-work and raising young children. There have been barking dogs and tons of boom-box cars on our street. While not always to our pleasure, it is a part of life.
    While I agree that Roosters can be noisy and might be bothersome to some people, it is a sad scenerio if society can only be peaceable if all share the same values and tolerances. Life is for living and as long as my neighbours are law-abiding and try to be friendly, I am good with that. I can only hope that they will show me equal respect. Yes ……..I have a lovely bantam roo who enriches our lives and 7 hens who seem to think he`s all that. :)

  13. I have my Gary. He is a bantam rooster, we have had him for four years and he has NEVER been aggressive. He is four inches tall but thinks he is three feet tall! I have four hens, he dotes on them, he feeds them, he prunes them, he sits on my lap, he loves my kids, he talks to us, he comes in my house to get a treat from the kitchen, yes he crows but he is so tiny its not loud or annoying and he is the sweetest thing. I realize we got very lucky, the giant roosters scare me, no matter what the temperament. I often joke that my husband could learn a lot about how to treat a lady from Gary and I know who I would pick if I had to choose :)

  14. Hi Terry,

    I loved your informative article about roosters. I have only had chickens a little over a year. I have two original hens,and the Wyondotte/Cochin mix went broody a few months ago. I went to a farm and purchased a dozen fertile eggs, Speckled Sussex and Mille Fleur D’Uccle. I ended up with only six hatched eggs. Three were 3 roosters and one hen was a runt and only lived 5 weeks. It was heartbreaking. I am keeping the Bantam Mille Fleur, Pierre. I hope he grows up to be one of the perfect gentlemen I have read about today. He is small and sweet and has been crowing since he is 5 weeks old and is not very loud yet. He is now only 10 weeks old. We have 1/2 acre lots where I live and people around me have chickens and there have been a few roos. Hopefully Pierre will not get to noisy and my neighbors will not object to him. I sent the other two roosters back to the farm where they will find homes for them. I had a lot of feather picking with my first group of hens and had to give some away to keep the peace. It has been stressful, but I am hoping my new group of 4 hens with little Pierre turns out better. I would not get fertile eggs again even though my hen has turned broody again already. The ratio is too high for roosters and you get attached and have to give them away. I check your sight often and really enjoy it! Wish I lived in the Boston area so I could take a workshop from you. I just LOVE chickens!

    • I hear that the bantam mille fleur is a sweet, sweet breed. Good luck with the little roo! As far as feather picking – I’ve recently written a lot about the causes and what to do. Check my FAQs and then do a blog search.

      • I have 2bantam mille fleur duccle. Very sweet girls. But the other ladies don’t mess with thm they seem to hold their on with my 7 large girls. If I ever did getaway roo it would be one of this breed. I have heard they are nice. I have no desire to have a large roo. Thanks for your post Terry.

  15. This answers another question I was going to ask you about roosters: “Does a rooster keep a flock from associating with humans?” I’ve noticed the hens being “punished” when I have to pick one up and after I return them to the pen. My rooster isn’t cruel to his girls though, but he does keep them under a certain order, and I suspect they don’t associate with humans as much because of him. He’s not an aggressive bird, so I would like to keep him, (but if he turns, he gets to visit the frying pan). In more way than one, he is a big chicken: he would rather sit on Col. Sanders lap before even taking a handout from me. He is noisy in the mornings though. I got him for hatching extras, but if any of the neighbors complain, I’ve already planned to remove him if it comes to that. Do you know any secrets to winning over a rooster?

    • I have a friend who had hens for years, and then got a roo. There was a distinct change in how her hens related to her after that. In order to win over a rooster – carry him around a lot.

  16. Hallo, I recently detected your website and I`ve been enjoying it since that time. My grandparents had had some hens, with a roo, in a little village in Germany! That was the time when I was a little girl. I loved it to feed them and watching them picking up the corn. I think there had been ca. 10 hens and a very beautyful black-red-brownish gently roo. Now,I´m living in a big town where one cannot keep chicken. Good old times …!

  17. Hi Terry, this story you tell pains me! I currently have 10 hens and have never had a roo. This last spring I was at our local fair and yes there was a poultry area. I couldn’t resist and came home with two new baby’s, breeds I have not had yet. Well they both turned out to be boys, one is a batam silkie and the other is a frizzle paint cochin. They are best buds and are the oddest couple and I am attached! I do handle them daily and hoping for the best!

    • All is not lost, Cassie!You picked two very gentle breeds. Bantam silkies are often the gentlemen of the rooster world. He might be as sweet as can be. The same with the cochin. Also, you could keep them in their own enclosure. Roosters can be kept together as long as there aren’t girls to fight over. It might just work out :)

  18. Great advice.
    I got 6 chicks at the feed store this spring (6 different breeds). Well the silver laced wyondotte turned out to be a rooster.
    Late October or early November he will have to go to the stew pot.
    Growing up raising and butchering heavens only knows how many birds I don’t have a problem doing it or eating it.
    I have had people tell me they were able to butcher the bird but when it was placed on the table and time to eat that was a different story.

