Keeping multiple roosters

by Liz Beavis
For a many years we thought it was impossible to keep two roosters together, and then, completely by accident, we ended up with two roosters who did not attempt to fight to the death at every opportunity. As this has only ever happened once, I can only guess at the reasons, and I’m hoping that others can share their own rooster experiences to try to figure out the best way to keep them. 
eight acres: keeping more than one rooster

Previously when we’ve had more than one rooster, we haven’t been able to let them all free-range at once because inevitably, as if drawn together by a magnet, the roosters would end up fighting. This was very frustrating, as we like to keep several tractors of hens with a rooster in each one, and we really like to let them all out to free-range. We could just keep one rooster, but this means that not all hens have regular access to a rooster (so the eggs may not all by fertilized) and it makes it impossible to succession plan. We like to replace the rooster every 2-3 years, and we can’t grow up a new rooster if we can only keep one at a time.

A couple of years ago we hatched a clutch of chicks and raised the hens and roosters. When they were old enough, we let them all out to free-range, we kept the roosters in the house yard, and the pullets and adult chickens were in another yard with a large Rhode Island Red rooster. One day the rooster figured out how to get into the house yard. I thought he would attack the young roosters, but instead he spent the day walking around with them. Later when we let all the chickens free-range together, the older rooster still didn’t attack the young roosters. I think it might help that the roosters get used to each other from a young age. The younger ones didn’t challenge the old one and the old one didn’t feel threatened by the young ones, and possibly didn’t want to take on a whole mob of them.

When it came time to kill the young rooster to eat them, we kept the two nicest Rhode Island Red roosters from the bunch, one for us and one for a friend. They great thing about being able to select roosters from a group of them is you can choose the roosters that get on well with the hens. As Harvey Ussery writes in my favourite chicken book of all time, an often overlooked factor in egg fertility is whether the rooster can “dance” for the hen. If the rooster has an ability to look after the hens and attract them, rather than chasing after them, he’s more like to be accepted by the hens. Anyway, we chose to keep a couple of roosters who were real ladies-roosters and they grew up together.

When it came time to dispatch the older rooster, we were left with the two younger roosters who had grown up together. We just kept letting them out to free-range and they learnt to stay away from each other. They each had their own end of the paddock and their own flock of 8-10 hens. For over a year they lived in harmony and we had no rooster fights at all, it was quite amazing! We never got around to given one of them away.

Then gradually the stronger rooster started to pick on the weaker one, and the hens started to hang around the stronger rooster more often. We were breaking up rooster fights quite regularly and the weaker rooster had ended up blind in one eye, which wasn’t helping him win any fights. In the end we decided it was time to kill the weaker rooster before the stronger rooster did the job for us. It was quite disappointing that our rooster harmony didn’t last for more than a couple of years.

And now we have the big rooster and a younger one that we kept from a previous hatch. They seem to be getting on OK at the moment….

As I said, I really don’t understand why roosters get on at times and fight at other times. I think that it helps if they are evenly matched and have plenty of hens. We never make them live together in the same tractor, they always have their own space with their own hens. It probably also helps that they grow up together, so they know each other from a young age, but even then, they can turn on each other. My advice is don’t assume that roosters won’t get on, but don’t assume that they will! And even if they do at first, it may not last forever. It is worth a try if you can get two young roosters of similar size and have plenty of hens for them to share, but be prepared to remove one rooster from the situation, one way or another.

What is your experience with keeping more than one rooster?

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