Forget their bad rap, let’s take a fresh look at Roosters.
For those who have followed me, you know that I have two central passions within the backyard chicken movement, conservation of Heritage Breeds and Roosters. Roosters have acquired a bad rap that they are not totally deserving of. Much of this reputation started in our grandparent’s day when keeping chickens was a basic way of life. The breeds available for this purpose were few and most were considered game birds by our breed standard today. The rooster was a bit cantankerous and aggressive. Not of their own volition, but due to the lack of breeding for demeanor, temperament, and docile attributes.
The backyard chicken hobby has come a long way since the day of our grandparents, starring the nightmare bird that tormented us. Much has been done in the way of breeding that has produced roosters that are much more docile and friendly. Make no mistake, a rooster has a job to do, and he takes it seriously, but as a general rule many breeds today possess roosters that are much better suited for the backyard chicken hobby way of life. I went into the hobby carrying with me the traumas of the dreaded backyard bird on my grandparents’ farm. I have since then learned much about these creatures and come to appreciate and admire them.
The first rooster that I had was Roy. Roy was a Buff Orpington rooster that came with the first batch of chicks that I ordered. I was terrified to have a rooster, but nonetheless went forward with raising him alongside the other chickens in the clutch. I feared that Roy would grow up to be the vindictive bird so often elapsed from generations past. All I had was my working knowledge and many negative associations attributed to roosters.
As Roy grew into an adult rooster, he showed me another side of roosters, a side that I never thought possible. He showed me that roosters are effectuate, approachable, friendly and even docile. I was blown away by the unchartered path the Roy was taking me down. Not only was he not aggressive, but he was also a gentleman. When I brought treats to the backyard, he would feed the girls. When I came to visit the flock, he was more often than not my welcoming committee. Through Roy, I was able to witness the selfless service he offered to my hens. Even giving his life if necessary.
One early spring day, I was in the house going about my regular activities. Due to the temped weather, I had the windows open. Out of the silence of my otherwise quiet day, I heard Roy crowing. This crow was different, instead of his usual “just checking in” crow, this crow had a timbre of urgency. Throwing on my boots and rushing to the backyard, I saw a scene before me that I was not prepared for. In the middle of the backyard stood Roy, he had sounded the alarm because a large raptor had laid siege upon the flock. All the girls were safely hidden under a tree, but Roy was alone in the backyard preparing to take on the hawk alone, thus giving his life for his hens. As I approached the backyard and took in the reality of what was unfolding, I too took action and grabbed the closest thing to me waving it in the air. With my hoe in hand, I approached Roy, striking the Raptor, scaring it, it flew over the fence scratching into the distance. Once Roy was freed from the predators’ talons, I saw that he was injured. He sustained injuries to his head and back. I cared for him, nursing him back to health, returned him to the flock where he lived on several more years as a decorated war hero. I learned that day the ultimate value of a rooster. Roy showed me that a rooster is more than a reputation that hinged from a long-ago era. A rooster is a sentient being that gives more than he will ever receive. Even giving his life when necessary.
Roy has long since passed, buried under a white butterfly bush in my backyard, but he is not gone. I still hear his crow echoing in my backyard amplified in the 13 roosters that I now have the honor to care for. He was the first of many roosters that I now own and will own in the future.
The lessons I learned from my Rooster Teacher will never fade. I take what Roy has taught me and now advocate for roosters. Roosters are amongst the most abused and forgotten creatures, a singer of the songs of the ancients, with a heart of gold, he cares for and even surrenders his life for his friends.
This post is dedicated to Roy and his legacy, but most importantly it’s the story of my journey with roosters. Proof that roosters are indeed sentient beings worthy of admiration and respect. Here are my top 10 Reasons why Roosters Rock.
The most common attribute possessed by roosters is that of protection. When free ranging, a rooster will keep an eye to the sky, looking out for any danger that may threaten the flock. When a danger is detected, he will sound the alarm, send the girls running for cover and if needed give his life for his flock. This is what I witnessed on that fateful day when Roy sounded the alarm. Had I not been home, I often cringe at what would have been. But luckily, I was there to save Roy’s life just as he was preparing to save the life of my girls.
It is often said that a rooster is a better watch dog than a watch dog. After owning many roosters, I have to concur. Roosters will keep you up to date all on that goes on in the backyard or chicken yard. They are a real live and up to date news service on the condition of their surroundings. If there are multiple roosters in a flock, they will check in with each other, crowing communicating the “all clear here”, echoed by a “clear here too”. This banter will go on throughout the day as the boys on duty keep the flock updated on the air traffic in the area or other important announcements. I delight in hearing my boys check in with each other, I feel good knowing that the guys are on duty.
