Some roosters are large, gentle protectors, but many more are misguided aggressors. Many city ordinances won’t even allow them to be kept in backyard flocks. Straight runs—unsexed mixes of male and female chickens—usually go to farms where they’re raised for meat, while males that hatch from orders of females are often destroyed. Only a small number of roosters land in backyard flocks, but not many are well behaved enough to lead the hens.
Ordering just one rooster for the backyard—if your city allows—is a big gamble. With luck, he’ll be a good guy, but if he’s a dud, you’ll have a hard time pawning him off on another chicken keeper. One reader brought her rooster, Rocky, into an existing micro-flock a month ago, and she’s having some trouble with his behavior. She writes:
“My chicken Polly is terrified of my rooster. I noticed yesterday she wouldn’t come out of her coop, and this morning, too. When she finally came out, she took off running, and Rocky went after her to peck her head. Is there a reason why he’s attacking her?”
The reader mentions only one other chicken in the flock, Polly’s sister, Bonnie, and that she doesn’t want to separate them. Here are three problems I see in the reader’s flock:
1. The Flock Is Too Small
Cities that allow roosters usually only allow one, plus a handful of hens. Unfortunately, these flocks are too small for a rooster. One rooster per 10 hens is a good ratio for keeping the hens safer from an aggressive male. These are bad odds for the 50-percent hatch rate of males.
If Polly and Bonnie are the flock’s only hens, they are in danger of being overbred and abused an aggressive rooster, who can inflict physical harm, severe stress that can affect laying, and even death. Plus, rooster may designate one of the hens a role she’s not suited for, such as being the broody hen. (Not all hens go broody.)
2. The Rooster Has Too Much Authority
If a rooster is given free reign and a quick introduced into the flock, the dude may need to be knocked down a peg or two.
In the case of Polly and Bonnie, please don’t separate the hens—they aren’t causing the trouble. Separate Rocky away from Polly and Bonnie, but put him a place nearby where he can see the girls go about their daily business. Rocky can be put in temporary housing, where he can see the hens dominating the coop or yard. If you don’t have temporary housing for the rooster, you could take turns free-ranging the hens when the rooster is confined to the run, and vice versa.
Excluding a rooster shows him that you are in charge of the flock, and that the hens are calm and independent without his interference. The goal is to calm the rooster and make him a member of the flock instead the head of it.
3. You’re Not An Ideal Rooster Parent
If you can’t adequately manage a rooster’s behavior, he might have to go. The long-term safety of your hens and your enjoyment of raising chickens could depend on his absence. Unless you’re breeding, you don’t need him anyway. (Sorry, Rocky.) Usually, without a rooster, one hen will step up to head the flock.
If you’re comfortable eating your rooster, you can learn to process him yourself or you can have him processed for you. You could also find him a new home, but if the rooster is aggressive, he might not be easy to rehome. If your rooster is a pet but his behavior is completely unmanageable, consider taking him to a veterinarian who can euthanize him and dispose of the body for a minimal cost.