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Maintaining a Healthy Rooster Flock

Three brown roosters standing near each other on a pile of tree stumps outside.
Harpo, Chico, and Groucho were rescued together and are able to carve out their own space within their larger rooster flock.  Photo: Triangle Chicken Advocates

Updated February 26, 2021

Rethinking The Term “Bachelor”

After connecting with the folks over at Triangle Chicken Advocates when updating this resource (which at the time was called Maintaining A Healthy Bachelor Flock), they pointed out that they no longer used the term “bachelor flock” and shared a post they had written explaining their reasoning. It states, “We’ve had roosters living with other roosters for years. Without thinking much about it, we adopted the term ‘bachelor flock’ for this type of social structure, but we have come to fear that this term is deceptive, even damaging. We’re hanging up the term. None of these roosters are ‘bachelors’ in the sense of being free from deep, meaningful, and positively romantic relationships with their fellow roosters. Their flocks are just as important, beautiful, and valid as any flock containing a rooster and hens.” After reading their explanation (which you can read in full here), we followed suit and replaced the term with “rooster flock” in all of our resources because we, too, felt that while well-intentioned, the term “bachelor” just wasn’t reflective of the relationships roosters can form with one another. To read more about the importance of language choices, check out our resource here.

Roosters lead a hard life. Not only do male chicks overwhelmingly face slaughter a few moments into their life, but mature birds face a high chance of being forced into deadly cockfighting and other inhumane practices. Because of this, and also possibly because of their proclivity towards a hearty cock-a-doodle-doo when people may be trying to sleep, many jurisdictions have outright bans against rooster “ownership.” In the United States, most cities that allow “backyard chickens” only allow hens, not roosters, and even some counties have rooster bans.  Even when housed with other rescue chickens, roosters get a bad rap, with some guides suggesting that roosters cannot be peacefully housed with one another. What’s a roo to do?

Roosters can have delightful, inquisitive, and even sometimes snuggly personalities. They deserve just as much of our compassion as their sisters. But due to the pecking order and roosters being roosters, caring for a lot of roosters compassionately takes a bit of a different approach than a flock of hens.

There is a common misconception that roosters are aggressive towards one another and therefore cannot live together. This idea stems from directly from cockfighting, in which roosters are exploited and forced to fight, often to the death. They often have daggers attached to their legs in place of their natural spurs in order to increase the damage they can do to one another. The behaviors and outcomes seen in cockfighting are severe exaggerations and manipulations of natural rooster behaviors. Though roosters may scuffle to establish a social hierarchy, fighting to the death is not a natural behavior or desire. Every rooster is an individual with their own personality and their own history, which sadly often includes severe trauma.  Some roosters may be more confrontational than others, but that does not mean they cannot live happily at your sanctuary.

Establishing A Rooster Flock

Depending on your setup and how many roosters you would like to provide a home for, you may want to consider creating an all rooster flock.  Some people raise concerns over this being “unnatural,” but in the wild it’s been reported that roosters voluntarily spend time in rooster flocks.  We’ve heard touching stories of roosters becoming very bonded with other roosters, and have even heard of roosters protecting their rooster companion from a predator.  Unfortunately, there are always more roosters than available homes, but a rooster flock or multiple flocks will likely allow you to rescue more roosters than you otherwise would be able to.  While it is quite possible to have multiple roosters living in a flock with hens, you do have to be careful to maintain a safe rooster to hen ratio to avoid injury to hens from being over-mounted.  Some roosters may also get along better with each other if they are housed away from hens who they may feel the need to compete over.

Successfully housing a rooster flock takes a bit of extra consideration.  We chatted with the humans over at Triangle Chicken Advocates (TCA), who care for multiple rooster flocks (including one of over 30 roosters!) to find out what they recommend when creating and maintaining a rooster flock. In addition to the tips below, they suggest getting to know chickens as individuals and becoming familiar with natural chicken behaviors before diving into the world of rooster flocks, and when first creating a rooster flock, start small! Here are some tips to keep in mind when creating a rooster flock:

