A Complete Guide to Managing Roosters
There are benefits to keeping a rooster in your flock, especially if you want to raise your own chicks.
Although roosters have the same basic needs as hens, keeping your flock happy with a rooster requires special management.
Use the links below to jump to the section you need, or read on to become an expert rooster keeper!
1. Should you keep a rooster in your flock?
Keeping a rooster isn’t for everyone. But they do have benefits. What are the pros and cons of keeping a rooster?
Pros of keeping a rooster
- They fertilise eggs so you can raise your own chicks
- They protect the flock
- They keep the peace amongst the hens
- Some studies suggest that hens kept with a rooster are calmer and happier than those without
- Just like hens, many roosters make lovely pets and form close bonds with their flockmates
Cons of keeping a rooster
- Roosters crow at all hours, including early in the morning and in the middle of the night
- Your local council may have laws about keeping roosters, especially in urban areas
- Instinctual rooster behaviours, such as aggression, can be a problem
- Roosters can injure hens while mating, most commonly when there is a large size difference or you only have a few hens
Deciding if a rooster is right for you
Think about the pros and cons of keeping a rooster to decide if a rooster is right for you.
We only recommend keeping a rooster if:
- It is legal where you live
- You have at least 6 hens
- You and your neighbours are unlikely to be bothered by the crowing
- The rooster is a similar size to your hens
We don't recommend keeping more than one rooster unless you have a bachelor flock. But one rooster is a necessity if you want to raise your own chicks.
2. Understanding rooster behaviour
It is important to understand rooster behaviour in order to manage your rooster effectively.
Roosters behave differently from hens because they have different instincts, which evolved over the thousands of years before chickens were domesticated.
Wild jungle fowl, from which modern chickens are descended, mostly live in medium-sized flocks with one dominant male and many females. The job of the dominant male is to protect the flock and his territory.
A wild rooster does his job by establishing territory and keeping the flock together, protecting the hens from predators and driving off any rival males. Natural rooster behaviours that allow him to do his job include crowing, aggression towards predators and rivals, and mating with the hens.
For most of their history, the behaviours of wild roosters, including aggression, have been encouraged in their domesticated counterparts. After all, on most farms, a rooster that can protect the flock from predators is an advantage! But in a backyard chicken coop, things are different.
3. How to manage a rooster
In a backyard chicken coop, a rooster who does his job can become a problem. But by understanding and accommodating natural rooster behaviour, you can keep a happy flock with a rooster, even in a small yard.
It is a myth that roosters only crow to greet the sunrise. Roosters will crow at any time of the day or night, and the crowing can go on and on.
Why do roosters crow?
Roosters crow at different times for different reasons.
Roosters will crow to alert the flock to threats, such as a predator. If you learn to distinguish your rooster’s crows, this can be handy for alerting you to prowling foxes too!
At night, roosters will often crow if they are disturbed. This is probably to keep the flock together, should they scatter, as well as to alert the hens. However, we have had over-vigilant roosters, or maybe just light sleepers, who would crow as a result of passing headlights, the full moon or even late-night planes flying overhead!
The other main reason that roosters crow is to establish their territory. The process of establishing territory is often relatively quick if there are no other roosters about. But if you live within earshot of another rooster, this type of crowing results in a vocal competition that can go on for quite some time, and will be repeated at regular intervals.
Can you stop a rooster from crowing?
Crowing is a natural behaviour that contributes to the cohesion and safety of the flock.
We would never recommend an anti-crow collar or any other device designed to stop a rooster from crowing. And you can’t teach a rooster not to crow either.
If you are a light-sleeper or have nearby neighbours, a rooster may not be for you. Crowing is the main reason why rooster-keeping is often restricted in urban areas.
But there are ways to reduce the amount of crowing that your rooster does.
