For the first few years I had chickens I didn’t have a rooster. Then I adopted a bantam boy that had been dumped in the woods and left to fend on his own. He was a great ambassador for his sex because he was a fantastic rooster. Sadly, Issac died but I’ve always kept a rooster after that and all of them have been an asset to the flock.
I’ve written several posts on roosters, but when it came time to post about keeping an all male flock I reached out to folks who are role models who exemplify how understanding chicken dynamics can result in bringing out the best in them. Even if you’re not interested in keeping a rooster flock, this is a good read for their insights into chicken behaviour and successful flock management.
The following was authored by guest contributors Sara and Jacob Franklin of Roovolution.
We never planned to have roosters at all. We had just moved from the city to a rural area and our new house came with a backyard chicken coop. When our neighbors kindly offered to hatch us some chicks, we figured it would be nice to have our own source of eggs. In short order we were off on a new adventure with six adorable day-old chicks. The goal of eggs quickly took a backseat, however, as we fell head over heels in love with our fluffy new family members. They became the high point of each day and we often found ourselves sitting with them, watching them play and marveling at how fast they were growing up.
Fast forward a couple of months and we were faced with the heart wrenching dilemma that so many new keepers encounter: four of the little ones we had grown so incredibly attached to were male. We knew roosters need around ten hens each to prevent over-mating and conflict; we definitely didn’t have enough space for 40 hens, but couldn’t imagine sending any of our boys off to an uncertain fate. We were desperate to keep everyone with us, but the situation seemed hopeless. Just when we thought there was no good path forward, we stumbled across the perfect solution – the rooster flock.
A rooster flock (also known as a bachelor flock) is exactly what it sounds like, a flock made up of only roosters with no hens present. Many believe that roosters simply cannot be housed together. It has become a common myth that they are “aggressive” by nature and are instinctually driven to fight and kill other males. Many roosters wind up culled or abandoned because keepers simply don’t know there is a way to house them all safely. Rehoming can be notoriously difficult, and there is always the risk that they will wind up on a dinner table, or even forced into illegal and inhumane cock fighting. The rooster flock allows keepers who are concerned about the many dangers roosters face to keep multiple birds safely in their care. The truth is, that while they are by nature territorial, roosters can get along wonderfully with other male birds provided that just a few important factors are accounted for.
Why Rooster Flocks Work
As with all animals, the majority of the conflict that happens between roosters comes down to resources: food, water, space, or potential mates. By removing the females from the social structure, and from sight, a major reason for in-fighting is eliminated. With no females present, the males will establish their own pecking order, just as a flock of hens would, and the same process for establishing status and social structure will apply. The dominant male will take on the role of head of the flock, and will work to keep the others in line and protect them from danger. It may seem unnatural to house only males together, but roosters have been observed flocking with other roosters by choice in the wild and form very strong bonds with each other, just like hens.
Why Have A Rooster Flock
It’s no secret that young roosters are often the most sweet, social, and outgoing chicks in the bunch. A rooster flock allows guardians to not only keep their young roosters around but also keep them bonded and tame far more easily, at the same time reducing the number of roosters in need of a safe and loving home. With no hens to worry about, many roosters feel free to focus their time and affection on their human keepers. Our boys will leap onto our arms the moment we arrive at their run for daily visits. They are very much like dogs in their level of affection and loyalty. There are few things as delightful as a friendship with an affectionate rooster.
Setting Up Housing
The set-up for a rooster flock is very similar to the set-up for hens, with a few important modifications. The primary difference is the space needed. While flocks of hens require only a 10 square feet minimum of space in their run/bird, a rooster flock should have 40-50 square feet/bird. This is considered a safe starting point, but more is always better. All roosters are individuals. Some can do well with smaller spaces, but some will wind up needing even more room than is typically recommended in order to get along peacefully. It always takes some time to evaluate how the flock is interacting and determine whether adjustments are needed. The best way to avoid a time-consuming project expanding housing in the future is to build in extra space from the start. Even with the best planning, changes in flock dynamics can prompt an unexpected need for modification, so always keep a close eye on interactions and be prepared to adjust as needed.