  • Give them lots of space.  TCA recommends at least 35-50 square feet of outdoor space per rooster in flocks where the roosters get along well and even more to those who don’t. All roosters need space to explore and also to keep their distance from others if desired.  Injury is far more likely in situations where two roosters face off and the submissive rooster does not have ample room to distance himself. In the large rooster flock at TCA, they have found that the roosters form small social groups within the larger flock and tend to have their own territory within the space. It’s important to provide enough space for this to be possible.
  • Offer a varied space and avoid areas where a rooster could be cornered by others, while still offering visual barriers, hiding places, and elevated areas.  An outdoor space with lots of vegetation can provide much of this, as can the addition of ledges or climbing structures. Indoors, creating multiple levels through the use of lofts, deep windowsills, ledges, and perches will allow roosters to choose who they want to spend time with and give them the opportunity to carve out their own space.  You can check out photos of TCA’s living spaces, including their rooster barn, here.
  • Rooster flocks tend to do best if they live away from female chickens entirely. In most cases, it’s a good idea to put visual barriers between rooster flocks and any neighboring hens. With no hens to try to impress or fight over, a peaceful living situation is more likely.
  • As with all flock configurations, there will be a pecking order, and someone will be at the bottom.  Be sure to offer multiple feeding and watering areas. These areas should be spread out so that no one is bullied away from food or water.  Similarly, ensure there are lots of areas to safely perch at night that allow roosters to stay away from each other if they so choose. Be sure to observe interactions closely and take steps to ensure everyone is comfortable and getting enough to eat.
  • A strong alpha rooster can make a world of difference in maintaining peace in the flock. While this isn’t something you have much control over, it’s important to recognize. A healthy flock with a strong alpha rooster will need little human intervention.
  • It is very helpful to have a variety of ages represented in the flock. According to TCA, “‘First spring’ is practically a rite of passage for new chicken caregivers, when their previously sweet baby boys start coming into their hormones and becoming… a bit more rambunctious to say the least. (This is sometimes misinterpreted as aggression.) Having older roosters in a flock will temper the youngsters’ hormones, as well as providing an example for the younger generation to model their behavior on.” Accomplishing this can be difficult when starting out since most roosters in need of rescue are young, but it’s important to keep in mind and is another good reason to go slow.
  • Rooster flocks benefit from lots of enrichment.
  • Establish and stick to a routine when it comes to daily activities like opening them up in the morning and putting them to bed, and offering their daily food as well as treats. Predictability can help put everyone at ease.
  • It’s a good idea to provide as much supervision as possible, especially in the spring or after new members join the group.
  • Be prepared to make changes as needed. If someone just isn’t fitting in or is getting a little too much attention, be ready to move them into a different living situation either temporarily or permanently.
Roos need Pedicures Too!

Make sure to keep their nails and spurs well-trimmed to minimize the risk of injury during minor scuffles.

Adding A Rooster

It is true that roosters can fight to the point of causing mortal injury, but this is not the norm and also is not unique to roosters.  Not all roosters are confrontational with each other, and even those who initially come into conflict with one another can go on to peacefully cohabitate with other roosters under the right circumstances and with proper interventions. Though roosters can sometimes establish their place in the flock’s hierarchy with only a minor scuffle, in some instances human intervention will be necessary to keep everyone safe.  Therefore, while all animal introductions should be closely monitored, it is imperative that an experienced caretaker is present when introducing roosters to each other. We also strongly recommend that if you are caring for multiple flocks you ensure there is no way for roosters who do not live together to end up together (for example though flying out of their enclosure and entering another rooster’s area).  Most alpha roosters are fervent protectors of their flock, so a rooster who might not otherwise instigate an altercation could feel the need to defend his territory against an intruding rooster.

Rooster flocks do well with stability, so it’s best not to constantly add or remove roosters. It is possible to successfully add new roosters to the flock, but it requires time and patience.  In some instances, rooster introductions may take a few weeks, but they could also take a few months- it all depends on the individuals.  It’s important to understand rooster behavior so that you can properly differentiate between normal posturing and flat out animosity.  Without this level of understanding, it will be difficult to know when to move ahead with the integration process, when to back-off, and when to intervene.

It’s best if the introduction is a process.  After new roosters have completed their quarantine period, start slowly introducing them to the rooster flock.  At TCA, they use “integration kennels” set up in the outdoor rooster area.  These kennel spaces give residents of the rooster flock and the new individual time to start getting used to each other through the safety of a divider during the course of the day (remember they need to be moved to a safe, predator-proof space overnight).  Be aware that, in some instances, individuals may develop a false sense of confidence and may actually fight more through the divider than they would without it.  Always make sure that the divider is safe for this sort of activity and don’t let anyone overdo it.  You may need to cover larger gaps with mesh to keep toes and spurs safe and to prevent any direct contact between the new rooster and the flock that could result in injury.