How to decrease rooster crowing noise
You can’t stop a rooster from crowing. But you can decrease crowing noise by:
- Ensuring your flock is well-protected from predators
- Enclosing and insulating your coop to stop the sound of night-time and early morning crowing from travelling
- Blocking windows and gaps in the coop to prevent light disturbance at night
- Limiting night-time disturbances that will upset your rooster, like loud music and barking dogs
- Keeping only one rooster within earshot – if your neighbours already have a rooster, maybe you can share!
- Installing sound barriers, such as trees or walls, between the coop and any houses
- Situating the coop well away from houses
- Reducing stress in the chicken coop – the more stressed or threatened a rooster feels, the more heightened his aggressive instincts will be, and the more he will crow!
It is also worth noting that some roosters, and breeds, are louder and more given to crowing than others. Smaller breeds, and those renowned for being more docile and less aggressive, may have quieter roosters that crow less. Although some sources suggest that larger breeds have deeper crows, which do not carry as far as higher-pitched crows from smaller breeds.
You can definitely explore breeds and individual birds to find quieter roosters. But the fact is that there is no rooster breed that does not crow!
Roosters have a reputation for being aggressive. But stories of roosters turning on their keepers exaggerate the problem. Not all roosters are aggressive. Many are just as friendly as your favourite hen.
It is important to note that a normal rooster will almost never direct aggressive behaviour, such as fighting or pecking, towards the hens. If your rooster is regularly aggressive towards the hens, this is usually a sign of extreme stress. It is not normal and not a part of mating behaviour.
How can you tell if your rooster is being aggressive?
Roosters that feel threatened will first puff-up their feathers and stand up taller, trying to intimidate the threat. They will appear agitated and may stand over or chest bump whatever is upsetting them. Our Welsummer rooster will do this if we are catching the girls for wing-clipping. Though he has never attacked, we are making the girls squawk and thus are a threat.
If the threat doesn’t go away, the rooster might run towards it, flapping his wings, and pecking. He may also fly at the threat like a kick boxer, scratching with his feet, and spurs, if he has them.
Often a rooster will go through all of these stages when faced with a threat. Their behaviour is aimed at avoiding a fight, and if the threat dissipates the rooster will simply shake out his feathers and go back to business as usual. But if the threat remains, the attack will escalate.
If a rooster seems to go straight to the spurs, whatever he is attacking is firmly established as a threat to the flock, in his mind at least. This means early warnings may have been ignored in the past.
It is important to note that while pecking can be part of a rooster attack, pecking or biting without any of the other signs of aggression is not usually an attack. Like hens, roosters will peck at food, unfamiliar objects, and sometimes other members of the flock. While pecking can be painful or even draw blood, just because your rooster pecks you doesn’t mean that he is being aggressive or attacking you. Pecking is often communication, and your rooster may simply be treating you as a member of the flock!
It is also worth keeping in mind that one attack by your rooster does not necessarily mean he has become aggressive and poses a risk. While you should obviously be careful and take action if the rooster continues to attack you, a one-off attack could be a mistake or the result of a misunderstanding on your rooster's part.
Why are roosters aggressive?
It is a rooster’s job to protect his flock from predators and rivals. To do this a rooster needs to scare off threats and fight if required.
But some roosters are more aggressive than others. The reason is mostly because of genetics.
Aggression in roosters is largely controlled by hormones. At puberty, roosters naturally begin producing hormones that make them aggressive.
Some breeds, and some individual roosters, just produce more of the hormones that make them aggressive. But environmental factors also play a role by stimulating the production of hormones that contribute to aggression.
Some people say that roosters can be trained from chicks not to be aggressive, but sadly this is not the case. Rooster aggression is not caused by anything that the chicken keeper does, or anything that the rooster experiences. The natural behaviour triggered by hormone production is much more powerful than how a rooster is raised.
What makes roosters more aggressive?
Roosters tend to be more aggressive in spring, because this is when hens are nesting and competition from rival males is most likely.
Young roosters in their first spring are also naturally more aggressive, because their hormones are more elevated and they are trying to establish their dominance.
