Bull's Eye! Lessons I Have Learned about Roosters from John Quincy

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!


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  1. You are wise to watch your back now!!! Once he has seen you as a threat, he will always see you as a threat!! Roosters can and will do damage, so be careful! If you are wearing new heans, they know and are about to attack!! Mine are not raised to be pets, they have a job to do and they know it, but they will not harm me either.

    I don't free range either, but I keep a rooster with both flocks. My girls get out to peck around frequently and I appreciate having a rooster around. A rooster keeps predators away at night too. You learn the different crows, we heard the urgent crow one night and went out to the pen, apparently scaring away the predator. This has happened a couple of times, we decided to keep a rooster for this reason.

    Yes, a well cared for rooster is a sight to behold! Gorgeous creatures! We enjoy watching the dynamics of the chicken yard too!! Fascinating!!!

    1. Thanks Melanie. So many people judge and feel that what works for them works for everyone. I do a lot of photography in my run and with the hens obviously, I enjoy spending time with them but he's making that difficult. Not blaming him, just want him to be able to 'be' a rooster somewhere else.

  2. Sir Ingrid, my 8 month old ameraucana, lives with only 2 pullets. Stellou, the faverolle has been laying eggs since December and Buffy the Brahma, since last Friday. Sir Ingrid never was interested by Stellou but was always hanging around Buffy. And since she started laying, every time she goes for the nesting box, he follows her and they have that special language as if he is explaining to her how to do her thing, and with nesting box to use... As long as Buffy sits in her nest, Sir Ingrid stands in front of the box, doing nothing but watching. I can hear a small sound like a cat purring. I don't know which of the two does that. And last of all, he started doing his "man thing" with her. And I haven't seen him doing that with Stellou yet.

    I'm introducing 4 new pullets in May and I'm not sure if I'm going to keep Sir Ingrid. There is a friend of mine who wants to start raising chickens and I'm picking up hers at the same time I'll be getting mine and she wants a cockerel. I was wondering if she could get her 5 pullets (4 to 5 months old) and take Sir Ingrid who will be 1 year old by then. Do you think it would work out with the age difference?

    Thanks. It's always a pleasure reading you and sharing my stories with you.

    1. Sure it would.I added 4 or 5 month old pullets to our flock last summer and somehow John Quincy seemed to know which hens were 'old enough' and which weren't. He didn't even start mating with his old flockmates until months after he had been mating with our 3 year olds. He'll know when its time. Glad you enjoyed and shared Jocelyne.

  3. Lisa, I know it is hard since you have raised him as a chick. We had the same experience with Red, our first rooster, an Ameracauna. He was a wonderful rooster for his "girls" but he started being more protectionist, just as John Quincy has, when he was 8 months old. We luckily found a great home for him in a home nearby, so I can get updates on him. The tears still come when he left, but I knew it was for better. We since got a Blue Orphington rooster, and he has been mostly accepted by our 5 girls, and is a perfect docile gentleman. Thanks for sharing. I love the info that I am gleaning everyday from your site, and others you recommend. Brenda Messer, Newport,TN

  4. Our Rooster is very good about protecting the girls from airborne predators. Our mutt of a dog "Termite" rules ground predators. She has killed two posssums and 1 red fox who gained access to the hens yard. No telling how many night time predators she has scared away but based on her barks and growls it's quite a few. Now if I could just get her to stop eating the chickens poop she would be a great dog. Termite is terrified of the rooster (Mr Bradey) and the only time I've seen Mr Bradey do anything to the dog was a little smack up side her head. Of course our dog is afraid of the cat (Dumpster) and all the cat ever did to her was hiss.

  5. Question: One day I noticed our rooster had some dried blood on his comb. I thought maybe he got into a squabble with something or maybe the dog scratched him (we had a puppy at the time who thought the chickens were all her playmates). But, later, I saw the hens pecking his comb, and causing it to bleed more. I don't know if they started it originally, or started doing it after they realized they could get blood from it. He never fought back. he just laid down and let them peck at his comb. I suppose they were after the blood?? I'm not sure. I would love your thoughts on this. His comb never healed up because they kept pecking it.

    1. Chickens are attracted to the color red. Get some Blu-Kote. I'ts a purple antiseptic antipick spray which should prevent further pecking when you see a problem.

  6. This is a touching and lovely tribute to all that makes a rooster special. If I didn't already have a lovely little fellow in our flock I would love a roo like John Quincy. But alas, one is enough...

