Roosters and cockerels everything you need to know
Firstly what is the difference between a cockerel and a rooster?
Historically a cockerel became a rooster when he matured and was given a flock to roost with, hence he graduated to becoming a rooster.
There isn’t really a difference except the age and where you happen to live. Here in the UK we don’t tend to use the word rooster so much.
In general when I’m talking about male chickens I use the word cockerel for a young bird and cock for a full grown one (over 1 year old).
The definition below is the generally accepted norm but the terms are somewhat interchangeable.
Rooster = a male chicken (any age)
Cockerel = a male chicken aged under one year
Cock = a male chicken
I have a lot of roosters, around 40 full grown at the moment and nearly as many in various stages from chick through grower. This article is written to provide you with all the information on roosters that you will need to decide if you want, and how to house one. I count myself lucky I keep docile breeds and rarely have a bad tempered Barnevelders.
For the most part I am delighted with mine and have very few problems. Properly raised free range males can be kept happily together and are unlikely to be a problem.
I know your dying to know if I have ever failed and had to re-home one, the answer is yes, actually several. All have been game birds and the worst culprit was a Saipan who always waited till your back was turned and then attacked from the rear.
So you want to keep a rooster in your flock, they are almost certainly stunning.
Above: one of my chestnut Barnevelder cockerels.
Knowing what motivates their behaviour is key to understanding why they do certain things that we might mistakenly take as just being mean.
Young cockerels will spar with each other from a surprisingly young age and then seem to progress through a “teenage” phase where they seem to exist just to cause trouble. They will fight with each other and with their siblings. They will also challenge the authority of the alpha male if you have one in your flock.
A rooster is born programmed to do his rooster duties. At a certain age (around 4-6 months) he matures and his instincts take over, and their drive is very strong to do what nature has intended for them to do.
Eventually, they will settle down, the “teenage” stage passes, they will mellow a little. It is important, though to keep one rooster in with some hens. It is very unusual to be able to mix roosters in a small flock unless they get along very well. In a larger free range flock several cockerels will happily live in the same space.
So what are cockerels for?
(1) Protect the flock from all threats at all costs including fighting to the death. A threat to a rooster may be quite different than what we perceive as a threat. We need to understand and respect this instinct.
Also don't expect him to get along with other roosters. That is also not in the programming. Very few roosters will get along without fighting and tearing each other up, even to the point of killing each other. The exception is when they grow up together but it still isn't a certainty.
Below: Breeding is the primary function as demonstrated by this fellow below busy treading his hens.
Given the choice between an aggressive rooster and a very docile lap baby rooster, I'll take the aggressive one every time to watch over my flock, because he is doing what roosters are made to do and will be the better protector for the flock. He just has to be taught that attacking humans is not acceptable.
(2) To insure proliferation of the species by frequently mating with the hens to provide fertile eggs to be hatched out. This is self-explanatory. To insure that the hens are not over mated and possibly scratched or injured in the process, you'll want to provide enough hens. Generally, a ratio of 5 to 8 hens to 1 rooster is sufficient. You may get away with a few more if you have a young active rooster and a few less with tiny bantams.
Deciding If You Want A Rooster :
Before you buy or raise a rooster, or at least decide you will, you need to know if you can afford, house and want a rooster.
The first point is - Am I overly afraid or apprehensive of dealing with a Cockerel? If the answer is yes, go no further and do not bother getting one. If you are not overly afraid of roosters then find someone with one a get used to being around one for a while before you take the plunge.
Can you cope with the crowing, they all do it and it can be annoying at early hours in the morning, roosters only do this to warn the flock of any dangers unless he's young and is just practising.
Crowing is territorial and other cockerels in ear shot make the situation worse. It is also the one thing that will ruin the relationship you have with your neighbours. There are supposedly many different ways to stop a rooster from crowing, but I personally wouldn’t bother, if you want one you will need to just put up with some of their behaviours. I disapprove of collars and devices to stop crowing
Can you afford A Male
Cockerels eat as least as much as a hen and as they don’t lay eggs there isn’t an immediate return on the investment of keeping one Sometimes it doesn't matter how bad you want a rooster, or even if you can house it, what really matters if you can feed it.
Housing - Roosters need lots of space in the place they roost, more than the hens, especially if they don't free range.
You want or need a Rooster- Here are some benefits from having a rooster:
- A rooster will do the best it can to protect your flock. - Full grown roosters will fight dogs, hawks, and other predators to the death to protect a flock. Although it doesn't always help, it’s much safer to have one, especially if you raise chick’s free range, I have seen one of my Barnevelder cockerels take on a sparrow hawk that attacked a chick.
- Roosters will crow to alert the flock of any threats with alarm calls. And in reply to other males and sometimes just because they feel like it.
- A rooster will fertilise your eggs. This doesn't mean that you’re eating baby chicks. It means IF someone broods the egg it can hatch, but only if it's brooded, or incubated.
- Roosters are very beautiful, many rare breed roosters are visually stunning. They are a great addition to any flock. Especially if you get chickens for looks.