Singing the song of his people, a rooster’s crow is an ancient song, a song of a world long forgotten in time. He sings the ancient song long before our time, a time when his larger ancestors roamed the earth. His is a song from a world that long ago existed before his song was drowned out by our modern way of life. His song is a song of purity, the reminiscence of a day when life was hard but simple. A time when a rooster’s crow ushered in the beginning of a new day. Greeting the sun, setting the world around him in motion. Our modern life drowns out the sounds of nature and the past. His song has a purity that money cannot buy but few will hear. His song is a relic of the ancients, linking us to his past and to ours.
3. A Dancer:
A rooster is a gentleman. Before he mates with a hen, he courts her with a shuffle dance. As he approaches her in anticipation of a date he will dance for her, shuffling his feet, displaying his wings and at times shaking his waddles, the ultimate display of a rooster “stud”. If she accepts, he will then mate with her and then make plans for his next date. Watching this mating dance within my own flock by my roosters is such a delight. I never thought that roosters could have such killer moves, but nonetheless, my backyard is a dance floor with some of the best dancers I have seen. I never get tired of watching my boys dance for my hens.
4. Fertilized Eggs
Linked close to number 3 (dancing) is fertilized eggs. When a rooster mates with a hen, it is his aim to pass long his genes to the subsequent generation of chicks. If you want to procreate your flock, fertilized eggs are a must. Not only that, but if you sale your fertilized eggs you can make a small profit on the side. For example, when the covid-19 pandemic hit the US, lot of people wanted to keep chickens. Seeking to be independent from the supply chain, many began seeking a more self-sufficient way of life. A lot of people reached out to me asking if I would sale some of my hens or chicks. Being that it was January when covid impacted my area, chick season was a bit far off yet. However, I did have fertilize eggs that I could sale and start their flocks. As a result, I earned a profit by selling fertilized eggs from my flock. All the proceeds went right back to the girls whether be it feed, treats, or other things they benefited from.
5. Hunting for his Hens:
A rooster will hunt for his girls. When free ranging, a rooster will actively look for things to offer his hens. When he finds something of value, he will call his girls over to partake of his hard work. When they heed his call, he will then pick up the morsel and drop it, showing them what he found for them. As they eat, he will keep watch looking out for any danger deemed to be a threat to the flock. If his hunts come up empty, he will lead his girls to the feeder when he feels that it’s time for them to eat. After the girls have had their fill, only then will he eat if there are any remaining morsels. It is by evolutionary design that he knows the girls need the extra nutrition for the procreation of the flock (egg laying).
Roosters are known for this chivalrous behavior. I spend much time watching my boys as they hunt and call over their girls as the proudly watch as they eagerly eat his find. This was a behavior that I least expected to see in my roosters. Even when I bring treats to the backyard for the flock, the boys will be up front ready to receive the treats to distribute amongst their appointed hens. I will often give the treats to the roosters and watch them feed their ladies. In this process, the roosters have learned that I am the supplier of sustenance and will often squabble in anticipation of getting the first hand out to offer to their hens. When multiple roosters are in the flock, this behavior is even more interesting to witness.
6. Keeping his friends close and his enemies closer:
When out free ranging, the presence of a rooster in a flock will keep the girls from wondering too far. In my backyard, the boys have divided the yard into jurisdictions. Each head of the flock knowing where the boundary lines are, and which girls belong on which rooster team. Given that my backyard is large providing much roaming space, each rooster keeps his girls within their section of the vast yard. When the girls start to wonder too far from their coop or into “enemy territory”, he will herd them back to home base. When roosting time approaches, he will also herd them to the coop in preparation for night fall. I have multiple coops in my backyard, each rooster knows which coop is his and will see to it that all his girls are accounted for before I lock up. If I find one of the roosters wondering in the backyard, I know that one or more of his girls are in the wrong coops. I assist him with finding his missing hen in one of the other coops, put her on the ground and let him lead her to the correct coop for roosting (it is apparently a violation of the rooster code for him to enter a suspect coop in search of his hen). I have often times gone to lock up the coops for the night and found one, sometimes more of my boys waiting for my assistance. They know that as I lock up coops, I will discover any misplaced hens and reunite them with the correct flock and corresponding head of flock management.
7. Keeping order in the ranks:
As the head of the flock, a rooster will keep order in the ranks. Contrary to popular belief, chickens are very intelligent and highly organized creatures. Phrases that we often use in our everyday language are derived from the complex social structure of chickens such as, “pecking order” and for good reason. The social hierarchy of a flock is established by literally pecking another member on the back indicating placement in the social order (the pecker is above the peckie). Starting with the alpha rooster, below him are the subjugated roosters in the flock, then flowing throughout all the hens to the last member at the bottom of the pecking order. All activities are then performed around this order, such mundane flock activities as who roosts were at night, the order in which the flock leaves the coop and the order in which they return.