Roosters are also much more aggressive if they are in competition with other roosters. This is heightened if the roosters are in the same flock, but even a neighbouring rooster may cause your rooster to be more aggressive than a rooster who feels secure in his territory.
Other triggers for aggression in roosters include environmental factors such as hunger, frustration, fear, and other sources of stress, including illness, overcrowding and boredom.
Evidence suggests that once aggression in roosters is elevated, for example by a predator, the rooster will be more aggressive in general, even towards unrelated threats, and that it takes some time for elevated aggression to decrease.
What do roosters attack?
Individual roosters will attack different things, depending on their experience.
Obviously rival roosters and predators are threats.
Some roosters will also attack people. In many ways, a chicken keeper’s behaviour resembles that of a rival or predator: we are bigger than them, enter the chicken coop (their territory), and may handle or upset the hens, all of which can trigger aggression in a rooster. Failing to respond to mild rooster aggression, such as puffing up, by moving away, will also tell your rooster that you are a threat.
If surprised, a rooster may attack, and some roosters also attack unknown or new objects.
Younger roosters are more likely to attack new things, as they are still establishing what is a threat and what isn’t. Exposing chicks to a range of stimuli has been shown to help them cope with change as adults, and thus may help reduce rooster reactivity. You can read about brooder enrichment on the blog.
Also, the more heightened a rooster’s aggressive instincts are, the more likely he is to attack. If there are predators around, or your rooster is stressed, he is much more likely to attack something that might normally cause little fuss.
Can you stop roosters from being aggressive?
Like crowing, aggression in roosters is a natural behaviour that contributes to the safety of the flock. Also, more dominant roosters are often more fertile. But aggression is obviously a problem when it is directed towards humans.
It is important to realise that most of the techniques people recommend for “taming” aggressive roosters are ill-advised, don’t work and usually make the rooster worse.
Striking or otherwise physically “dominating” the bird, for example holding it down, are downright cruel. Things like “showing the rooster who is boss” and “cuddling the rooster” are going to increase stress, and thus aggression, in the rooster.
Ultimately, you cannot stop a rooster from being aggressive. But it is possible to manage your flock to decrease rooster aggression.
How to prevent your rooster from attacking you and what to do if he does
When a rooster attacks, he is wired to stop when the predator leaves or the rival is defeated.
There is no point “defeating” your rooster, because he will continue to perceive you as a rival or threat, and attack you and any other human who enters the chicken coop. But there are other techniques you can use to decrease aggression.
When threatened by a rival, an aggressive rooster will usually be placated by a show of submission. Submissive behaviour includes moving away, not making eye contact, staying away from any hens and relinquishing any food. It does not include fighting back.
Whenever you are in the chicken coop or run, you should be aware of your rooster’s mood and behaviour. Responding to early warning signs, which many chicken keepers miss, can prevent further aggression from your rooster.
If your rooster is beginning to show aggression by puffing up or agitation, you should stop what you are doing and move away immediately. Looking down and away can also help. If you do this promptly whenever your rooster shows you that he is feeling threatened, it may prevent misunderstandings from leading to more aggression.
If your rooster does attack you, move away. Use what you have, for example a shoe, a bin lid or a chicken feeder, as a shield to protect yourself. But never fight back unless it is absolutely necessary to prevent injury. If your rooster is attacking an object, leave it and move away.
If you have a rooster, you should also wear long pants and proper shoes in the chicken coop to reduce the risk of serious injury if he does attack.
What to do with an aggressive rooster
The simple fact is that aggression in roosters can be decreased by understanding and responding to their behaviour. But if you have a rooster that poses a real risk of injury to yourself or those around you, you may have no option but to find him another home.
Whether you should keep an aggressive rooster will depend on your circumstances and the rooster. While you can manage your flock to decrease aggression, you cannot stop a behaviour that is instinctual.
The simplest answer when faced with an aggressive rooster is to think about how you see your flock. Are they pets that you want to spend time with? Or are they farm animals removed from the living areas of your property.
