PHOTO: Image by martinme2d from Pixabay
Ana Hotaling
September 25, 2019

Claude Orpington was the most doting father ever. Little Ginger Bean had been isolated from the New Orpington flock with his mom, Fitz, until he was fully feathered. From the moment the hen and young cockerel joined the others, Claude was Super Dad. He took Ginger Bean under his wing. He taught him how to forage. He showed him the feeder and waterer. He taught him how to dust-bathe. Claude even showed Ginger Bean how to hop up the deck stairs and peck at the kitchen door for handouts.

When Ginger Bean became an adult, here’s how he repaid his father: rooster overthrow.

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rooster overthrow missing feathers orpington
Ana Hotaling

It broke my heart to them fight. Claude won each time … until he didn’t. (See some of the evidence above.) Once he lost, Ginger Bean became unbearably cocky. He plucked out his father’s beautiful tail feathers, chased him out of the coop and run every morning, and even ran up the deck to steal the slices of bread we’d give to poor Claude. What a brat. We commiserated with Claude, who slowly accumulated a following of hens who couldn’t tolerate the new alpha male. Ginger Bean did everything he could to regain these females but finally came to his senses and left three hens, Butters, Selene and Stormy, with his father.

What a situation! We have a “lieutenant” in every flock, a second male to help protect the girls and to step in should something happen to the leader. There’s Big Boy with his brother, Thomas. Barack was with his father, Jefferson. Ro was with his father, Romy. I won’t even go into the ducks. That flock is pretty much a stag party. With Davey’s passing in the spring, we’d hoped Ginger Bean would smoothly step into the role of No. 2, especially with all the guidance Claude provided.

Fellow flock owners who heard about the situation expressed amazement that we managed to keep the peace in any flock with two or more roosters. I describe it as the “heir and spare” philosophy: I didn’t want to leave any flock unguarded should the rooster die. Furthermore, all the roosters communicate with each other, regardless of their flock. I enjoy hearing their calls throughout the day as they check in with each other and share whatever news roosters share. I was horrified to hear from fellow chicken-keeprs tales of the tormented deposed roosters, several of whom were gravely injured by their successors. Learning about the experiences and taking into account Claude’s own, here arethree tips for dealing with a rooster overthrow, this coup in the coop.

1. Remove the Former Leader

If your alpha male is now a beta—or an omega—it’s best to remove him from the flock. His continued presence will only aggravate the new head rooster and might motivate him to continually attack just to demonstrate his superiority. Set the old boy up in a separate coop, preferably at some distance from his former home. Carefully select at least two hens from the flock, preferably ones you’ve observed to have a close connection with the deposed leader, and move them to the new coop. This way, your older rooster remains social, has company and does not sink into a depression from being ousted, isolated and lonely.

2. Check for and Treat Injuries

The signs of battle between boy birds tend to be very obvious: bloodied combs and wattles, plucked-out tail feathers and gouges on the back from raking talons. While you can’t replace missing tailfeathers, it’s important to thoroughly clean the other wounds to prevent infection. Chicken runs and coops are bacterial hot beds. An exposed wound or two is an invitation to sepsis. Wrap your rooster in a warm towel to sooth him and keep him under control before you begin to render first aid. Once you’ve cleaned the injuries, use a sealant and anti-fungicide such as Blu-Kote to further protect your boy from infection. Take the time to thoroughly inspect your bird, as he might have suffered internal injuries if the battle was particularly ferocious.

3. Monitor the New Management

It’s relatively common for a new alpha, fresh from usurping the title from his predecessor, to act aggressively toward the rest of the flock. He is the leader now, and he wants everyone to know it. While some transitions are a little bumpy, some are downright roller-coaster rides, with all the drama of a daytime soap opera. I strongly recommend you watch your flock carefully for the first few weeks as it adjusts to the new management. If your girls hide in their nestboxes, if they stop laying or if they bear the signs of rooster abuse, you might need to consider whether the change in leadership is in the flock’s best interest. If the negative reactions continue past a few weeks, you might need to stage a coup of your own.

As for Claude, his little flock has grown. He now has Dolly, Laetitia and Harriet from the Ameraucana flock following him around the yard. With no male in the Ameraucana coop and half the females happily following the ousted Orpington, we have to decide whether to house Claude and his harem with the Ameraucana girls until we can get a new Ameraucana rooster.

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