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In defense of a Rooster  RSS feed

 
Marcus Billings
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I recently had a neighbor bring a rooster to me because he only wanted hens, and out of four chicks he had bought for his kids, one was a rooster.  He was under the assumption that the roosters had no purpose other than to fertilize eggs and that all of them should be killed and eaten before they get tough.  I disagreed, and after an hour long lecture that he didn't expect, he turned around and drove home with the bird  in a carrier under his arm.  He's decided to keep the rooster.  This has happened before with other folks who felt the same way.  It got me thinking about the how many benefits that roosters really have in a free range flock and my puzzlement as to why they are looked at with such a take'em or leave'em attitude. 

I've kept chickens for 21 years.  Fenced in a 100' by 100' pen with a coop for the first three years, and entirely free range (coop still in place, no fence) for the last 18yrs over pasture and wooded areas.  What I've learned during that time is that the benefits of roosters go far beyond what is casually observed.

First, they are sentries.  You will rarely see a rooster laying down to rest unless it's for a quick dust bath.  They generally peck at the ground less than a third as many times as a hen.  They don't have much time to eat. They mostly watch.  A good rooster knows his job to keep watch, it's a big world out there and everything loves to eat chicken!  So he's watching! and watching! Outside of a shot-gun, roosters are the best hawk deterrent there is (and no, I'm not blasting raptors in my yard).  And I'm not saying that in the sense that the roo will attack the hawk, although there are reports of that.  What I am saying, is with their constant surveillance, they can give an otherwise distracted hen a couple more seconds to get under cover!  Anyone with roosters has probably seen it many times, the roo sees a hawk in the sky and lets out a very distinct call at which the hens fly for cover.   I have an old rooster that will even give the hawk call when he hears another species of bird signal its predator call!  He actually knows what calls other birds make and will sound a hawk call without even seeing the hawk!  Amazingly, he knows from the call it made that the starling in the nest nearby saw a hawk and makes his preemptive call just in case.   Maybe I'm easily impressed, but I really think that's something!  

They will even put up a fight against an enemy.  I had one rooster that you couldn't turn your back on when feeding.  He was a little ornery, but  he earned his keep and then some on a sunny Easter Sunday 7 yrs ago.  We had left for my sister-in-laws house and upon returning a couple of hours later, another neighbor  said he had heard a commotion in our yard and had raced over to find our rooster in a fight to the death with two pit-bull/lab crosses that had wandered into the area.  The hens were in the coop, under the coop, in trees, under cars, wherever they could hide.  There was one dead hen at the edge of the yard along with a lot of green wing and tail feathers of the rooster.  My neighbor told me that based on what he had seen, the rooster had held his own until the dogs figured out to attack him from opposite sides.  They probably would have ended him except for my neighbor's screams and softball bat, but even if he had died, he was doing his job- protecting the flock, giving the hens time to run. He knew what he had to do and did it without hesitation.  We later found him under a bush, bloodied, bruised, but triumphant, and after a week of recouping, still ornery enough to attack me if my back was turned.  But I didn't mind though.  I was sold on roosters before then, but that was the icing on the cake. If your flock has ever had a run in with an aggressive dog, you know he probably saved several hens that day by being the center of the dogs attention.  

Roosters give order to a flock as well.  They'll break up fights when one hen thinks she just has to have a particular laying box.  They keep the peace.  The flock wants a rooster! Keep several hens without a rooster long enough and bingo, one or two hens will take over the position of rooster, even going so far as to mount other hens!  I've seen it. 

Some people aren't big on crowing.  I like it because it serves a purpose.  Their crowing is more than a just defiant call to a rooster's rival, it's a homing signal for the hens.  He's telling them "Hey, I'm on look-out over here!" "Stay close."   I like to have one roo for every ten hens.  The hens like to roam and one roo cant' cover 40 hens and the 3 acres that they call home.  It's comforting to me when I hear crowing from different areas because I know the roosters are on the job.

They also are very unselfish.  When a rooster finds a choice item to eat, he'll call over a hen and show her where it's at so she can eat it!