As predicted, there are often squabbles amongst the hens when someone acts out of turn or challenges another member to renegotiate their position. When this happens, a conflict often ensues. During these times, a rooster will step in and quell any disruption within the ranks, establishing peace once again in the order. Left in isolation, conflicts among the flock can result in injuries to the contenders. It is a rooster’s job to see to it that no injuries are sustained by breaking up any fights that may break out among the hens. Once order is reestablished, the flock can then carry on about their day hopefully without further disruptions.
Before I had roosters, I never stopped and examined them. What I have found is that although all my girls are stunning, my boys are just absolutely beautiful. From the iconic 80’s hair band atop my Polish boys’ heads to the elaborately long tails and stunning colorations, my boys are just beautiful. They take pride in their crests and long tails to. When molting season is upon them and my boys lose their tails, I can almost visibly see their egos affected.
They will strut their stuff in the backyard while shaking their waddles just to let everyone know they are the heart throbs of the backyard. My boys take great care in their looks, I assist them in making sure they stay pest free, aiding them in their grooming regiment. I have a few that are the pride of my backyard and know it. When multiple roosters are in the flock, the eye candy appeal is even more enticing. They just add a beauty to my backyard flock that is hard to miss. I thoroughly enjoy watching my backyard studs as they strut their stuff and care for the hens.
Roosters create an interesting dynamic in the flock. As they each care for their section of the hens in their agreed upon jurisdiction, things can sometimes become entertaining. Occasionally a hen or two will wonder off too far, so the associated rooster needs to fetch them while keeping an eye on the rest of the flock.
Or this scenario, a hen or two will cheat on a rooster by mating with a rival rooster in another part of the yard. Or a young rooster who has yet to establish his harem works to try and siphon off a few hens from other roosters. This often leaves the backyard in a state of confusion for a few days. My boys are very well behaved, so fights are usually limited to short durations. Typically, when two roosters start to squabble, one or more of the other roosters will hear the disruption and break up the confrontation. Basically, backyard life is never boring with roosters around.
Even funnier still is when I bring new items into the backyard. Last year we put in a grape arbor in our backyard which entailed many items coming to the backyard, all needed inspection by the boys. An auger to dig the post holes, large timbers to frame the arbor, more wood to create the canopy, and finally the grape plants themselves. The boys each had to make sure it passed inspection before they felt comfortable with the hens going near it. The year earlier we put in a large backyard garden shed. That too had to pass rooster inspection. This year we plan to give them a break. I cannot imagine my flock without my boys, they are a great joy and bring much happiness to my soul.
When I observe my flock free ranging in my backyard, I see a balance. The Yin Yang, the Yi Jing, all in balance flowing as nature designed and intended. Many city locations will not allow roosters due to the noise issue related to crowing. However, many city chicken keepers are posing challenges to this discriminatory precedent being allowed one rooster. Roosters whether in a fenced backyard or a pasture bring a completion to the flock that is often missed when a rooster is absent. I am thankful for every summer eve that I am able to sit at watch my flock as they bring to an end the day’s activity. I cannot imagine my life without my boys, they have taught me so much.
I hope that this post has brought some clarification to the subject of roosters. It is my aim to challenge the stigma, the bad rap that is often unfairly attached to roosters, and to instead present them as the amazing creatures that they are. Yes, the roosters of our grandparent’s era were bad barnyard birds. They were often closely related to the game cock which is a very aggressive species. But as the backyard chicken movement has taken hold in this country, so has the demand for a bird that fit this purpose. No longer needed to sustain a family farm, chickens today are assuming the role of a family pet much like a dog. The poultry industry has responded by providing more and more breeds that are docile and even downright lovable. Sometimes a rooster can be so docile that he is for all explicit purposes useless. Pantaphobia, one of our white crested polish roosters, is so docile that he fits this description. To read his story, click here.
Take the Silkie for example. Silkies are known the world over as the teddy bears of the chicken world. They live up to this reputation as lovable, furry feathered friends that are great to have around kids. One of my sons has a flock of Silkies, he is very attached, absolutely loves, and cares for them. There are many other examples such as the Silkie that meet the needs of the backyard chicken hobbyist.
In this post it was my aim to take a fresh look at roosters. Gone are the days of our grandparent’s barnyard rooster that terrorized us as kids. Meet the roosters of today and start your adventure with backyard chickens.
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