If you only interact with your chickens to care for them, and have a secure run or average, an aggressive rooster may be able to be managed to avoid conflict by locking him out of the coop while you do chores or handle the hens, using a protective barrier when you have to enter the run, and acting submissively when you do come into contact with him.
But if your chickens are pets or live in your backyard, an aggressive rooster can pose a real risk of injury and is better off rehomed.
While it is sad to have to give up your rooster, if he is flying at everyone who enters the coop, he is stressed and unhappy. And it is never worth keeping a rooster that is going to cause fear and stress every time you go into the chicken coop, or that may cause serious injury to a person.
How to decrease rooster aggression
The most important thing you can do to decrease rooster aggression is to respond to any of his behaviours appropriately. But there are other things you can do.
Preventing aggression triggers helps reduce reactivity and elevated aggression in a rooster. You can:
- Protect the flock from predators
- Keep just one rooster
- Provide ample food and multiple feeders
- Never overcrowd your coop
- Prevent stress
Your behaviour in the chicken coop also matters. You should:
- Always move slowly and calmly in the chicken coop
- Talk softly to your birds, the way foraging chickens chatter, to create calm
- Do not bring pets or children into the coop unless your rooster is accustomed to them
- Do not pick up or otherwise disturb the hens when the rooster is present. If you do need to handle the hens, try shutting the rooster out of the coop first.
- Never threaten the rooster by standing over him, moving him out of your way, however gently, or doing anything else that could be perceived as aggression
But remember, rooster aggression is largely controlled by hormones and genetics. You can do all the right things and still be attacked by your rooster. If rooster aggression is causing problems, rehoming is the only option.
How to choose a less aggressive rooster
It is impossible to know how aggressive an individual rooster will be. While certain breeds and genetic lines are less aggressive than others, each rooster is an individual. Each coop is also different, so a perfectly placid rooster in one coop may be aggressive in another.
That said, there are certain factors that can help you choose a rooster that is less likely to be aggressive towards people:
- Choose an older rooster - roosters over 2 years of age tend to be less aggressive, although they may also be less fertile
- Avoid game breeds and other breeds known for aggressive roosters - some roosters from these breeds will be perfectly placid, and some roosters from reputedly "quiet" breeds will be terrors, but aggression is more likely in breeds that are known for it
- Look for a rooster descended from a rooster you know to be placid and not aggressive towards people, as genetics plays a role in rooster aggression
- If you can, choose a rooster that has been kept in a male-only flock or away from other roosters entirely
- Roosters raised in a backyard brooder and exposed to a range of stimuli as chicks may be less aggressive when confronted by the new or unexpected
Allowing the rooster to become accustomed to you, before giving him the responsibility of protecting the whole flock, may also help decrease aggression. Establish yourself as a friend by bringing treats and always responding submissively to any aggression.
Rooster mating behaviour
The whole point of all other rooster behaviours, from crowing to aggression, is to mate with the hens. Only the dominant male gets to mate, even in a flock with multiple roosters, and thus to procreate.
What is normal rooster mating behaviour?
Prior to mating, a rooster will normally attract the attention of the desired hen. He may tid-bit, which involves showing her inviting food and clucking in a low tone. He might also dance or circle the hen.
Usually, the hen will squat to show submission, and the rooster will stand on her back, holding the feathers on the back of her neck and treading his feet up and down. They then perform a cloacal kiss, where sperm is transferred to the hen.
Sometimes roosters will mate without first enticing the hen, or the hen may not initially squat. But if a hen wishes to avoid a rooster’s attentions, she is usually able to evade him.
Roosters will normally mate with a hen once, and usually only mate with each hen about once per day. Repeated mating, such as when a rooster has a favourite hen, can make injury to the hens is more likely.
It is important to observe your hens’ behaviour with your rooster. If your hens are distressed by mating or consistently avoiding the rooster, he may be too rough or aggressive.
There are plenty of roosters who can do their job without distressing the hens, and keeping a rooster who can’t is unfair to your hens. He is best rehomed to a bachelor flock.
