We have been keeping chickens for several years, but have always bought sexed chicks so we have never had any roosters. Then this past spring, we hatched our own brood and out of 17 chicks, ten ended up being roosters. We obviously couldn't keep them all - the neighbors would have organized a lynch mob to protest all the crowing and our hens would have had something to say about it too - but I fortunately was able to find good homes for all but an Olive Egger named John Quincy Adams.
In the ten months we have had him, I have learned a lot about roosters and how they interact with the rest of the flock. Here are some of the lessons I have learned:
1. You don't need a rooster to get eggs. I actually already knew that, but it bears emphasizing because it's an oft-asked question on our Facebook page. Hens happily lay eggs without a rooster in residence. The only difference is that the eggs won't be fertile. But fertile or not, they look and taste the same, contain the same nutritional content and both are fine for eating. The only difference is the 'bulls-eye' on the yolk of a fertilized egg which is the rooster's DNA material. An unfertilized egg will have only a tiny white pinhead dot which is the hen's DNA material. A blood spot on the yolk does NOT indicate fertility, it's merely a broken blood vessel. I had never seen the bull's eye in an egg in person before and it's pretty neat - and unmistakable.
2. The rooster is not always at the top of the pecking order. Our alpha hen, Orange Chicken, and a few others have made it clear that they aren't going to give up their place in the pecking order. So John Quincy is somewhere in the upper middle - and even sleeps a few rungs down on the roost each night.
3. Roosters don't only crow in the morning....they crow all afternoon and into the evening too. I have heard that some roosters even crow in the dark! Fortunately John Quincy only crows during daylight hours. But the notion of hearing a roosters crow at sunup and then not again for the rest of the day is hogwash. He crows pretty much all day long.
4. Roosters really do work to protect the flock. When I let the hens out into the pasture, John Quincy roams the perimeter very vigilantly and sounds an alarm if he senses danger. A hawk swooping by recently caused him to round up the hens and herd them under a bush where they stayed while he ran into the middle of the pasture, as if offering himself up to the hawk. Fortunately the hawk decided it was no match for me, our dog plus John Quincy and moved on. Then JQ gave the girls the 'all clear' signal once he had determined it was safe to emerge. I still won't free range our flock unsupervised, despite his presence, because many a rooster has lost his life protecting hens and that's not a sacrifice I am willing to let the little guy take. He is no match for a determined hawk, fox or dog.
5. Roosters are gorgeously regal. I think a hen with glossy feathers, bright legs and feet and shiny eyes is beautiful. But roosters take the cake. With their long tail feathers, proud erect poses and air of authority, a well-cared for rooster is a sight to behold.
6. Roosters can be mean. But so can hens. And the rooster isn't being mean for the sake of being mean. He takes his job seriously, and at times, even you are a threat to his flock. Having hatched and hand-raised my roosters, I think they trusted and accepted me a lot more than they would had I acquired them as 'teenagers', but there have been a few times when John Quincy has pecked me or gone at me, spurs first. The latest was when I was trying to squirt saline into one of our hen's eyes. She was blinking and I wanted to rinse out any dust. She was squawking and putting up a fuss and John Quincy came right over and basically attacked me. But in his mind, I was hurting one of 'his' girls.
7. Roosters will protect the smaller and weaker members of the flock. John Quincy will routinely break up squabbles between the hens. He steps right in whether two hens are fighting over a treat or space under a bush. He also pecks any hens who pick on our smaller, younger pullets, who have taken to hanging around him for 'protection'. Like a typical man, he can't stand female 'drama' and makes sure there isn't any in
our his run.
8. Roosters delight in finding 'treasures' and calling the hens over. I had heard about this but never seen it first hand. When they are out free ranging or I toss treats in their yard, John Quincy will make a high pitched, excited sound and then pick up a treat and drop it at the feet of the hen who he wants to have it. It's very sweet.
9. Roosters don't need as much food as hens and won't touch free-choice crushed oyster- or egg-shell. Because they lay eggs, hens expend a lot of energy and nutrients and therefore have a higher calorie requirement than roosters or non-laying hens. Layers also need supplemental calcium to ensure strong egg shells. The calcium should always be served free-choice in a separate bowl and not mixed into the feed so each hen can eat what she needs, and the roosters and non-layers won't eat any of it. If they ingest too much calcium, it can lead to kidney damage, and somehow they know that.
10. Roosters often flap their wings before crowing to push oxygen into their lungs. Because they have very small lungs and a complicated respiratory system, and because crowing takes a lot of lung power, often a rooster will flap his wings just prior to crowing to push as much oxygen into his lungs as possible so his crowing will be as long - and as loud - as possible Now aren't you glad they have learned to do that!