Do I Need a Rooster in My Flock? 4 Reasons You Might Want a Rooster (and 4 Reasons You Might Not)
One of the most common questions we see new chicken owners ask is, “Do chickens need a rooster to lay eggs?” Fortunately, your girls do not need a rooster to lay delicious eggs. Your flock will be perfectly happy and productive without a man to keep them company. Roosters do not lay eggs themselves – they just fertilize them – so, as long as you don’t intend to hatch your own eggs, your hens will be none the wiser without one.
However, if you can keep roosters where you live, you should give these underappreciated, friendly boys some consideration. Roosters come with a lot of benefits and some drawbacks, but in our humble opinion, they are well worth the trouble.
Benefits of Having a Rooster
We believe it’s better to have a rooster with your hens if you have the opportunity. However, here at Little Onion Farm, we might be a little biased – we love roosters, and we’d never want to go without them in our flocks. Let us tell you some of the reasons why we’re such big fans.
He Protects Your Flock
A Delaware rooster finding snacks for his hens.
Many people choose to add a rooster to their flock for his protective abilities. A roaming rooster acts as the protector and watcher for his hens. He keeps an eye out for predators, scouts for delicious snacks, and sometimes even helps his girls sit on their eggs as they incubate.
Most roosters will sound off a “warning call” if they detect a predator nearby, but some will even attack any predator who comes too close. You may have seen tales online of your neighborhood rooster’s heroic bravery, where he takes on a raccoon, hawk, or other predator in order to give his hens time to escape to safety. Trust me – this happens more than you’d think!
While just about any rooster is capable of protecting his flock (even small, calm breeds like Andre the Silkie rooster), some are better at it than others. For example, the Liege Fighter is a powerful, imposing breed, and the frankly giant roosters are said to be able to kill hawks! We’ve never had a Liege Fighter here at the Farm, since all roosters (including our bantams) are capable of being excellent protectors. A rooster can be an especially valuable addition to your flock if you free range them regularly for this reason.
He Gives You Fertile Eggs
Hens will always lay eggs regardless of whether there’s a rooster present or not. However, if you don’t keep a rooster in your flock, they will never be fertile – meaning that they can never develop into baby chicks. This is fine if you just want chickens for eggs and for pleasure.
However, if you’re interested in sustainability like we are, it’s important to have a rooster or two around so you can replenish and grow your numbers.
One of the most common questions we see newbie rooster owners ask is, “Can I eat fertile eggs?” You can (and should) continue to eat your chickens’ eggs, even if you have a rooster. However, you can also choose to put them under a broody hen or place them in an incubator if they’re fertile.
However, you must be more careful with collecting and storing fertile eggs. We recommend against leaving them unrefrigerated, and you should collect fresh fertile eggs at least once per day (preferably more). Since your eggs will be fertilized, leaving them outside in hot weather – or even on the counter in a warm house – can result in unexpected chick development. As long as you collect fertile eggs frequently and keep them refrigerated, however, they will not develop into chicks.
He Keeps the Peace
Your rooster doesn’t just keep hungry predators away from your girls – he also keeps your girls from picking on each other too much. In flocks without a rooster, an “alpha hen” often steps up and mimics some rooster behaviors to keep the peace, but not always.
If you’ve ever owned chickens before, you know that hens can be downright vicious to each other, especially around things they like – such as their favorite nesting spots, the best roosts, or their favorite snacks. Sometimes, if your chickens don’t have enough outside stimulation, they might even chase down the lowest hen in the “pecking order” to pick on her.
While each rooster’s personality is different, any rooster worth his salt will put a swift end to this behavior. A good roo will break up any excessive squabbles between your hens, keeping the peace inside the coop as well as outside.
If you’ve never laid eyes on the many incredible shapes, sizes, colors, and patterns that roosters come in before, we highly recommend doing so! Because of chickens’ sexually dimorphic genetics, many color patterns show up differently in roosters and hens. There are some patterns that just can’t appear on hens, so if you want to enjoy them, you’ll have to adopt a rooster!
Genetics in chickens work a lot like genetics in humans. In chickens, the rooster has ZZ sex chromosomes, while the hen has ZW chromosomes (basically, the reverse of human males and females). This means that certain patterns and traits manifest differently between the sexes.
For example, the “barred” pattern – the same color as the ever-popular “Barred Rock” – is located on the Z chromosome in chickens. This means that hens can only get one copy of the barring gene, since they only have one Z chromosome. Roosters, on the other hand, can get up to two copies of the barring gene since they have two Z chromosomes, meaning that the pattern tends to be much more distinct and intense.
One of our favorite patterns in the chicken world is Crele. While it manifests similarly on hens and roosters, like the barred pattern, it’s much more vibrant and eye-catching on the males.
He Makes a Great Dinner
One of the most obvious benefits of having a rooster around is (and there’s no delicate way of putting this) his deliciousness. A rooster can become tomorrow’s dinner on short notice. If you ever find that he no longer works with your flock, or if he starts acting aggressively towards your family, he can become quite the delicious meal. Here at the Farm, our extra roosters are our first line of defense against food and meat scarcity.
Many backyard chicken owners object to the idea of processing and eating their chickens. However, we believe that livestock are dual-purpose animals. While they do fulfill the role of pet and companion, we believe they also become sustenance someday. It’s a dignified end after a happy and cared-for life.
This doesn’t mean you have to do what we do – we fully support those who choose to keep their chickens and other livestock firmly in the “pets” category. The backyard chicken keeping world is vast and full of many different types of people, and there’s room for both schools of thought here.
