Keeping Roosters

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Rooster 38 at 18 Weeks

The Buckeye roosters are driving us crazy with their crowing and fighting (they’re now 24 weeks old), so we need to select two roosters to keep.   And, it’s important to pick the best two, because they’ll be the foundation for the flock.

I get a lot of questions about why anyone would want roosters.  The first question is often, do you need roosters for eggs?  And no, roosters aren’t necessary for eggs; but they are necessary for fertile eggs.  That leads to one reason for keeping roosters; in our case, we’d like the hens to go “broody” and hatch some of their own fertile eggs thereby naturally propagating the flock.

Another reason for keeping roosters is that they protect their flock.  They’ll try to find food for the hens, watch for any signs of danger or predators, and sound an alarm if they spot anything threatening.  Upon hearing the alarm, the hens run for cover, while the rooster will stay to do battle.  They’ll sacrifice themselves to protect the hens, and ensure survival of their progeny.  Our Buckeyes will be free ranging on a couple of acres, so having some roosters looking out for the hens is a good thing. 

For the Buckeyes, we could distinguish the roosters from the hens by about 8 weeks, but their behaviors didn’t seem much different.   However, between 20 and 24 weeks, they started crowing.  Roosters crow very early in the morning, randomly (as far as we can tell) throughout the day, and regularly seem to participate in crowing duels.  You shouldn’t keep roosters if you can’t have crowing – we like a little crowing, but with 13 roosters, we have too much crowing going on.    

When buying day-old chicks or eggs to hatch, odds are that half of the birds will be roosters.  However, one rooster is sufficient for 10 – 15 hens, so there are invariably extra roosters.  In our case, we have 19 hens, so we’ll keep two roosters.  That means that 11 need new homes or are going into the freezer.

Since the Buckeye’s are a dual purpose breed, both meat and eggs are important.  But, roosters can’t be evaluated for eggs, so we’re left with selecting birds that are big (think meaty) and that also conform to the breed standard.   For our first selection round, we weighed the birds and picked the heaviest five that also met the breed standard (any birds that had any defects according to the standard were excluded).  Those five went into the coop with the mature hens and Buckeye pullets.    

Rooster 41 at 18 Weeks

For the next round, we evaluated the heart girth, skull width, shank thickness, and overall body appearance looking for the widest girth, thickest shanks, widest skull, and a “brick” looking type body appearance.  We also took a look at the birds coloring and comb, trying to select for the rich mahogany color without black except in the primaries, secondary’s, and tail.

Initially, we picked numbers 41 and 38 as the winners; and tried to move the 3 losing birds back to the barn with the other roosters.  Well, when roosters grow up together they establish their pecking order and there’s a lot of posturing, but not fighting.  However, if you introduce a new rooster, all the others will fight with it.  We found the three that we tried to return from the coop were already considered intruders, and they were taking a beating.  So, we put them back in the coop – they may as well enjoy what time they have left.  

We’ll probably vacillate over whether 41 and 38 are the best birds, but I’m certainly looking forward to a little more peace and quiet!

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