Canberra Backyard Poultry

Cockerels and Roosters

It is a sad fact of chicken keeping that 50% of every hatch are boys.  “Cockerels” refers to male chickens under a year old, “rooster” or “cock” to male chickens a year and over.  Traditionally, chickens were ‘dual-purpose’ – that is raised for eggs and meat – so girls were kept for eggs, cockerels for eating.  The advent of commercial sex-linked breeding means that for commercial layers male and female chicks have different coloured down, so male chicks are killed at hatching.  For backyarders however, it can often be difficult to impossible to accurately sex a chicken until they are many weeks old, and surprises can occur – some believe you can’t truly be sure until you see an egg or hear a crow.
People who sell un-sexed chicks will often take back male chickens, but will not usually provide a refund or swap for a pullet.  If you are sold a chicken as a sexed pullet and it turns out to be a cockerel, they will usually swap it for a girl.

Male chickens eat the same as an equivalent age female chicken – i.e. from 6-8 weeks until around 18 weeks of age feed a pullet grower food, after this they can move to a layer feed.

The biggest issue with cockerels and roosters is crowing.  The sound, depth and length of a crow varies between breeds and also between individual birds.  Cockerels and roosters can and will crow at any time of the day, and sometime during the night too if something disturbs them.  The fastest way to have a lot of crowing is to have another rooster or cockerel within earshot; “crow offs” between roosters is normal and common.

Night boxes
How to keep a rooster quiet at night and at dawn is one of the most common concerns of people wanting to keep a rooster.  It is commonly thought that a rooster needs to be able to fully stretch to crow – but this is not true.  Various solutions to night crowing some chicken owners have employed include keeping roosters in a box in a shed or garage, keeping a rooster under the house and even sometimes in a box a car.  White noise in the night box such as a radio playing can also help to stop a rooster crowing at a sudden noise in the middle of the night, but probably won’t stop dawn crowing.  A purpose built solitary night box is a common solution to keeping a rooster in suburbia while not offending the neighbours.  It is very difficult to fully sound proof, but it is possible to severely muffle crowing.  Thick insulated walls will muffle crowing and keeping the night box light proof will also help.
A word of caution – don’t house your hens and pullets in light proof night boxes with the rooster.  Their laying is linked to exposure to daylight hours so if they are kept in a light proof house at night and aren’t let out until 8 or 9 am they will think it is winter and stop laying!

This refers to the traditional removal of comb and wattles to reduce blood loss in fighting birds.  This is cruel and unnecessary and should not be practiced on backyard birds.

Spurs are a sharp and bony growth on the shank of a rooster.  These can be trimmed to avoid injury to hens during mating.  The easiest way to do this is with an angle grinder which cauterizes the spur as it cuts so avoids bleeding.

Keeping more than one
It can be done, but there are numerous behaviours that need to be taken into consideration.  It is rare for more than one adult male to live happily together in the same pen.  Occasionally this can occur where they have grown up together and where there sufficient space for them to (pretend to) ignore each other.  Otherwise, it is important for each rooster to have his own enclosure.  If one escapes and they come across each other they are likely to fight and can cause serious injury to each other so it is important that the enclosures are secure.  As mentioned earlier, having more than one rooster will also increase the amount of crowing both do, so this is an important consideration.

Aggressive roosters
Some breeds are more prone to aggressive roosters, though individuals of any breed have the potential to be aggressive.  A normally un-aggressive rooster can also turn aggressive on a perceived threat to him or his flock.  Roosters, especially those with untrimmed spurs, have the potential to cause serious injury so supervision of visitors, and especially children is essential, and children should be taught to take care around roosters.

Many chicken owners have a single strike system – if a rooster ever shows a sign that it will attack a person or child it will be disposed of or re-homed.




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