- A rooster does his best to keep their hens away from danger and the size of his opponent will do nothing to put him off. They can be quite threatening and are surprisingly well armed
Buying a rooster:
Now you that you know you want one, your eager to go to the feed store and pick one up. But it's not that easy.
First you need to have everything ready at home, then you need to decide what breed, and age you want. It really depends how old your hens are, if you have them yet. I think it would be best to get a rooster about the same age, unless your hens are full grown.
I suggest integrating a rooster that is almost full grown. But if you want, you can raise him yourself so he's more used to you. Especially if you have kids, or just want him to be well mannered.
There are so many breeds that it would be hard to pick one. As a general rule the larger the chicken the more docile they are. The quietest and best natured cockerel I have is a white Orpington.
This young Wyandotte Cockerel is quite stunning:
I recommend getting a young rooster and growing him on in the flock.
Taming A Rooster – Dealing with and taming your Cockerels.
The Way they Attack - Roosters can be aggressive in different ways.
Biting and or pecking: Some roosters bite. They grab your skin really hard and pull. Usually when you go to pick them up this happens with aggressive roosters. They often break through skin and it can bleed quite badly and is incredibly painful.
Spurring: Some roosters will try to spur you. They jump up and flap and attempt to stick their spurs into your skin, it hurts.
Free range Partridge cockerel, above, large rare breeds tend to be easier to keep and more docile.
How to prevent aggressive roosters - The easiest thing is to start young and prevent your rooster from ever becoming aggressive. Once they become aggressive, it is a lot harder to train them.
Always be Calm: Roosters will take you as way more of a threat when you aren't calm. Having a stressed out person is the worst thing of all for a rooster. Never hold your rooster when you are stressed out - be calm.
Just pick up your rooster, hold him for a little bit, be calm and gentle, and don’t do anything threatening. Let him know that you aren't going to hurt him or any of his hens.
Do not make threatening movements : Make sure you do nothing threatening towards your rooster. Don't wave your arms in the air around them, don't be loud, try not to run by them, and don't carry large objects or long poles while your rooster is near. Don't be rough with them, if you are it could cause him to be aggressive
Tameness: Some say to never tame a rooster because then they will never attack because they are afraid. I always tame my boys. I don't want my roosters to be afraid. I want them to know that I won't hurt them, I do not want my roosters to think I am some scary monster. I recently rescued 2 roosters, 1 is tame, the other is quite afraid.
I held the extremely scared one, and out of fear, he attempted to bite me. That is why, I suggest taming them, but also being calm and not threatening towards the rooster.
First of all, roosters have a kind of pecking order. The dominant is referred to as the Alpha male. When a rooster acts aggressively toward you, he thinks of you as either a predator or an underling. When you have males you need to be the dominant bird so to speak.
To modify behaviour you must be consistent each and every time he shows the slightest bit of aggression towards you or any human.
There are ways to deal with an aggressive birds and if you are concerned about being scratched, prepare by wearing long sleeves and leather gloves. Goggles are a good idea as well and tie back long hair as it might get pulled.
WARNING: This procedure is the last resort and is basically used to establish dominance, it can be dangerous to the rooster, if he has food in his mouth when you grab him he can choke.
At the first sign of aggression grab your rooster up, hold him flat on the ground by the legs, and let him flap, scream or whatever until he just lays there without moving, showing his submission to you. After he submits, let him go and repeat as necessary.
Please never hang a bird upside down it is never a good idea and is of no benefit. I have also seen this procedure done by getting a sturdy grip on his hackle feathers and holding him down till he submits.
The alternative is to grab your rooster up and hold him no matter how much he kicks, screams and protests. Get a firm grip and tuck him under your arm and wander around with him, let him calm down and stay that way for 15-30 minutes until he has settled.
Then put him down and if he kicks, screams or squawks while you are releasing him, pick him up and repeat this cycle until he submits to you, and will walk off peacefully when you let him down. Do this every time he shows aggression, repeat as needed. It is only likely to work on a young upstart, an older bird which has become used to being dominant is unlikely to submit.
This procedure should be used as a last resort before culling or re-homing.
Mating - Some will tell you not to let a rooster mate while in your presence, but I can only tell you from my experience that interrupting mating seems to have no effect in relation to aggression toward humans. My hobby relies on successful mating so interrupting them is counterproductive.
Biting - Sometimes a rooster will bite, usually when you pick up a hen who squawks, They will come flying over as they do not like having their ladies interfered with. I deal with this simply by grabbing his head and holding it for several seconds
Rooster Collar. I don’t use them, have never seen one used and do not approve of their use. It may also be illegal in the EU as it interferes with natural behaviour.
From their website - “The No-Crow Rooster Collar is made from mesh and Velcro, and fully adjusts to fit the rooster perfectly. They are worn with a pinky finger's width of space between the collar and your rooster's neck. The collar prevents roosters expelling the contents of their air sacs all at once, preventing them from unleashing a full-powered crow. While wearing the collar, they can still vocalize in all their normal ways--but the volume is limited. The collar is made to bend and flex with the rooster's neck so he can do everything he always does.”
Already got an aggressive or bad tempered cockerel. - If your rooster is already aggressive, that is okay. Try all the things listed below. If none work, then he may just remain aggressive, but my boys typically decide to be nice after I try things below.