While the length of time needed for everyone to get used to each other varies, it’s best to plan to keep the new resident separated in the integration kennel (or separated in a similar way) for at least a week.  You’ll need to watch everyone’s behavior closely.  When you notice that there is less sparring and that tensions have died down, you can try moving the new rooster in with the rooster flock for supervised visits.  By moving the new rooster in with the flock for a few hours each day, you can give everyone even more time to adjust to one another and figure out the social hierarchy.  It’s best to start them off in the outdoor space where there is ample room for everyone to get away as needed.  Again, plan on this stage taking at least a week.  You’ll likely be able to slowly increase the amount of time they spend with the flock, but every introduction is different.  Watch everyone closely, and intervene when necessary, but you also want to let the residents work things out for themselves when appropriate.  This is yet another reason why it’s so important to understand rooster behavior- you’ll be able to ascertain which spats are benign and which require action on your part.  In a diverse area with appropriate space, roosters should be able to safely get away from each other and mostly keep their distance if they so choose.  Keep an eye on the forecast during introductions.  You want to ensure everyone can get out of the elements and warm up or cool off depending on the weather, and a new rooster may find himself stuck outside either because he’s wary of going in or because another rooster has decided to deny him entry to the indoor space.

When you see that the new rooster is able to spend large portions of the day with the rooster flock mostly without incident, they are likely ready to move into the flock.  It’s important to note that roosters may get along fine in their large outdoor space, but when closed into their indoor space, either overnight or during inclement weather, it may be a different story.  Watch interactions closely after moving the new rooster into the flock- they may need to be closed into a carrier or separated into their own space overnight, at least at first.  As with all introductions, it’s important to watch everyone closely and make changes as needed.  TCA offered a few other tips for introducing roosters to one another:

  • Timing is important!  Spring is the absolute worst time because hormones are at their peak.  While it’s not always possible to avoid a spring introduction, it’s important to be aware that it could complicate things a bit, so be prepared!  Testosterone is also higher in the mornings and evenings, so a midday introduction might be best.
  • TCA does not integrate former fighting roosters into flocks with other roosters due to their past human-induced training and trauma but have had great success pairing these roosters with a single hen (especially a game hen) or integrating them into a flock of hens with no other roosters.
  • It can be easier to integrate multiple roosters into the flock at one time.  If you rescue more than one rooster around the same time, you might want to try introducing them to each other first.  If they bond with each other, it can make their integration into the flock easier.  However, if you have only one new rooster, this won’t be possible-  TCA does not recommend removing a rooster from the established flock solely for the purpose of trying to get them to bond with a new resident.
  • Have a back-up plan.  Some individuals just don’t get along, and no amount of space changes that.  Always be prepared to offer a resident different accommodations if that’s what they truly need.
  • Most importantly, go slow and don’t be discouraged if things take time.

Keeping The Band Together

Sometimes, if a rooster is removed from the group, even only for a day, they have a hard time being welcomed back.  This can be true of any flock that has more than one rooster, whether it’s an all rooster flock or one with hens. Even roosters who once got along may scuffle when the rooster returns to the flock. If you can avoid pulling a rooster from the group, you should.  If a rooster needs to go to the vet- try to make it a quick in and out visit and get them back into the group that same day.  However, there will be times when this just isn’t possible. In those cases, you may opt to pull him with a friend (depending on the situation), so the two of them can rejoin the group together, which can increase the likelihood of success.

Be sure to look to the flock to determine if you have been successful in creating and maintaining a healthy rooster flock. If there’s constant tension and you are finding that you need to intervene often, then something is probably not quite right. TCA points out that “creating rooster flocks is an art, not a science.” Different things are going to work for different individuals and groups. Be prepared to pay attention to what your residents are telling you. They’ll let you know if something needs to change, but you have to be open to listening.

Article Acknowledgements

This resource could not have been created without the pioneering work and shared knowledge of compassionate chicken advocates including Triangle Chicken Advocates.

SOURCES:

Rooster Rescue: You Don’t Need A Rooster Rescue. Set Up A Bachelor Pad Instead | Countryside Network (Non-Compassionate Source)

Keeping Roosters Together | Community Chickens (Non-Compassionate Source)

Non-Compassionate Source?

If a source includes the (Non-Compassionate Source) tag, it means that we do not endorse that particular source’s views about animals, even if some of their insights are valuable from a care perspective. See a more detailed explanation here.

Updated on September 1, 2021

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