And yes, for a while, when  they're in their "teenage" years, they will wear some feathers off a hen's back, but that usually slows down quite a bit by the time the rooster is 2-3yrs old and really slows by the time he's 5.  By that time, the rooster spends most of his time working, not chasing girls.  I think the second most important thing besides having a rooster is having a "mature", "experienced rooster that has gained a little wisdom.  I know most people will probably laugh at that, but I'm serious.   I let my roosters die of old age because of the work they've done and because I believe the younger roos learn some things from them as they themselves mature.  There is lot to be said for letting chickens develop skills and culture in their own way over time.  When we take an axe to every bird when it stops laying an egg every day, or when he's just old enough and tender enough for the frying pan, we deprive the flock of that bird's experience.  Not everything is instinct.

And finally, one of the coolest things to me is that most of my "lead" roosters ends up being the last bird in the coop at night.   Just standing guard, watching, waiting for the last hen to go in.  It's almost like he's standing there saying "Come on girls, get inside before that door closes." I don't know if it's learned or if it's instinct, but the dominant bird at any given time in my flock usually does this every evening.

I see them as an essential part of my flock.  

 
Chris Barrows
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A very nice explanation of an under appreciated and misunderstood bird!
 
christine shepherd
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Ah, if only they were not illegal in my city.  I got several "extra males for warmth" with my order from the hatchery this year, and I'm dreading the day the neighbors complain about the crowing, as I know they will.
 
T Phillips
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Marcus, thanks for the education. We are planning on getting chickens after the house is finished, and I had no plans to keep any males. I HATE the noise, but I see that it may be worth it to put up with it. Thanks for opening my eyes. Your flock is lucky to have you.
 
Wes Hunter
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And, of course, they're really good to eat. 

Even when they get all "old and tough."  Make an old spent rooster tasty and he'll have given you a useful kitchen education.
 
Mark Tashjian
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    Thank you Marcus! I really enjoyed reading this.
Although I agree they will learn from the older roosters, they must also do all these things by instinct. I have 11 chickens. All are 12 weeks old. They have no older chickens around to learn from. My top, lead rooster comes out of the coop first, then signals to the others to come on out. At the end of the day, he will literally round them up if needed to get them all back inside. Then he will enter last, and I shut the door. And he definitely spends more time on the lookout.
Thanks again.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Thank you Marcus for the great rooster dissertation. I too love to hear our rooster crow and I like to watch him do his job. He sends his girls out in the morning, watches over them all day then puts them to bed before sundown.
He's a handsome guy that I have great respect for.
You have given me even more information that raises my respect for Mr. Roo even more.

Redhawk
 
Don Eggleston
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This reminds me of a story about elephants.  (I worked with "at-risk" teens for 30 years and the one thing almost all of them had in common was fatherhood issues--not there, beat them, beat mom, etc., so this story made a lot of sense to me.)

About 50 years ago at a wildlife reserve in Africa, there were too many elephants, so the administration had to thin the herd.  They chose the old males because they had no obvious value.  Within a year, the young bulls had formed "gangs" and were rampaging through villages--even killing hippos for fun;  completely out of control.  This is what happens when older male models are not around. 

I like this true story even more, now that I'm in the older male category.
 
Dado Scooter
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I like roosters.  I had a random rooster wander into the yard.  Unfortunately with a year old Aussie he was harrassed.  I was able to pick the roo up and put him in an unused water trough to get out of the way of the dog.  I rigged up a run for him and got appropriate chicken stuff for him.  But I found him dead in the a.m.  He was pretty meaty and I contemplated my first chicken butcher but I decided to try and keep him because I was eventually going to get 25 straight run dual purpose chicks to raise for meat and egg production. 

Luckily I can have roosters here, but in most of Silicon Valley you would definitely be turned in if you had a crowing rooster!  We do have some feral chickens. I love the sound of roosters crowing.
 
Liz Hoxie
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Marcus, have you noticed that the roo will let you know which hen will start laying in the next couple of weeks, and his "favorites" are usually the best layers regardless of age?
 
Justyn Mavis
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We would never have a flock of chickens without a rooster. Our approach is rather different tales so I will share it.

A little background on on me first. I grew up in the city. I was a pirate chicken owner. Luckily it was the ghetto, so as long as I slipped the locals a few eggs everyone keep their mouth shut. ( and I always looked the other way during corner business meeting). This was the first "non" pet animals I raised. Then a few years later I moved to the Suburbs. Where I payed a few fines for raising my chicken, but I had 3 acres and normally a few eggs would help ease the fine. At this time I started working at a Zoo. This was a great educate for me, I learned a lot about the animals hierarchy, and the networks animals keep. That is where my passion for understanding animals began.