Again, be calm. Never be stressed out around your rooster. Never be threatening in any way. Be gentle, if you are rough then your rooster may attack. Don’t turn your back. Don't wave your arms, don't be loud, try not to run past your rooster, and don't carry large objects when your rooster is near.
Fear: Your rooster is more likely to attack if you are afraid. So just walk proudly, and of course be calm.
Stand: If your rooster is coming over to attack, don't walk or run away. Stand still face him and try to ignore him. He probably won't attack if you do this. Every time your rooster comes over, do this, and he may decide to stop attacking.
Separate Your Rooster From Hens: Separate your rooster from all of his hens. Make sure he can't see or talk to any hens. Keep him in this separate pen for a month, if he isn't nice by then, it probably won't work. Just remember this method takes time and patience. Again as a breeder this method is a little pointless for me as I need my roo’s in with their hens.
Dealing with surplus cockerels:
I am no nonsense and I am going to say something that is a bit of tough love and will probably offend a few people: - If you can’t deal with surplus males then don’t get into the situation where you have to.
If you raise chicks from hatching eggs the law of averages says you get 50% males. There is no way you need that many unless you show birds and need to select from full grow chickens.
When you hatch a batch of glorious little fluff pots like these, statistically half will be cockerels! With Wyandottes like these below they can be sexed at hatching by the eye-line.
I recently visited a flock that had more cockerels than hens because the owner couldn’t deal with them and the result was a considerable amount of fighting and battered half bald hens that had literally had the feathers shagged off them.
This isn’t fair on the birds and causes stress and fighting and it’s not fair on the neighbours who have to listen to 7 cockerels in full voice. Not to mention the wasted feed and the loss of egg from stressed hens.
First, decide if keeping a rooster is even an option for you. Many urban areas allow backyard chickens in limited numbers, but with certain conditions. These conditions often include a ban on roosters.
If you can legally keep a rooster, there are some things to consider. Your rooster will be loud, and possibly aggressive, and the eggs your hens lay will be fertile.
How to deal with the surplus Roosters:
- Eat them, my Barnevelder cockerel make a lovely roast lunch at 6 to 8 months of age. Or give them to someone who wants them for food. Be realistic about what is happening to all of those unwanted roosters. Most end up on a dinner plate. Even if you are not comfortable eating your rooster, perhaps you’re okay if someone else does
- Find someone who keep ferrets. I get a £1 or £2 for each bird given for food.
- Re-home them. Advertise them on websites or through bulletin boards. Finding a home for a rooster becomes more challenging if you are determined that he lives out his life free-ranging on a farm. Ask your friends in more rural settings if they have room for a rooster.
- Birds of prey. Falconers have the need for fresh food from day old to well grown.
- Avoid getting one in the first place. Ask the right questions of the breeder or supplier and only buy older sexed stock or sex linked birds so you can definitely see what you are getting.
The advantage of Le bresse (above) is that they make excellent table birds.
That rooster’s entire mission in life will be to keep his flock safe so that he can populate your backyard with his offspring and let everyone know what he is up to, also only one rooster per flock, if you already have a rooster, in order to keep peace, one has to go as in the confines of a garden or backyard they will eventually come to blows.
The most important thing is to make sure your rooster will not be used for the illegal practise of cock fighting. To avoid this, be careful about advertising a free rooster. Some people suggest charging a nominal fee for the rooster to discourage someone from taking the animal for fighting.
Getting rid of a rooster may leave a space in your flock that you’d like to fill with a new bird. Chickens are not solitary birds and are said to do best with at least one other chicken.
If you started with two chicks and suddenly find yourself with one, you will need to get a new pullet. Introducing a new chick needs to be done carefully. Do not underestimate the pecking order.
Only introduce a new bird after carefully planning on how this will be done and after the cockerel has been removed. Your sweet little cockerel will surprise you with his aggressiveness if you throw a new pullet in the coop. establishing pecking order with pullets often isn’t pretty either, but it’s a heck of a lot more gentle than when a rooster is involved.
The good news is that there are some things you can do to avoid getting a rooster in the first place. Obviously, buy sexed chicks instead of straight run. Sexed chickens have been inspected and have a high chance of being a hen. With a straight run, you pay less but have a 50% chance of getting a rooster.
If even the 99% chance in of getting a hen when buying a sexed chicken isn’t enough for you, buy a sex-linked chicken. Sex-linked chickens are a cross between two breeds. The hens are hatched one colour and the roosters another.
So, from the moment they hatch, you know with certainty what you’re getting. As an additional bonus, sex-linked chickens are usually hardy, egg-laying machines.
Remember when you bought your chicks from the supplier? They came with a 99% chance of being a hen. And, like most backyard chicken keepers, having hens was all that was in the plan. You imagined a small flock that provided your family with fresh, wholesome eggs each morning.
What you probably did not imagine was that of the hundred chicks in the cage, you would go home with the one rooster. Hatchery sexed birds generally have a 99% chance of being a pullet, check to see if you supplier guarantees the sex of the birds they sell.