Can you stop roosters from mating with hens?
It is not possible to stop roosters from mating with the hens, except by completely separating the rooster from the hens.
Chicken mating injuries
The most common mating injury in chickens is feather loss, either on the back of the neck where the rooster holds on during mating, or on the back where the rooster has been treading.
Other mating injuries can include skin wounds, on the back, or on the side if the rooster has slipped off the hen and scratched her in the process.
Foot and leg injuries can also occur, most commonly where the rooster is too large for the hen or mates with her multiple times.
What causes chicken mating injuries?
If a rooster mates too often with a hen, this may cause injuries. Feather loss is the most common injury caused by too much mating, and fewer feathers makes skin damage more likely too.
A large size difference between roosters and hens also makes mating injuries more common. A rooster should be the same breed as the smallest chicken in your flock, or the same size as a rooster of that breed.
Roosters with large, sharp spurs can also cause serious damage to hens, so spurs should be kept trimmed and blunt.
Some roosters may also be too rough with the hens. This can occur when a rooster has too many hens to service, and is trying to do the rounds. But it is much more common in flocks with multiple roosters.
How to prevent mating injuries in chickens
While it can look a little rough, rooster mating behaviour is not a problem unless your hens are actually showing distress. But accidental mating injuries should be avoided, and can mostly be prevented by:
- Keeping at least 6, and ideally more than 10, hens
- Only keeping one rooster in the flock
- Ensuring your rooster is a similar size to your smallest hen
- Keeping spurs trimmed
If your rooster is causing frequent mating injuries to your chickens, you may need to rehome him or keep multiple flocks and move the rooster around, in order to give the hens a break.
Dealing with feather loss
Keeping an eye on your hens for signs of feather loss is important. If caught early, any feather loss can be stopped before it leads to exposed skin and more serious injuries requiring treatment.
If feather loss is occurring, you can use a chicken saddle or apron on affected hens to protect them. Chicken saddles are padded cloth covers which protect the hen’s back from the rooster’s feet, helping to prevent feather loss.
But if the skin is exposed or injured, the hen should be removed from the flock until she has healed and the feathers have grown back completely.
Feather loss is most commonly a sign that you have too few hens for your rooster, or that your rooster has a favourite hen.
What to do if your rooster has a favourite hen
If your rooster has a favourite hen, and she doesn’t seem to mind all the extra attention, you can give her a chicken saddle or apron.
However, if your hen is distressed by the rooster or the chicken saddle isn’t preventing injury, you will have to make a hard decision to rehome either the rooster or the hen, or to keep them separately.
4. Keeping and caring for roosters
Most of our roosters have been a joy to keep. They have been chivalrous with the hens and not aggressive towards people in the slightest. But they do need different care to the hens.
Keeping multiple roosters
Keeping more than one rooster with a flock of hens is usually problematic. But bachelor flocks, made up of just roosters, are becoming more common among chicken keepers and tend to work well.
Can you keep more than one rooster with hens?
While you can keep more than one rooster, it is not recommended in most backyard situations.
In the wild, sometimes a dominant male jungle fowl will allow subordinate males to remain part of the flock. However, it is more common for these subordinate males to be driven out.
Usually, if subordinate males are allowed to remain, they remain very much on the periphery of the flock and may pass the majority of their time separately despite sharing the same territory. This is very different to a backyard chicken coop situation, where even large runs don’t really provide enough space for multiple roosters to live in peace.
Why you shouldn’t keep multiple roosters with hens
While people do sometimes keep multiple roosters in a flock with hens, we don’t recommend it. The only time this set up works is where you have a very strong, but not aggressive, dominant rooster, and your other rooster is very submissive. Multiple roosters of a similar age and size should never be kept together.
Anything that makes a rooster less secure, may lead to more crowing. Although only the dominant rooster is supposed to crow, it is possible for the subordinate rooster to join in which may lead to extensive choruses in the chicken coop.
