Red Wicket Market Farm is a small farm 25 minutes from downtown Columbus, Ohio, near Slate Run Metropark. Breeding Black Copper and Blue Copper Marans to the Standard of Perfection.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Roosters CAN Live Together

My incubator is full of eggs and I need the grow-out hut where the breeding birds were kept to give the new chicks some more room, so this morning I moved the breeding birds back to the main flock. In a flock of chickens, there is a definite hierarchy, the pecking order. Watch any chickens for any length of time, and you'll see that the pecking order is a literal thing--those higher in prestige will literally peck those lower than them to keep them in line. When you move chickens from flock to flock it messes up the pecking order, and there is always a bit of time where there are squabbles and lots of pecking until the order is settled once again.

For roosters, this can mean a bit more than pecking. When I moved Butch, our Ameraucana rooster, from the breeding pen to the main flock he was no longer the only male in the group and no longer king with no competition. He was not happy about it at all!

Butch the Blue Ameraucana
Butch hadn't been back in the main flock for more than a few minutes before he challenged Blue, the big Marans rooster who is the current flock Alpha, to a duel. Blue sorted him out in about a minute (he's MUCH larger).

Blue, king and still champion

After being beaten by Blue, Butch went the challenge Lucky. There is persistent myth floating around that says that you can't keep more than one rooster in a pen, or they will kill each other. It simply isn't true. As long as the loser has enough room to run away, the worst that will happen is that a few feathers will fly. Organized cock fighting is horrible, but that's because people breed roosters specifically to be very aggressive, strap weapons to their spurs, and don't allow the loser to run away. In a normal, calm flock there won't even be any blood from a two roosters sparring.

Here is a video of Butch (the blue rooster) taking on Lucky (the one with the red feathers). Notice that, although Butch has already fought one battle this morning and lost, he isn't injured in any way. (Sorry for the mud. This happened after I'd scrubbed the waterer this morning.)

When Lucky ran away, he went into the hen house and Butch followed him. I went in after them to make sure they would be OK since the hen house is a lot more confined, but there was no problem. Butch had won, Lucky accepted that he was now the third place rooster, and all was calm once again.

If you want to keep more than one rooster together, here are some things to keep in mind:
  1. Make sure you have a good rooster:hen ratio. Usually, that's 1:8 or more. This lessens the competition between roosters and keeps the hens from being over-mated. Right now our ratio is 1:25, but that means that not all our eggs are fertile. If I was planning to hatch eggs, I'd separate out a group of one rooster and no more than eight hens to ensure fertility.
  2. Make sure you have lots of room, at least 10 total square feet per bird. The losing rooster in a fight can get away from the winner, and having lots of space solves almost all chicken behavioral problems.
  3. If you have a rooster that is aggressive all the time (or to people EVER) or won't allow the loser to run away, cull him. You don't want those aggressive genes passed along to his offspring.
  4. You can keep a whole group of roosters together in a bachelor pen as long as there are no hens to fight over and they have enough space.
If you have a rooster that you really like and you have the room and enough hens to give him, don't get rid of him just because you'll have more than one boy. Give them a chance to get along, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.