In addition to plenty of space, it is recommended to have more than one station for food and water, placed in different areas of the enclosure. This will help reduce conflict, as well as ensure that the more dominant roosters cannot prevent the lower ranked birds from eating and drinking. The number of stations needed will depend on the size of the flock and to what extent, if any, guarding of resources is occurring.
It is also important to provide escape routes in the run. If a dispute occurs, you want to be sure the weaker individual can get away from the conflict. This can be achieved by adding extra outdoor roosting areas, objects to act as dividers on the ground, or anything that allows them to put some distance or a visual barrier between themselves and other birds. Enrichment activities should also be made available, as boredom can increase the risk of conflict. Happy birds with plenty to do fight less, so be sure to provide mental stimulation. This could be foraging blocks, a head of cabbage hung from the run or activity centers with various perches.
The simplest way to establish a rooster flock is to start with multiple roosters who were raised together. This removes the need for an adjustment period. Siblings get along more readily since they are already comfortable with each other. If this is your situation, moving day is as easy as relocating all your cockerels to their permanent housing. When raising young roosters, I always recommend lots of interaction and affection starting as early as possible. Contrary to popular belief this will not make them mean, but it will make them unafraid of their keeper. This means that it is important to maintain this loving relationship rather than a combative one as they grow.
If you are looking to put together mature roosters that have not been brought up together there are just a few additional considerations and precautions to take. Introducing roosters is also quite similar to introducing hens. It is always preferred to add two or more birds that already get along, rather than a solitary bird, to reduce the chance of bullying. If adding only one new bird, closer supervision will be required to ensure that they are settling in and being accepted. New birds should always be quarantined away from the rest of the flock for a minimum of 30 days to monitor for signs of illness and treatment, if necessary.
Once quarantine is completed, introductions can begin. This is the “look don’t touch” period. The new bird(s) will be confined to a kennel(s) in either the permanent run, or an adjacent temporary run. This allows them to get used to each other’s presence without being able to physically access each other. They should have a feeder and waterer in their individual enclosure and a perch to roost on, if desired. Be sure to account for weather and provide protection from the elements as needed. The time frame for this step varies depending on how quickly they adjust to each other.
You might see increased attempts to kick at each other during this time, especially from birds that are free while the newcomer is caged. This is not necessarily a cause for concern and is often the result of overconfidence. They recognize that the caged bird is at a disadvantage and are emboldened as a result. Be sure to take measures to prevent feet and legs being caught in the bars and injured, such as a stiff netting wrapped around the outside of the kennel. If anyone seems to be under excessive stress, or is at risk of over-exertion, separate out of sight to allow them to calm down.
When you first allow them to intermingle without the protection of the kennel, monitor very closely and be prepared to intervene if issues arise. Sometimes it is necessary to fall back to additional kennel time and try again if it is clear they are not yet ready. When dealing with roosters who were adopted later in life, it is important to be patient with them and account for possible past trauma, as well as the general fear and stress brought on by a change in environment.
Be aware that removal of an established bird from your flock, even just for a day or two for treatment, can result in them losing their place in the pecking order. For this reason, it is best to avoid removal of flock mates if possible, although sometimes it can’t be helped. If there is an issue with bullying, a kennel in the run can be used to separate, without fully removing, the individual from the flock. However, if the bird must be isolated away from the flock to treat for injury or illness it is best to plan to reintroduce using the same process as if they were a new bird.
Caring For A Rooster Flock
Caring for a rooster flock is very similar to caring for hens. They should be fed All Flock or Grower feed since they will not need the added calcium that laying hens would for egg production. They love various healthy treats, but these should be kept to no more than 10% of their diet in order to ensure they get all the important vitamins and minerals from their formulated feed.
If hens are present on the property, it is important to ensure that the rooster flock cannot see them. Hearing the hens will not cause issues, but if they can see them they will fight in hopes of accessing them. Visibility can be blocked either by placing the rooster housing in an area of the property that the hens cannot enter, or partitioning off an area with solid fencing that prevents view of the ranging area. Take measures to prevent the possibility of the hens jumping or flying into view. If the hens are confined to a run, the rooster pen can simply be constructed out of sight of the other flock.