Fast forward to 10 years ago. I finally moved out into the rural mountains where I had freedom. Returned to raising chicken.  Hatched a few eggs (25) and started off with that as my starter flock. In the 25 mix I had 4 rooster. Ooo Noo. I thought it was only going to be a matter of time and folks were going to think I was raising fighting cocks. I waited, and keep them all together. It took 1 year before I had to separate the roosters, but I still wanted to see if I could have 2 families instead of getting rid of the rooster.  It worked. 2 family each with 2 roosters. Everyone once and awhile had  some small spats but not even bloody.

Next important lesson step, is wen I got into Silkies. Boy do I love everything about Silkies, friendly roos. I've never had a Silkies Rooster attack me. I keep 2 something 3 in my family units, but I also add a young cockerel in with my 2 Silkie boyz ( I normally add the young cockerel just before or right around the time of crowing) It takes a few months but he learns the tricks of the trades, learned to be a respectful roo, and learned how to handle himself. ( Old English Bantams take a little longer almost a year)  I've seen my Silkie Roo sit on eggs, I see them bring food to sitting hens, and I've seen then protect the young from angry Guineas.

The biggest shocker I seen though was the day the rouge dog entered the farm lab. One Roo ran after the dog. ( Along with a group of Guineas) and the 2nd roo rounded up all the hens into a coop and then layed down at the doorway not letting anyone in or out. It was like they knew what their roles were and masterfully had a plan in place. After the dog left, the attacking roo called out, and the 2nd roo let the hens out of the coop.  Amazing...

As of a few years ago, we made the choice to have ALL our chicks raised by Silkies ( this also includes guineas and ducks) I have 70+ chickens, with 32 being Roosters. ( I have 18 family units now)  Only one of those Roosters, (a grumpy old Cochin he is 6.5 years old) being the only one that will peck at people. I personally believe this is because at a young age the cockerel learns the culture of the Silkie. I also think my 3rd generation of guineas are calmer for being raised up in the Silkie Culture.

In all our out reach program we do, The Mavis Institute I make sure I always have a rooster. I shock so many folks when they can walk up and touch a rooster. Bring awareness that Rooster have a role in the yard. Shaping the world one cock at a time.      

Marcus thanks for sharing your story. One of my mission in life is to show how great companion animals chickens ( hens and roos) can be.

-Justyn

 
Marcus Billings
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Liz Hoxie wrote:Marcus, have you noticed that the roo will let you know which hen will start laying in the next couple of weeks, and his "favorites" are usually the best layers regardless of age?


Hi Liz, I have suspected the first, but haven't been able to say for sure since I have more than I can track easily, I'll take your comment as confirmation.  The second observation seems to be a fact as well for me anyway.  I've noticed that the "favorites" definitely seem to be on the nest more.  Thank you for your observations!  I'm glad to hear there are more people than me who watch chickens!!
 
Marcus Billings
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Don Eggleston wrote:This reminds me of a story about elephants.  (I worked with "at-risk" teens for 30 years and the one thing almost all of them had in common was fatherhood issues--not there, beat them, beat mom, etc., so this story made a lot of sense to me.)

About 50 years ago at a wildlife reserve in Africa, there were too many elephants, so the administration had to thin the herd.  They chose the old males because they had no obvious value.  Within a year, the young bulls had formed "gangs" and were rampaging through villages--even killing hippos for fun;  completely out of control.  This is what happens when older male models are not around. 

I like this true story even more, now that I'm in the older male category.


Amen Don, here's to us "old elephants"!
 
Marcus Billings
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Mark Tashjian wrote:    Thank you Marcus! I really enjoyed reading this.
Although I agree they will learn from the older roosters, they must also do all these things by instinct. I have 11 chickens. All are 12 weeks old. They have no older chickens around to learn from. My top, lead rooster comes out of the coop first, then signals to the others to come on out. At the end of the day, he will literally round them up if needed to get them all back inside. Then he will enter last, and I shut the door. And he definitely spends more time on the lookout.
Thanks again.


Hi Mark,  You're probably right.  When I first started with chickens I didn't always realize how sophisticated their behavior can be, so I truthfully didn't notice at the time.  And since then, I've had mature roosters, so I couldn't say for sure. Good to know they all have the potential!
 
Anna Tennis
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Roosters = illegal in our city. I'd love to have one. Anyone know of a way to keep a Stealth Rooster? Are there quiet roosters?