Another dinner benefit to consider is your rooster’s ability to create more progeny. As we talked about earlier, any rooster worth his salt will fertilize your hens’ eggs, allowing you to hatch them if you desire.
One of the “side hustles” we’ve often done here at Little Onion Farm is hatching fertile eggs. No matter where you live, there’s always demand for laying hens, especially when they’re close to egg-laying age. While rooster demand is typically much lower, there’s an easy solution to this imbalance: turning your extra roosters into dinner.
Despite the amount of chicken-based info on this blog, poultry isn’t my only homesteading interest! I’m also a huge fan of subsistence and market gardening. While I still have a lot to learn as a gardener, resources like those at Bootstrap Farmer have been instrumental in getting me to where I am today.
There are many reasons why I love Bootstrap Farmer, and their huge bank of gardening guides is just one of them. Another is their wide line of made-in-USA products – something that I always look for in the businesses I support. And finally, their affordable prices on greenhouse kits, grow trays, and other gardening supplies help, too.
I should mention that Bootstrap Farmer specializes in market gardening supplies, such as hoop houses, microgreen trays, grow bags, aquaponics parts, and such. If you’re looking for raised beds for a starter garden, you won’t find them here. Even if you don’t plan to garden for profit, though, Bootstrap Farmer can still serve all of your seed starting needs and more – so don’t pass them up!
Drawbacks of Having a Rooster
While most roosters earn their keep and then some, it’s possible to get a bad egg once in a while. Plus, roosters don’t always for every person and every living situation. In this section, I’ll go over some of the reasons why you might want to avoid adopting a rooster.
He Can Be Too Protective
A Silver Spangled Hamburg rooster – one of our favorite chicken breeds.
It’s the rooster’s job to be protective of his hens, but some roosters don’t understand that their caretakers aren’t threats. Roosters are almost always friendly and happy when they’re young, especially if you hand-raise them. These roosters usually grow into friendly and capable protectors as adults, but sometimes, their instincts and hormones get the best of them as they get older.
Many people swear that it’s possible to “rehab” a mean rooster and turn him into a friendly protector again. We’ve never had to do this ourselves, but we’ve heard plenty of anecdotes, so we’d certainly assume that it’s possible.
In the meantime, it may be a good idea to isolate your moody rooster in his own “bachelor pad” away from your hens, especially if you have young children that the rooster could injure or traumatize. He may become less aggressive when he no longer has ladies to protect.
He Can Get Overzealous
Unfortunately, some roosters can get too “excitable” around the ladies, especially in their juvenile years. While many roosters do calm down as they get older, you should keep an eye out for any ladies that get a little too much attention from your roo while he’s young. They may get bald patches on their heads and possibly on their backs.
We had a rowdy rooster like this here on the Farm, and we noticed a huge improvement by using a product called Pinless Peepers on him. These “blinders” make it difficult for your rooster to single out a hen and pick on her. Hen saddles, which you can buy online or even hand-make yourself, work wonders girls who get bald patches on their backs, too.
Another solution is to add more hens to your flock, although this may not be possible if you have local restrictions on flock size. We haven’t noticed much of a difference with this approach, since our boys always have one or two “favorite” hens regardless of how many others there are.
Your Neighbors May Dislike Him
For many, the potential to annoy their neighbors is the main thing stopping them from getting a rooster. That’s because, unfortunately, there’s no way to totally stop a rooster from crowing. There are ways to work around the issue, but there is no sure-fire way to guarantee a “silent” rooster.
Fortunately, Little Onion Farm’s neighbors love our roosters. In fact, when we were just establishing the Farm, we rehomed one of our roosters whom we thought was too loud. We were afraid he was disturbing the neighbors with how he’d crow loudly during the day.
We were dead wrong – several of the neighbors immediately asked where he went! They loved to hear his crow and, to our surprise, missed hearing it during the day. While we still do our best to minimize our roosters’ disturbances, we no longer worry about them annoying the neighbors.
One of the most reliable ways to get a quieter rooster is to look at bantam breeds. Bantams are smaller than normal chickens, so their crows tend to be quiet as well, and their noises don’t carry as far as a standard-sized rooster’s crow. Note that a bantam rooster’s crow tends to be higher pitched, and it can still be annoying even if it doesn’t carry as far.
Alternatively, you can try using a rooster collar. Rooster collars won’t stop a roo from crowing altogether, but they make it more difficult for him to crow loudly and constantly. We’ve never tried these ourselves, and we’ve heard conflicting reports about their safety and efficacy, so make sure to monitor your birds carefully if you use them.
Some People Don’t Like Eating Fertile Eggs
While it’s perfectly safe to eat fertilized chicken eggs, some people just get “weirded out” by the thought of eating them. In actuality, fertile eggs taste the same and have the same nutritional properties as unfertilized chicken eggs. However, if you still have reservations, that’s a totally understandable and valid reason to not keep roosters.
If this is you, another option you might consider is keeping two roosters in a bachelor pad together. This way, you can enjoy many of the benefits of keeping a rooster without the discomfort of eating fertilized eggs. Plus, if you want to hatch baby chicks, your roosters can “visit” your hens for a few days to provide their services!
Contrary to popular belief, roosters can live together peacefully, especially if there are no hens present.
Roosters are such wonderful, underrated creatures, with an unfortunate amount of stigma attached to them. Many chicken owners don’t recognize their beauty and usefulness since they don’t lay eggs like our hens do. All it takes is a bit of open-mindedness to see the benefits they can provide to your lovelies. If you can legally keep one where you live, we highly recommend giving these beautiful guys a try!
Do you have any lingering questions about roosters? Still unsure whether you need a rooster or not? If so, feel free to send us an email with any questions you might have.
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