Choosing Your Roo
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
FOUR TRAITS TO LOOK FOR WHEN CHOOSING A HOMESTEAD ROOSTER
A couple of years ago, we introduced our first rooster to the homestead--a beautiful Brahma named Bertram Roo. Bertram was our first lesson in how beneficial a rooster can be. We watched him protect the hens, warning them of danger by air or by land. He grew into quite the gentleman, hunting down treats for the hens and always presiding over their squabbles. Of that first flock, Bertram was definitely our favorite member.
That initial flock of hens had several strengths and a number of weaknesses (read about them here), so we fazed them out and replaced them with a new clutch. These new hens have their own coop, are younger, have sweeter temperaments, and are much better layers. The only drawback of the new group is that they were too small for Bertram's Brahma weight. We found another home for him where he would be with hens his own size.
TO HAVE A ROOSTER OR NOT?
The time had come to decide if the new flock would have a new rooster, and--if so--who would he be? We were committed to the benefits of having a rooster around; we had seen for ourselves the difference it could make. In a mountainous area like ours, the predator pressure is high; every bit of defense helps the flock. This flock also has a larger space to range than the first did, making a rooster warning system even more useful. So how to choose a rooster?
WHO SHOULD HE BE?
Our current flock has two roosters. (Why two? Read on.) One is a beautiful Black Copper Marans named Boston Blackie. The other is a Blue Australorp named Aussie Blue.
They have both shown themselves to be excellent additions to the flock, but that is not by chance. These two were chosen based on several characteristics--traits worth keeping in mind if you are choosing a rooster for your homestead:
Rooster to hen ratio
Each of these points plays a role in choosing a rooster that is a good fit. Ultimately, though, you just have to try one and find out how it works for your setup. If he's not a good fit, sell him (or...um...soup him?) and try another. That said, paying attention to each one of these main points can go a long way toward making your rooster relationship a success.
There is a vast difference between the temperaments of chicken breeds. While hens will show those differences in a more moderate way, roosters tend to take personalities to an extreme. That means that even if your hens are Leghorns or Rhode Island Reds, you may want to choose a breed of rooster with less aggressive tendencies. There were a number of roosters in the group of chicks we raised; we chose the Marans and Australorp roosters to keep because both are known for their laid-back personalities with people and hens. Even before they were mature, we could see that these two were the calmest of their rooster peers. If you are considering buying a rooster for your flock, it is worth taking time to research his breed first.
Lest I cause confusion: roosters don't lay eggs. But their genetics play into the future generations of your flock. On our homestead, we are aiming toward a self-sustaining flock, allowing our beloved Broody Hen to raise chicks. These new pullets replace the hens we lose. This means that we want the roosters to be bringing in excellent egg-laying genetics. Marans are good layers, with stunningly beautiful eggs; Australorps are notoriously prolific layers. Both breeds provide the kind of production, hardiness, foraging ability, and mothering ability that we are looking for in our layers.
If you are planning to raise your own second and third generations of hens from the eggs your chickens lay, pay attention to the layer genetics the rooster will bring. After all, his genetics will be half of the flock.
While breed guidelines can give a good idea of what a rooster's temperament will be, there are always variations between individual roosters. We watched the roosters in our young flock as they interacted; those with the most aggressive personalities quickly rose to the top of the pecking order. Boston Blackie avoided confrontation, even willingly sleeping in the nest box to avoid coop conflict. Aussie Blue was watchful, cautious, and never picked fights with the others. As they have matured, both have come into confident roosterhood but have continued to show the calmer personalities they demonstrated as cockerels.
ROOSTER TO HEN RATIO
The two primary problems that arise for those who keep roosters are that they are aggressive toward people, or they are aggressive toward hens. A big factor in keeping peace between the roosters and hens is to have a good rooster to hen ratio. That means that there should be six to ten hens for each rooster, depending upon breed and personality. Because both Australorp and Marans roosters tend to be pretty laid back toward hens, we keep two roosters for our current fifteen hens. This is to ensure that there will be a high fertility rate when the eggs are brooded in the next clutch. As long as your ratio is right and they have plenty of space, roosters shouldn't overbreed the hens or cause injury. If you have a good ratio and the are still hurting the hens, it's time to invest in a different rooster.
While there's no foolproof way to know what rooster is best for your homestead, researching breeds and choosing carefully can give you a head start. We have been very happy with both of the roosters who are part of our current homestead flock. Their behavior isn't perfect--they're roosters. But they are valued assets to the flock, and an important part of our resilient homestead system.