Would a gander serve any of the same functions, particularly where security is concerned?
 
John Weiland
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I'll stretch my neck out on the proverbial chopping block and just propose that the bad rap roo's historically have received is biased on account of the gender of the human typically overseeing them.....    So my wife has no problem offing a roo and in one fell swoop puts dinner on the table and at the same time relieves the planet of another boisterous, obnoxious, testosterone-dripping male.

I kinda like the roos.....

But even agreeing with all of the observations on roo chivalry and husbandry, any ratio of one roo to 10 hens or more is plenty to keep a resident population steaming along, so at some point you will probably have excess roos. On top of this is the observation that predators take more hens than roos.  So we end up with a balance by letting mother nature take some of the hens while we take some of the roos for the freezer, most often the younger more obnoxious ones, all free-ranging to the end.

@Don E.  Regarding the absence of fathers.....did similar work in a volunteer capacity and corroborate 100%.
 
Liz Hoxie
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We have a small mixed flock of chickens, so that makes observations easier. When the hens get "demoted" from favorites, they get bred. When they are furthest from the roo, they get culled when they molt. Then I know they're not laying. It makes my life easier letting the roo make those decisions. He knows the best layers.
 
Justyn Mavis
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Anna Tennis wrote:Roosters = illegal in our city. I'd love to have one. Anyone know of a way to keep a Stealth Rooster? Are there quiet roosters?

Would a gander serve any of the same functions, particularly where security is concerned?


I do, it depends on how super nosy the people around you are. You can make a No Crow Collar. It's velco collar you put around your roos neck under the feather which makes him sound like he has a smokers cough. Super easy to make. You do need to give him special attention because just like any collar it can get caught in things. You play around with the tightness enough so he can breathe healthy but tight enough so we can't draw in air to crow.



 
jared strand
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We've had roosters sacrifice themselves to a wandering dog to ensure the hens got to safety...
We've had roosters that made a nest, tested it out, let the hen try it, and when she wasn't satisfied, continued to fluff straw and pack it down until she WAS satisfied.
We've got tiny bantams that LOVE full size hens.
And somtimes they cluck loudly over a tiny piece of food, until a hen comes and gets it, and they strut around all proud.
 
Angelika Maier
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I find it unfair. While you can drive with a car or even a motorbike at night you are not allowed to keep roosters. It is totally OK  to keep dogs which bark all the time or cats which poo on our land or scratch my newly sown beds up but roosters are forbidden. It is OK too to turn the music up loud that everyone in the neighbourhood can hear what bad taste of music you have.
 
christine shepherd
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I do, it depends on how super nosy the people around you are. You can make a No Crow Collar. It's velco collar you put around your roos neck under the feather which makes him sound like he has a smokers cough. Super easy to make. You do need to give him special attention because just like any collar it can get caught in things. You play around with the tightness enough so he can breathe healthy but tight enough so we can't draw in air to crow.




oooh!  very exciting!  if this works, i'll be keeping a roo and be indebted to you.
 
Wes Hunter
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Here's a little tidbit I gleaned from Kelly Klober.  Seems he was once bragging about a batch of straight run chicks he had purchased that had a remarkably low number of males (say, 2 out of 25, though I don't recall the exact figure).  Then an old-timer told him to take those males out and see what happened--and a lot of the remaining "pullets" turned out to be cockerels!  Seems the early-maturing males were actually suppressing the male-ness of the rest of them.

I'd venture a guess that this is nature's way of sorting the good from the bad, giving the superior males a head start so they'll be the dominant birds when it's time.  So for those of you raising straight run, keep an eye on which ones are obviously male from an early age to (presumably) reap the full benefits of roosterness.

As an aside, the proper term for these birds is, of course, "cock."  All chickens "roost," after all, not just the "roosters."  "Rooster" is a prudish euphemism--but one I still use almost exclusively.  I'm working up to the ability to casually talk about cocks in public (say, at the farmers market) without going red in the face, or attracting the wrong sort of crowd.  Chalk that up to another point in defense of the rooster: reclaiming the ability to use proper terminology when called for!
 
Anna Tennis
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Justyn Mavis wrote:

I do, it depends on how super nosy the people around you are. You can make a No Crow Collar. It's velco collar you put around your roos neck under the feather which makes him sound like he has a smokers cough. Super easy to make. You do need to give him special attention because just like any collar it can get caught in things. You play around with the tightness enough so he can breathe healthy but tight enough so we can't draw in air to crow.



