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Selecting a rooster from cockerels

 
Ann Torrence
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Our first full-scale butchering day is Tuesday. I have raised a batch of Jersey Giants from day old chicks. Until they pass the taste test, I'm not yet sure they are the perfect breed for us, but I plan to hang on to a rooster and a couple pullets. It was a straight run of 25, and the hatchery was generous with the roos, more than a dozen out of the remaining 22 (2 chick losses and one weird dwarf). We also put a couple week-old Ameraucanas in with them from the feed store, since we have some retirements coming up in the hen coop.

I hand fed them as chicks but haven't spent much time with them since they've been on pasture. Last night I took a stool, some grain and some zip ties out to the paddock with the goal of choosing "our" roo. My criteria:

easily handled and not aggressive with me or paddock mates
bigger rather than smaller
quieter - some of the boys are much more vocal than others
smaller comb and wattles for cold hardiness

A few came right up for grain. One big one in particular caught my eye as an active forager. Real good looking, tall and erect, avoiding conflict with the others, ate out of my hand. Then one of the other roos either attacked or tried to mount one of the Ameraucanas and a kerfuffle broke out. I went to bust it up since we are keeping her (the Jerseys surpassed her in size at about week 6), and the little pullet went and stood by my hero. That seemed like a good sign. So I caught him and banded him with a zip tie. He was much easier to handle once I caught him than I expected. Really quite calm. I banded a back-up option in case he turns out to be a crower (I only observed the second round of the chorus this morning) and two others that I want to see go, just so enough birds had bands to not make them targets.

Our first, only and last rooster went to the stock pot because he was most definitely not a gentleman with the hens. Whichever rooster wins the lottery will live with the layers, a motley flock of six old girls plus however many pullets we keep. I will not carry more than a dozen birds over winter, and only one rooster.

Long story, but for those of you who have selected a rooster from a group of cockerels, what other criteria did you use? I'm not familiar enough with the breed or all that interested to care about conformation, just want a gentleman on the homestead.
 
R Scott
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Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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Sounds like sound criteria to me.

I might choose one a little more aggressive if you need protection from predators--a good rooster will keep the egg suckers (possums and coons) away. But I understand the need for peace in the barnyard and definitely agree with the quiet!

I might also go into winter with 2 roosters just in case you want to incubate your own eggs early in the season. One is fine if you are buying day-olds.
 
Ann Torrence
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R Scott wrote:I might also go into winter with 2 roosters just in case you want to incubate your own eggs early in the season.


Please explain more about 2 vs 1? Is it a hen to rooster ratio? How much extra space do two fully adult males require?

In a few years, I would like the hens to brood our replacement meat birds. In the next couple years, however, I need the birds to go out to the orchard just in time for the grasshopper hatch. I messed up this year, got the first batch too early, and the back-up unit is brooding in the garage now, LOL. At least I can put it on my calendar for next year - order exactly between the two delivery dates. When we are in fruit in 3-4 years, the trees will be less at risk from the hoppers and the dept of make you sad will likely forbid birds in the orchard within 90 days of harvest. Until then, I will probably order chicks and use the time to learn how to manage broody hens without depending on them for this essential job.

ETA: I would really prefer to put layers to the grasshopper task because the ones we have are fantastic insect foragers. But the local egg market here is pretty saturated. Luckily I like to eat chicken.
 
R Scott
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because "Two is one and one is none." Things happen and having no rooster in the spring kind of puts a damper on chick production. Just sayin' to have a plan B (and probably C). But you do have different plans for chicks so it's all good.
 
John Polk
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I agree with keeping two. Sometimes, a good roo' will lay down his life protecting the flock. (A good rooster is the proverbial Knight in shining armor.) Sometimes, a roo' will 'shoot blanks'. In either of these cases, you are left without a rooster.

One of the first things many breeders look at is size. The larger birds are generally healthier, and also more likely to produce large offspring than their runt counterpart.

