Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Great Rooster Dilemma

The rooster dilemma has arisen because I now have seven hens, enough to support a rooster. By "support" I mean "allay the concupiscence of" a rooster. Roosters, especially young ones, are such mating machines that they will stress and wear out their wives, unless there are enough of them so he can spread his favors more thinly.

Of course one could end up with a monogamous rooster, as we once did. He was a gorgeous Barred Rock, decorated with narrow black and white stripes from head to tail and with a rakish red comb flopping over one eye. He fell in love with an elderly hen, one of those scrawny rust-colored hybrids who lay huge brown eggs day in and day out, winter and summer. We had a flock of eight hens, but he ignored all except the one he had set his heart upon. The trouble was that he didn't just set his heart upon her, but also the considerable weight of his body, his beak holding her fast behind her head and his spurs clawing her back for balance. The poor hen started losing the feathers on her back, and looking haunted and unhappy. I decided that she had precedence over the rooster, and so he went. Fortunately, monogamous roosters are fairly rare.

On the plus side, a rooster can be a surprisingly good husband to a flock. If he finds a worm or an especially tasty weed, he will call the hens making the very same clucking sounds with which a mother hen calls her chicks, and let the hens eat first. He will keep an eye out for hawks and foxes while the hens graze, and will get them to safety if a predator appears. And nothing beats a rooster for getting the flock into the shed at night.

A rooster means fertile eggs, and if one of the hens should go broody and sit on a nest of eggs, that means the possibility (albeit not the guarantee) of chicks. And a rooster crows--a trumpet-like, cheerful sound that heralds such events as the rising of the sun, or the arrival of guests.

On the minus side, a rooster crows. He often crows in the middle of the night, way before dawn, or because the dog just came into the yard, or because he feels like it. It is a loud, trumpet-like sound. We don't have near neighbors to worry about, but there is no question that, at all times and in all seasons, the yard is a noisier place with him about. Then there is the hustle and bustle of his sex life, the frequent beating of his wings for showing-off purposes, the sheer energy of the beast.

Rooster or no rooster, I have seen no difference in egg production or in the health of the flock. But in their hearts, are the hens happier without a mate, or would they like a strutting husband with a bright red comb? Me, I like the calm, conventual feel of a roosterless flock. But I can't deny that there is something missing: the excitement, the drama and (in the case of roosters especially) the sheer danger of the male presence. The question is, is it worth it?

7 comments :

  1. Not, at least, until Bisou is taken care of.

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  2. As someone with three roosters running around the yard, my advice is... NO! While "the boys" are magnificent creatures, I dearly miss the peace and feeling of ease the flock and the homestead had before their ascent into manhood.

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  3. O.k., the No's have it. Peace and ease and serenity...doesn't sound bad at all.

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  4. I have not purchased my chicks yet as I am still doing research. We have 2 acres but are up on a hill and I am concerned about the crowing disturbing the neighbors. On the other hand, I am afraid if I don't get a rooster with the 7 hens that I will leave them defenseless when they are free ranging all day .... Hhhhhhm, a dilemma ~

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  5. Fay, although roosters are protective, they are still chickens, and thus fairly helpless against, say, a fox or a dog or a hawk. Free-ranging hens will be at risk, rooster or no rooster (though they'll be extremely happy with their life). Have you considered the rooster/hen ratio? Depending on the breed, and the age of the rooster, seven hens might not be enough, and they might end up looking (and feeling) pretty bedraggled. Good luck with your chicken venture! Let me know how it goes.

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