This might be worth a try. Seems a bit sad not to let him make his natural noise, but having the social and protective benefits of a roo night be worth the trade-off. At least to me.
 
Chad Anderson
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I learned this lesson, this year. I butchered the roosters for the sake of the neighbours (who had not complained about the racket) before moving the hens down to the summer pasture. Very shortly thereafter, the raven and his two friends arrived and started stealing eggs. It seems to me that the roosters would have made life very difficult for the ravens.
 
Justyn Mavis
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Chad Anderson wrote:I learned this lesson, this year. I butchered the roosters for the sake of the neighbours (who had not complained about the racket) before moving the hens down to the summer pasture. Very shortly thereafter, the raven and his two friends arrived and started stealing eggs. It seems to me that the roosters would have made life very difficult for the ravens.


I do have a few neighbours. I've learn that if you add a few guineas to your mix, those neighbours will NEVER complain about the Cocks (Roosters) again. I also slip then a few eggs every now and then, and that can ease over some hard feeling.

Honestly, eggs are a magic currency. I have settled down some heated situation with eggs.  By the way, I purposely make the trading of eggs sound like a black market trade deal. I've noticed people enjoy the theatrics I add to the egg exchange. Add a little spark of excitement to some rather boring low-key days.

-Justyn
 
Dado Scooter
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So,Wes, this was my exact plan.  25 straight run dual purpose chicks in August.  I was planning to separate the roos out for the most part to raise as meat birds.  I plan to keep a roo for the hen flock, but I guess the best thing is to take all the roos out, chose the one I want to keep and put him back in with the girls?
 
Wes Hunter
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Dado Scooter wrote:So,Wes, this was my exact plan.  25 straight run dual purpose chicks in August.  I was planning to separate the roos out for the most part to raise as meat birds.  I plan to keep a roo for the hen flock, but I guess the best thing is to take all the roos out, chose the one I want to keep and put him back in with the girls?


Separating them is probably unnecessary.

By about 8 weeks of age you ought to be able to tell males from females, or at least obvious males from obvious females (there will likely be some that aren't yet clear in their inclinations).  If you opt to butcher some now, they'll dress out at a pound, give or take.  By 12 weeks it should be obvious what's what.  Males will be about 2 lbs. dressed now.

I'd suggest making note of which male(s) show their maleness first, and mark them appropriately (leg band, clip their wing feathers, something of that sort).  There are other attributes you'll probably want to consider as well--temperament, conformation, feather patterning, etc.--but it's up to you to prioritize those.  But all things being equal, opt for the fast-maturing birds as your keepers.

Also, you might want to keep the best two males, so if one gets killed you'll have a backup.

The excess will be at their prime for butchering at about 16 to 20 weeks.  They'll probably start crowing at 14 weeks or so, for what it's worth.  Butchering in that time frame, they won't likely be ready to start pestering your pullets too much yet, though that inclination will probably be exaggerated if they're confined.
 
Taylor Cleveland
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Ah, shouldn't have read this. We have a young flock with the intent of keeping about 60 and selling eggs at the farmers market to complement our veggie production. We didn't get a rooster because we didn't want to deal with fertilized eggs. We're having some doc problems and I wonder if it wouldn't be a smart idea to get a rooster for the purpose of protection. Anyone found that a rooster helps with foxes at all?
 
Burra Maluca
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Taylor Cleveland wrote:Anyone found that a rooster helps with foxes at all?


The only time I've had a rooster successfully save his flock from a fox when by beautiful Dale fought off a rogue fox that had been taking hens and ducks in broad daylight for weeks.  Even then, I had to race down and help him.  The fox was never seen again, but the rooster died in my arms of his injuries.

Here is with his brother Chip, who we got rid of for being a wife beater and an egg eater. 

chip-'n-dale


In short no, I wouldn't rely on them being able to protect a flock from foxes, but they'd die trying!
 
Cd Greier
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Marcus Billings wrote:I'm glad to hear there are more people than me who watch chickens!!

When I was confining my chicks before I got a fence up, I put a makeshift chicken wire door inside of their shed. Every morning I'd  go in to sit on the feed can and watch the chooks crowd the "big screen" to see what was happening outside. For me, it was better than TV!
 
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