  7. I love this post! I love John Quincy, how wonderful!

  8. Wow! I just got a fantastic learning experience. Thank you.

  9. Wonderful post. John Quincy has made me appreciate roosters all the more.

  10. Very informative post ~ and lovely photos ~ Do hope you find John Quincy a home that is good for him ~

    Carol of (A Creative Harbor) ^_^ on Blogger visiting from Rurality

  11. What an interesting post.. you made me laugh at your comment about the neighbors getting up a lynching party... because as you say, roosters crow any and all the time, not just at dawn! I hope you find a good home for JQ... one rooster that we had along with out hens when I was a kid, attacked my dad one too many time, spurring a huge gash in his shin. Needless to say he was no more.... can't remember if we ate him or not, probably, we wasted nothing.... Thank you for joining in 'Rurality Blog Hop #1' Hope to see you next Wednesday for #2...

  12. JQ is a gorgeous hero! I always enjoyed having a rooster in our flock but we only have one old girl left now and she is retired :) I hope you find a good home for him.

    I'm a new follower over from Rurality Blog Hop.
    Have a great weekend ~Anne

  13. He's a very handsome rooster! Thanks for sharing this on The HomeAcre Hop!

  14. I really enjoyed this post. We want to get chickens for harvest and for eggs and have wondered about getting a rooster, so this was very informative. Thank you for sharing on Wildcrafting Wednesday. :)

  15. I do so appreciate the way this post was worded - giving such dignity to the rooster (as is his due). I currently have SIX roosters and that is four or five too many for my flock (though 2 of them have pretty well divided the 19 hens into their own harems and I have the other 4 roos separated by both fence and cardboard - because they will bloody their spurs on the fencing). They are all under 1 year old. One is very large and one is very sweet (no crowing or aggression) and one is absolutely beautiful but too small to be of use in an egg-laying breeding program. They all run after then hens unmercifully...
    Because your post gave me inspiration, I will try and re-home these extra roos rather than see to their culling asap. Solely because of one of your commenters phrase: "gorgeous hero", I will try marketing them as "Free: Gorgeous Flock Heros"...and hope someone can see their value first...
    Thanks so much for opening eyes!

    1. Well thank you! A good rooster can really be worth his weight in gold. JQ is quite the gentleman, and I'm trying to work it out with him, despite his insistence on spurring me every chance he gets! Good luck with your rehoming and I love that caption you'll be using!

  16. I just discovered a chicken "couple" down the road from us. They are so funny!!! She is his one and only hen and he sticks with her.

  17. Our rooster, Big Sexy, does all the same things, though he makes a quite adorable cooing sound when he finds a treat he'd like to share with the ladies. He's a Welsummer/Maran mix from a batch sneakily hatched deep within a brush pile last year. Our last rooster was hand raised, and was a nightmare. Our turkey toms hated him, and used to protect me from him. Once we got a look at his offspring, we chose Big Sexy to replace him. Biggy does a great job with the ladies, and won't come close to us (has never ever been touched/handled). And that's just the way we like it. He and Deputy Guinea raise alarms and protect the girls, and we can go in the yard without being attacked. Perfect!

    Btw, just found your blog, and I'm digging it. Working my way through. :)

  18. I wasn't too surprised when one of the 6 chicks I selected at our local feed store turned out to be a roo - they said 90% sure they were all hens - but that isn't 100% so I did the math. Didn't figure it out until this morning when I opened up the blinds in the laundry room (their temp home until the weather gets nicer up here in the Rocky Mtns) and someone tried to crow... sure enough, the one chick that looks slightly different from the rest was doing his best to cock-a-doodle-doo. Needless to say I was a bit disappointed because I was not interested in owning a Roo. While I live in the country on an acre of land I do have neighbors close enough that if he's noisy they will be bothered. Now I'm trying to determine if I want to keep him long enough to fert some eggs next year or try to rehome him (or use him for stew) when he's full grown. I suppose waiting to determine his temperament is probably a good idea. He's an Easter Egger.

    1. Oh I would definitely let him fertilize some of your hen's eggs. You might get some nice offspring who lay interesting colored eggs! I would wait, see how his temperament is as you say and then decide.

  19. I have rhode island reds. One rooster and two hens, one year old. about three weeks ago I noticed one hen had some some under one of her wings. The rooster had been doing his "climbing on the girls back thing", you know. Not sure if that is how she got bloody. But after that I noticed she seems so stressed. She stays inside the coop almost all day, and when I do get them out in the open for free ranging, she will not go near the hen and rooster. The other hen seems to be mean to her. She seems so scared. I believe she has stopped laying eggs too. I feel bad for her and don't know how to help her. Any ideas?

    1. You need more hens. Just two are going to get seriously overmated. Poor hen. Either get more chickens or separate the rooster from the hens I would say.