The presence of rivals is likely to elevate aggression in roosters. Additionally, multiple rooster flocks work best where the subordinate roosters can spend much of their time well away from the dominant rooster and the hens, as they would do in the wild. If you have a free-range flock on acreage, this might be possible, but most backyard set-ups are too small!
The most common cause of mating injuries in chickens is when you keep multiple roosters. While only the dominant male is supposed to mate, lower-ranked roosters often try their luck with the hens. This is particularly the case where roosters are of a similar age and dominance is not firmly established.
When another male is mating with a hen, any other roosters will often try to dismount him and may even jump onto the hen with him. If the rooster gets off the hen, another rooster will often mount her immediately. All of these behaviours can cause serious injury and distress to the hens.
While you can’t keep multiple roosters with hens, you can keep multiple roosters together in what is often referred to as a bachelor flock.
A bachelor flock is a flock of just roosters. This type of flock reflects the groups of non-dominant roosters that would occur naturally.
Where there are no hens to fight over or stimulate aggressive hormones, roosters can co-exist happily in a flock of just boys. There will be pecking order dramas just like in a flock of hens, but serious aggression is uncommon.
Bachelor flocks work best when:
- There is plenty of space and multiple feeders and drinkers
- There are no hens nearby
- There is a strong dominant male, as this prevents constant pecking order fighting and helps to keep the peace among less dominant roosters
- Minimal changes are made to the flock. Keeping a bachelor flock where roosters are removed for breeding and reintroduced is convenient, but unlikely to function well.
As with all chickens, roosters can sometimes just not get along. Even in a bachelor flock, it can be necessary to separate certain roosters to prevent constant fights and serious injuries. If you have roosters that don't get along, even after a few weeks, rehoming one of them is the only option.
4. What special care do roosters need?
For the most part, roosters are cared for in the same way as hens. But there are a few special things you should do if you keep a rooster:
Roosters can happily eat a complete layer feed, and if you keep a mixed flock of roosters and hens this is by far the easiest option.
But a layer feed has been formulated for laying hens, and really contains too much calcium to be ideal for a rooster. So if you are keeping a bachelor flock, feed your roosters a grower feed with lower calcium levels.
Like hens, roosters need grit to help with digestion. But the high calcium contained in shell grit is not good for roosters.
Supply your rooster with a non-shell-based grit such as small stones, particularly if he doesn’t free range. Free range roosters will usually pick up their own grit.
If you find that your rooster is eating the hens’ shell grit (this is rare), you may need to think of a way to provide the shell grit to the hens without allowing the rooster access. Just remember, shell grit should never be mixed with feed for hens and should be provided free access.
Roosters are naturally bigger than hens and need wider roosts. Their size makes them more likely to suffer from foot issues if forced to perch on inadequate roosts such as broomsticks. You can read more about the best roosts for chickens and roosters here.
Roosters should be treated for parasites and diseases in the same way as chickens.
Older roosters have a particular tendency to suffer from scaly leg mites, much more so than hens. Keep an eye on your rooster’s feet and act quickly to nip the problem in the bud if you see signs of leg mites.
In cold climates, roosters are also more susceptible to frostbite than hens are, because they typically have larger combs and wattles.
Rooster’s spurs can also cause issues if they break, or grow into the leg. Keep spurs trimmed not just for the hens, but also for the rooster’s health. There are instructions available here.
Roosters are necessary for fertilising eggs to hatch into chicks. But like hens, their behaviour around new chicks can be unpredictable and they can kill new hatchlings. Sitting hens and their chicks should always be separated from the main flock for several weeks at least.
Like hens, roosters are social creatures and will become distressed if kept alone. Always keep your rooster with a flock of hens or bachelor buddies!
If you are keeping your rooster with hens, 6 hens or more is necessary to help prevent any mating injuries from occurring.
Remember, most roosters are a joy to keep and contribute positively to a backyard flock.
Happy chicken keeping!
Rachael at Dine a Chook Australia