  19. Good timing with the info on roosters. About 6 weeks ago a chicken flew into my yard. Nearby there are some folks that breed roosters for cockfighting. So….I decided not to throw the chicken back over the fence and figured it could live with my last lone hen (Doodles) that I have had for about 4 years. Well, as one can probably predict, the chicken that flew into the yard is a rooster. Today was to be the day I relocated him (Dudley). I was going to let him loose near a feed store that has several loose chickens running around and has lots of open space.However, I began to get worried he would not be accepted by the chickens and the humans…so here he still is with me. I am closely monitoring the situation. My hen appears to be holding her own. She is a game bird as well, so not timid; however, he has jumped on her to mate several times and occasionally he pecks her head. When treats are dispersed she is the dominant bird and he backs down. Not sure as he gets older if the dynamic will alter more. He needs a home with a flock….but there are no takers. I live on the Central Coast in CA, near Monterey, if anyone knows of some ideas for him.

    • Oh, so many things to address here – first of all, cockfighting is illegal, so you can call the humane society about the situation. Secondly, never let a chicken loose to join someone else’s flock. That rooster could be carrying diseases (even though he looks healthy) that could decimate the flock. I know a farmer that happened to. Farms often have roosters dumped at their doorsteps, and it can wreck havoc in many ways. One reason that the animal rights people use to try to legislate against backyard chicken keeping is that unwanted roosters are dumped and go feral. You certainly don’t want to both add to that argument, or increase a feral flock (if that is what it is.) I suggest that you find a poultry dealer willing to take the rooster.

  20. Words of wisdom, Terry: another very interesting post. For all the right reasons, I have a female-only flock; it’s nice to hear some followers talk about their gentle roosters – it makes me just a tad envious! My own recollections from my father’s extensive flock forty years ago were of aggressive males which crowed, as you say, not only during daylight hours. One we had woke my father at 1 in the morning on a consistent basis and it wasn’t long before it ended up in the pot. I’m happiest buying day-old chicks, ‘guaranteed’ females – although this is harder to source with bantams, which I keep exclusively, than with large fowl. Thanks again for putting it all so cogently.

  21. Well…I agree with you Terry on taking the rooster for a relocation is a bad idea all around. I called the owner of the feed store and he stated he was not opposed to the rooster coming there…but they have a great horned owl family living in the rafters above the hay area right now. I did not have the heart to do it anyhow. At the local SPCA they are full up with roosters, with each rotated into dog runs, and the other local shelters have way too many as well.
    I think I am just going to keep him. As the days pass, I of course become more attached to him. I have decided if he ends up having to have his own area to do his thing I will set it up. I can see why some folks on your site wrote to mention their good experiences with roosters as well. He is gorgeous and interesting to watch.
    On the cockfighting subject….I know it will be hard for some to hear and I am sorry to state it…but cockfighting is alive and well here in CA. The folks I live near do not do the cockfighting on their property…it is much more clandestine. If caught, the individual usually only gets issued a citation for a misdemeanor and the person is released. A google search of cockfighting in Monterey County will show even this year several big busts that resulted in hundreds of roosters being confiscated. Here in my immediate area of Monterey County, it is legal in the unincorporated areas to have 1-499 roosters! Yes 499! There have been a few attempts in this area to have the number of roosters allowed lowered, but with poor results. It was a big news item for a year or two. There was quite a bit of support for having many roosters…and in my opinion it was all bogus. Here is a link if anyone wants to read further. By the way if you are not familiar with Monterey County….it is not a backwoods kind of place…and yet cockfighting like I said is going strong, my feeling is that it is because it involves gambling and has rather large payoffs.

    • I’ve heard that sometimes a lone rooster is more personable than when he has a harem. I hope he is a fun chicken to have around! Interesting about the cockfighting. Thanks for clarifying what’s going on with it.

    • Hello Julie,
      I’m from Hawaii and even though cockfighting is illegal, it happened all the time. Yes, gambling is the main reason for cockfighting with lots of money involved!

  22. in 1988, I moved from the island of Kauai to the big island With my pet bantam rooster. I took him in a carrier to fly over and the airline asked me if he was a fighting cock. I insisted that he was a pet. they kept asking and I kept insisting. Finally the ticket agent shook his head in discust and told me that I should have said he was a fighting cock because then he could have flown for free. As a pet his ticket was $30.

  23. the little gold rooster was a lovely pet, and very affectionate. Unfortunately I don’t know his breed. I did not have hens then. Now that I have hens, like you Terry, I do not keep a rooster.

  24. That was an interesting bit from Jane on the airlines policy on her rooster. Hawaii of all places. The more I learn about the cockfighting issue, the more it is clear that it jumps all stereotypes of who one would consider to be involved in cockfighting. So sad. To be a rooster is not an easy task in life. But what do I know… I feel sorry for the fighter fish at the pets stores who also have to essentially live in their own solitary confinement as well. Thank you for the positive rooster stories and the historical pics of roosters from the past that Terry shares with us.