I’m doing a lot of unusual things on this farm, but by far the most unusual and most controversial feat I have attempted is raising roosters. That is to say roosters, plural, indefinitely, for non-meat purposes. This is such an uncommon thing that I wasn’t able to receive any advice on this topic before embarking on this task. Back in 2016 when I was preparing for my first chicks, I found one blog post on the whole entire internet from one person who had multiple roosters at some point in time and thought it was going mostly okay by free ranging the roosters separately from the hens. It wasn’t a lot to go on. Aside from that one tip, all I received was bewilderment, discouragement, patronization, condescension, and ridicule. People thought I was naive or even crazy, and the very idea that I would try to keep all my male chickens offended many experienced poultry keepers. “You’ll see” was the refrain. The implication being that I would soon learn that roosters are unlovable, that roosters all hated each other, and how impossible a task it would be to refrain from killing them.
Why Keep Roosters?
For love. I love animals of all kinds, I’ve been a vegetarian since 2003, and I’d 100% rather have a live rooster than coq au vin. For the love of animals, rooster care is needed. About half of all the baby chicks that hatch out from eggs every year are male. Those tiny male fluff balls grow up into adult roosters…roosters that nobody wants to keep. Most male chicks never grow up. They are killed en masse at hatcheries because no one will buy them. For me, this is a problem. And so, for the love of animals, this project was also partially motivated by curiosity. I wanted to know if it was possible, practical, economical, and reasonable to raise chickens in a 100% no-kill method. If so, how?
Over five years later, I have not killed or desired to kill a single one of my beautiful, strong, brave, proud-yet-self-conscious, independent-yet-loving roosters. I’m not going to tell you it has been easy or cheap, but neither has anything else I’ve attempted on this farm. My rooster experience has been and continues to be rewarding and worthwhile. I feel like I have received a special glimpse into chicken life from an angle that most people never see. We have had challenges, but we have overcome them.
I attribute my success in part to careful breed selection. I did not choose one of the breeds of chickens that were originally developed for cock fighting! Instead, I chose the breed I would raise based on its reputation for being super chill, calm, friendly chickens. I’m raising faverolles.
Five Tips For Rooster Success
In this article, I share five lessons I have learned about rooster care from my quest for the cruelty-free egg. These tips come from my 5+ years of lived experience raising roosters for non-meat purposes. My roosters provide compost for my gardens, feathers for my art projects, education and humility for my own character development, as well as entertainment, music, and joy. If you’re considering raising your own roosters, feel free to reach out to me through the comments section or through any of my social media platforms with your individual questions and concerns. I’d love to help you succeed.
Always Have A Spare Coop Ready
One crucial factor in my success raising ten roosters through adulthood has been the ability to split the flock when needed.
At about eight months old, it became necessary to split the flock the first time. I separated them into one big sorority house and one big fraternity house. The hens could not live with roosters in equal numbers (there’s a phenomenon called over-mating, which causes injuries to the hens), and the roosters fought over access to the hens. After separating males and females, there was a time of relative peace when all the roosters lived together fairly harmoniously.
A year or two after the roosters moved into their big fraternity home, a hawk assassinated their elected leader. The other roosters quickly surrounded and subdued the hawk until I could get out to the rooster yard to handle the situation. I’m happy to tell you that the the other roosters and the hawk all survived to tell the tale. The loss of their trusted leader caused instability in the social structure of Lambda Pi Rooster. The remaining roosters divided into two warring factions. The biggest, strongest roosters turned against two of their smallest brothers. The bullying got pretty intense, so I built a third coop and moved the two little guys into their own home where they could live together in peace. I named this new little house “the buddy coop”. I can’t even tell you how much joy these two little guys bring me every day. Dwayne “The Cock” Johnson and Dr. Wattleson grow the cutest little garden in their front yard by scratching their seeds into the ground. They eat lots of wheat grass and pea tendrils, and spend their days scheming about how to break into the hen house. The remaining roosters squabble a bit, but they’re all big and tough enough to handle it. We haven’t had any additional serious bullying situations.
