More on Keeping Multiple Roosters September 18, 2015

My post about the Five Rules for Keeping Multiple Roosters is one that tends to get a lot of interest—and that makes sense! After all, if you’re hatching your own chicks at home, unless you have divine powers, you’re more or less guaranteed to hatch too many roosters for a laying flock. You typically want your flock to be at a ratio of about 90 percent hens and 10 percent roosters, but chicks hatch out at a 50-50 ratio.

keeping multiple roosters: a rooster and a hen

That means that keeping peace in a flock with multiple roosters is a question that comes up a lot!

Even where you are not hatching at home, but instead you’re purchasing female chicks from a hatchery… well, because sexing baby chicks is not a black-and-white question, you’ll still run into that problem. It’s uncommon to get a sexing error, sure—but it’s just not as rare as… ahem. Not as rare as hen’s teeth.

hens teeth

No teeth here

A good question was posed by a reader recently in the comments. I thought I’d go ahead and share the answer as its own blog post, because it’s a question so many others are likely to have. Her  question had to do with multiple roosters raised together in the same flock. The flock was slightly off of the recommended 10 – 1 hens to roosters ratio, and she was concerned because her two roosters at five months old seemed to be fighting a lot. She was worried about bloodshed, and wondered if there was anything else she could do other than rehoming one of them.

If this is a problem you’re having, too, here is my answer:

First, consider that roosters, at five or six months old, have just reached the age at which they’re becoming mature, so their hormones will be driving them to really establish a hard pecking order between them. If your roosters seem suddenly more cocky at that age, it could actually be a reasonably brief phase. They are the chicken equivalent of teenagers, but without the civilizing coping mechanisms humans try to teach their teens. We try to teach our kids to talk it out, to be kind, and reasonable, and compassionate. Roosters just aren’t going to go for mediation and compromise. They cannot read Robert’s Rules of Order, and when it comes down to it, they are genuinely terrible at rational debate.

Yes, this is actually a hen... but the photo went so well with "cockadoodledoo" that I used it anyway.

Cockadoodledoo is just not a convincing argument.

So whenever you have multiple roosters—and even when you DON’T have too few hens for them—there WILL be some scuffles. The trick is to mitigate them. You won’t be able to eliminate scuffles entirely. Just as it’s in a dog’s nature to bark from time to time, it’s in a rooster’s nature to try to dominate the flock. The mere fact that one rooster is lower in the pecking order and one is higher isn’t any cause for alarm, in an of itself. If you have two or more roosters, one will always be the king… and one will always be scheming to overthrow him.

It’s a bit of a Game of Thrones situation. Chickens prefer kings to oligarchies, and hierarchies to egalite.

A regal rooster

Winter is coming.

Bloodshed is a concern, for sure… but the truth is that most common backyard breeds—when their living situation is reasonably stress free with plenty of space, food and water—are not inclined to fight to the death. That would be very rare indeed. They’re not really inclined to cause serious damage, either. If you could ask your rooster why he just chased his brother, he’s probably tell you he was just trying to make a point. He was trying to assure the proper deference.

_MG_8607

I greet you with a bow, my liege!

So, as long as no one is actually getting hurt, then your goal is going to be getting past your discomfort at the way a pecking order works in a chicken flock.

If you’re a human being–that is, if you’re a GOOD human being—you don’t want human society to work that way. Power shouldn’t be concentrated that way. Good people don’t claim things just because they can; they don’t bully others to follow their personal version of the social contract. Good people recognize that value compassion and kindness. They don’t crow: “I am the most powerful, so I will bring the hammer to anyone to challenges me!” like roosters do.

Mean looking rooster

The Beak of the King?

But when we’re talking about chicken society, rather than human society, what it comes down to is that the flock follows the cock they perceive to be the bad-assiest, and a couple of goofy birds falsely screaming that the sky is falling can really terrify everyone.

So, if you’re seeing scuffles between your young roosters and are starting to panic, DON’T. If no one is getting hurt, let one of your roosters claim the crown, and try to set your sensibilities aside a bit in terms of the way chicken society works. If there is adequate shelter, space, food, and water for even those birds at the low end of the pecking order to plenty–and a reasonable harem for the King–er, Rooster—then their primitive social system isn’t going to cause a civil war.

2 Comments
Nan Mader February 3rd, 2016

I have exactly the situation you described with hatching my own eggs. Last spring of two clutches of eggs with my setting hens I ended up with four babies three roosters and one hen. My old rooster was great at watching all of my little silky hens and keeping them happy and protected. No the three young roosters are six months old and have Buffaloed my old rooster until he cowers in the corner of the pen or the house when they’re all together. Do you think the young guys will settle down and leave my old guy alone at some time? Thanks

Lissa February 10th, 2016

They are probably not likely to unless you have 10 or 12 hens per rooster, as well as plenty of space per bird. As spring rolls around and the breeding drive continues to peak, you will probably see things escalate. If you don’t want to rehome your roosters, you may consider keeping them in a separate pen, away from hens and your main rooster, as described above. Good luck!

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