Next, is aggressiveness. One of his main roles is protection of the flock. If he runs from his own shadow, he won't be any help once the fox shows up around the farm. By the same token, you don't want one that attacks , or challenges you every time you walk into the yard. This can be a fine line at times. Personally, I would err on the side of keeping one that was a little too aggressive, than keeping one that was a tad too passive. However, you are the one who has to live with him for the next x many years, and having a rooster that you enjoy being around every day can be a real blessing. When your arms are already full, you don't need to be carrying a waking stick with you each time you go in there.

Unless you are planning to sell chicks to the local 4-H club, I wouldn't worry too much about 'conformation'. In your climate, one with a smaller comb might be a tipping point. You are looking for utility more than trying to keep a breed going.

 
Ann Torrence
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We finished processing cockerels today. Each time we took one out of the run, our banded rooster got more and more defensive of his flock. But not aggressive, my DH accidentally caught him for processing-he was saved by a cable tie! By the last one, he was putting himself between the cockerel and my husband. As we shut them up for the night, he was watching over the paddock while the pullets were getting onto their roosts.

We have 3 more pullets that need to go and then we will attempt the integration of the remaining pullets with the layer hens. Since they've been separated by electronetting for over a month, I'm not too worried about that. Looking forward to one less feed/water system to stay on top of.
 
Adam Klaus
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I like heavy birds that look small. As in, lots of meat, not lots of bone and feathers. Tall birds are leggy and bones, whereas I want heavy, compact birds.

I have found that temperament is based much on pecking order. A seemingly docile bird, when elevated to top of the flock, will usually change his behavior radically. So I don't really place much emphasis on temperament, because it seems to be much more a function of sociology than psychology.

I also believe in looking at subtle things like bright eyes, healthy skin, and dark comb color. These tell me something about the underlying health and vigor of the bird.

The biggest challenge I have found is that the fastest growing cockerel will establish himself as the boss rooster, which then suppresses the fully sexual expression of the other cockerels in the flock. I do not want to select for fast growing as a primary factor, so I generally harvest this initial dominant individual. Once he is gone, other cockerels then will express their full sexuality, often ultimately displaying vastly superior traits than the original boss rooster showed. I hope that makes sense, as I have found it to b a very interest phenomena.

Hope those things help, and I definitely second R Scott's recommendation of keeping two, because things happen, and no rooster is a very unacceptable thing for me and my breeding program.

Good luck!
 
John Polk
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I generally harvest this initial dominant individual.

I agree here. The early developing birds are usually the first to quit laying, etc.
The precoscious chick may look promising at first glance, but it is usually a 'flash in the pan'.

An old saying:
First to lay, first to crow, are great for raising to show.
but ain't worth their feed if raising to breed.

 
Ann Torrence
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Location: Torrey, UT; 6,840'/2085m; 7.5" precip; 125 frost-free days
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Adam, this guy is just to keep us going until we can get some Eldorados He was sort of middle of the pack, so it will be interesting to watch him develop. I'll keep in mind the other criteria you mentioned for next year. We'll probably continue to order chicks for the next couple years to be certain to time them for the grasshopper hatch, which will give some time to make more observations and learn from our mistakes.

I can't handle more than one rooster right now. They are parked not far from my bedroom window, for one. After I experience life with a well-mannered rooster, I'll think about how to keep 2. In the meantime, we need the birds eating grasshoppers and this guy is a good forager. The other roos were lazy slugs or squabbling and he's out there minding the pullets and looking for bugs. Last year my feed bill dropped to near zero for a month what with the grasshoppers, but we didn't lose any trees. Unlike a poor guy a couple counties away who lost 1500 new fruit trees that summer to the beasts. The meat and eggs are extras to the feathered insurance policy. Not often you get to an extra yield from your insurance.

 
john mcginnis
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Ann Torrence wrote: My criteria:

easily handled and not aggressive with me or paddock mates
bigger rather than smaller
quieter - some of the boys are much more vocal than others
smaller comb and wattles for cold hardiness



Hopefully your selection went ok. I might add a serious look at leg structure. Giants build frame first then at about 9mos or so put on weight as muscle and fat To carry that extra weight you want roos that have stout thick legs. Roos or hens with spindly columns maybe be problematic for leg fractures and deforms.
 
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