Treatment and general care are the same with both genders, with the exception of spur maintenance. It is important to make sure spur tips are dulled and kept to a reasonable length. Just like hens, roosters will have pecking order change ups from time to time. If spurs are allowed to become sharp, serious injuries can happen during these contests. The preferred method for dulling spurs is by filing them down which can either be done manually or very carefully with a dremel. Do note that rooster spurs, like mammal toenails, have a quick. It is important to always be careful not to file back far enough to reach the quick, as this would be incredibly painful and cause bleeding. I recommend keeping styptic powder on hand in case of mishaps during spur trimming, or any other injuries that require intervention.
Roosters often grab each other by the comb to scold or redirect, and these too can bleed an alarming amount if damaged, so styptic powder should be on hand for this as well. Spurs should never be yanked or twisted off. Many believe that spur removal is not painful for roosters. It is true that they often do not react as though they are in pain. However, it is important to remember that chickens are prey animals and as such they will always hide pain or illness as much as possible. This is a hard-wired survival instinct, and should never be taken as evidence that they are not suffering.
In fact, it is common for chickens to become “calm” and subdued when they are in severe distress or believe their life is in danger. Many make the mistake, for instance, of believing that a chicken placed on its back (or held upside down) becomes calm because they are relaxed. In truth, they are often simply suffering from oxygen deprivation, as their lungs are positioned along their back. Because chickens do not have a diaphragm, gravity causes their organs to compress the lungs when placed in this position. If held this way for too long, it is even possible for them to suffocate and die, often remaining calm the entire time.
Dealing With Stress
Any stress in the flock can cause the residents to become more reactive and impatient. This could be a recent run in with a predator, a change to the flock dynamic, temperature extremes, or even inclement weather such as loud and unrelenting wind. It is always wise to account for these factors when preparing to visit or tend to your rooster flock, as it will help you to anticipate whether they are likely to be on edge or relaxed. This will empower you to minimize, or even avoid conflict and misunderstandings altogether. Establishing a routine can also minimize stress in your flock. Roosters thrive on predictability. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it will help keep everyone at ease and support a peaceful flock dynamic.
Often in bachelor flocks only the head roo will crow, as it is an expression of status. That said, I have noticed with our boys that the crowing is shared, likely because we have a very tolerant head roo who allows it. For a long time only Mae Mae and Ginger crowed, and did so fairly regularly. Daisy and Morgen were too low on the pecking order or too timid to want to try. It seems that crowing depends very much on social position and boldness. If the head roo is strict, he will likely be the only one and anyone else who tries will be put in their place quickly. The others crowing seems to depend on how empowered they feel to express themselves or how free they feel to show off.
The Bottom Line
Roosters are often depicted as loose cannons, or naturally ill-tempered animals that are more trouble than they are worth. I have found that this could not be farther from the truth. In fact, our roosters are some of our most bonded and affectionate companion animals I have had the privilege of caring for. I would encourage anyone to take the plunge into starting a rooster flock. Although it does take some work, it is an incredibly rewarding experience. Perhaps you have fallen in love with your young roosters and want a safe way to keep them in your care, or maybe you are seeking to provide a safe and loving home to roosters in need. Whatever the case, I hope this option can provide the perfect solution for you, as it has for us.
If you have questions or are interested in more specific advice on working with a rooster in your care, please feel free to reach out to us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sara and Jacob Franklin came together over their shared love of all animals. As caregivers for their two flocks, they have worked diligently to develop a more intuitive and compassionate approach to husbandry, which is rooted in animal psychology rather than tradition. They now spend their time sharing advice and insight with fellow keepers in order to help them develop and maintain a closer bond with their birds.
Many thanks to Sara & Jacob Franklin of Roovolution for sharing their story, video and photos, used with permission.
Understanding and responding to rooster behaviour is dealt with separately in this post.