Although these situations all resolved eventually, some physical injuries and emotional trauma could have been avoided if I had extra coops at-the-ready. My chickens did have to live through stressful situations for a month or two at a time while new housing was being built. If you plan to keep your roosters, I suggest having an extra coop always available, so that if a conflict arises, you’re ready to swiftly split the flock. If possible, never isolate one chicken all by himself. They really are social animals, and they need company. If you have a rooster who absolutely can’t get along with any other roosters, you could try housing him with your hens or in a subgroup with a minimum of two hens.
I’ll also note here that any split you make is permanent. You will probably not be able to re-integrate a rooster who has been separated from his flock (maybe even for just one night).
A Bored Rooster Is A Cranky Rooster
If your roosters get cranky, they might need a day off. I don’t free range my chickens every day because this rich ecosystem in which we live is full of dangers for them. I allow supervised free-range excursions when I’m able to stand guard, but even that is not totally safe. Still, sometimes a free-range day is absolutely needed, and your roosters will let you know when it is time for a day out. I find that everybody is calmer and happier after a big adventure, and they often forget all about whatever they were squabbling over.
Keep An Eye On Those Talons
Roosters require an extra bit of maintenance that hens don’t need. Roosters have talons. These talons keep growing as long as the roosters live. Sometimes they actually fall off on their own, taking care of their own maintenance. Other times they keep growing, and need to be trimmed. These talons can experience growth spurts, and it seems to me like this usually happens in the spring. During one of these growth spurts, one of my roosters experienced an ingrown talon, in which the talon curved and grew into his own leg. Keep an eye out for this and ideally schedule regular pedicures with your boys. I can’t say that I’m always diligent with the pedicures, but I do try to get eyes on their legs at least once a week.
I’m happy to report that my little man with the ingrown talon made a full recovery and is still with us. I swaddled him in a towel so that only his head and legs were free to move, then laid him on a table while I trimmed back his talon with an old pair of pruning shears, cleaned the wound, and bandaged it with honey and sage leaves secured with vet wrap. He was a really good sport about all this.
Skip The Feeder
I have tried pretty much every kind of chicken feeder that exists, and none of them have worked for me. You know what has worked? Throwing the food on the ground. This is what my chickens really want. I switched to an unmilled, whole grain and seed food so that the pieces remain large enough for the chickens to see and eat. The whole seeds they do not eat do not get wasted, because if they are not eaten, they simply sprout and grow into some nice microgreens to enrich the chickens’ diet. By sprinkling the food all over the ground in the chicken run, there’s no central feeder point for chickens to fight about. Anybody can eat whenever they want regardless of their status in the pecking order.
Double The Fence
Chickens are incredibly smart, and roosters are also highly ambitious. If you give them a weapon, they will figure out how to use it to get what they want. An electric fence is a weapon. To prevent my roosters from using it against their competition, I replaced their electric fence with a regular non-shocking fence surrounded by a two foot empty space, then an electric fence around that to keep the predators out.
I’m still figuring out how to make this economical. I have some ideas, and I’m hopeful that I can get there through feather art. With all the other projects I’m juggling on this farm, I haven’t had the time to try it yet. As for the other questions I tried to answer: yes, it is possible, reasonable, and practical to keep roosters! No, their society does not inevitably devolve into cockfighting mania. It is a little harder than raising hens. You do need to be vigilant; guard against and respond to social rifts when they arise, before they get out of hand. Roosters need space, patience, compassion, and agility. Be prepared to change plans, take risks, and adapt to the needs of your flock. Have an extra coop at the ready in case it is needed. Let them out to free range whenever you can. Be brave, be bold, and keep showing up! This path is not for the faint of heart, but there are many rewards for those who are willing to persevere. I am so glad I did. These tough little guys totally melt my heart!
For Further Reading
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