Just how many roosters should you keep with your hens?
As you shall see there is no perfect number or rule to follow as each flock is different.
However there are certain guidelines and rules which you can use to help put you in the right direction.
In our article below we will give you some ideas on perfect numbers, what to do with spare roosters and how to maintain flock harmony with roosters…
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What Is The Perfect Rooster To Hen Ratio?
The generally accepted ratio is 10 hens for every 1 rooster.
However the exact ratio for your flock will depend on the particular breeds you have and the number of hens you have.
Breeds that are lightweight and active (such as Leghorns and Fayoumis) can have a higher hen to rooster ratio (12:1). The reasoning behind this is that these roosters are more active and will be able to service more hens because of their higher energy.
Certain breeds that are more mellow such as Silkies or Orpingtons should have a lower ratio (1:6). This gives the rooster a better opportunity to cover the hens in his flock adequately.
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Hens can get some serious injuries from an overly zealous rooster, so keep an eye on the girls.
If they start avoiding the rooster or their feathers are looking battered and torn then it is time for him to have a break in solitary.
Putting the rooster in a separate area from the hens for a few days works really well. This will give the hens a nice little break from him and he also has a chance to recharge his batteries.
It is up to you to determine how much of a break they need.
Generally at least 3 days per week should be enough for the hens to rest up.
Also remember that young roosters (cockerels) are more likely to be rough with the hens whilst mating.
So regardless of the breed keep more than 6 hens for a youngster, as keeping less is likely to create some treading injuries with your hens.
Pecking Order And Rooster Ratio
You might ask why does the number of roosters you have in a flock impact their behavior?
This is all to do with the pecking order.
Chickens have a system of organization and social hierarchy known as the pecking order.
Whilst it can be quite complex we have created a simplified version to help you understand where the rooster fits into the system.
The pecking order can be roughly divided into three relationships:
- Hen to hen
- Rooster to rooster
- Hen to rooster
By adding or removing roosters you rebalance (or unbalance) the pecking order.
The smartest and most able hens will be at the top of the hen group, while the younger, older and shyer birds will be at the bottom.
A hen will rise up the ladder based on her cunning and ability.
A rooster ladder is similar.
The leader will be at the top with his subordinates below him.
If the head rooster becomes sick or starts to fail he will be challenged by a younger bird. The winner of
the contest will become (or stay) leader of the group. The hen to rooster relationship is much the same except that the rooster rules over all with the head hen as second in command.
The hens will come next in importance with secondary roosters coming in last.
In the wild the young roosters would be driven away from the flock to preserve food and other resources.
How Many Roosters Should I Keep?
As a general rule you should only keep one rooster in a flock.
If you want to keep more roosters you either need more flocks or a male only flock.
The exact number of roosters you keep will depend on the breed and the number of hens you have.
Some roosters are mellow enough to tolerate another male in the area but only if there are enough hens.
You will notice the dominant male will do everything he can to prevent the secondary rooster from mating with his ladies. The subordinate rooster can be quite devious in trying to mate with the hens and often manages to mate with a couple of the hens.
However certain breeds will not tolerate any other roosters in the flock.
Rhode Island Reds are a good example of this.
They have a reputation for being aggressive at mating times (especially if there is another rooster around).
This can lead to fights which may have a very ugly outcome for the weaker bird.
A quick note here about bantams.
Do not assume a bantam rooster won’t attack a standard sized rooster. My bantam has to be separated from the standard rooster because he will fight (and win) against the larger bird. Also the more energy that is wasted on fighting or guarding the flock, the less time the rooster spends mating with the hens and watching out for them – so flock fertility suffers.
If you have a breed that you are confident is mellow enough to allow other roosters into the flock then introduce them and keep a close eye on them.
However in general it is best to have several smaller flocks in your yard and keep one rooster per flock.
You will need to define areas with fencing or pens to clearly separate the flocks.
Tips For Keeping Roosters Together
It is possible for roosters to live together peacefully however it mainly depends on their relationships with each other and the presence or absence of hens.
Roosters that are hatch mates usually sort out their pecking order long before they become adults.
This way they have avoided potentially damaging conflict and have learned to accept their position in the hierarchy.
Sometimes this happens with offspring of the head rooster too, they know and accept him as the leader so conflicts are avoided. However certain young cockerels will still challenge him – he will firmly put them in their place.
Usually this will be a minor skirmish but if you have territorial and aggressive breeds this can lead to the death or serious injury of the cockerel.
In the wild roosters live harmoniously in bachelor groups – the key thing here is that there are no females around.
The same thing can be achieved in your yard if you have enough room.
You will need a separate run and coop away from the hens.
These roosters will get along together very well and do not seem to mind the situation at all. The key to harmony is giving them enough space! Each rooster should have at least 8 square feet of run space.
You will also need to give them things to do.
Leaf piles, cabbage pinatas and dust baths are all good boredom busters.
A word of caution here though.
Once you have taken a rooster out of the bachelor pad for longer than 24 hours, reintegration is not recommended as they will fight.
If you have to put them back together then use a new run and put the new boy in first followed by the others.
Young cockerels that have feathered in can be put in with the big boys and they will have to sort out the pecking order for themselves.
Intervene only if it gets nasty.
The final option is to give each rooster their own flock.
Separate compound enclosures work extremely well or you can mark out certain areas on your land for each flock to free range in.
This method works well when you are trying to breed a few different breeds.
Benefits Of Keeping Roosters In Your Flock
With all the troubles associated with keeping roosters you might think why bother!
Well there are a few benefits to keeping a good rooster.
First a good rooster will provide your flock with balance.
Roosters will stop petty hen squabbles from escalating to something bigger and he will make sure that all of his hens are fed and watered. A flock of hens will stay together and the head hen will assume rooster duties however she does not seem to keep the same harmony that a rooster does
He makes a good flock manager.
Secondly he provides security.
Certain roosters will lay down their lives for the hens.
A good rooster will sound the alarm call loud and clear and give the flock time to take cover or run for shelter.
If the danger is something small like a snake or a weasel some roosters will attack it and kill it.
Another great benefit of keeping a rooster is that he will scout around the yard for tasty treats for his hens.
When he finds them he will call his ladies over
It is his responsibility to find food and water in the wild and this behavior still exists today in our domestic backyard flocks.
Finally if you want to raise your own chicks you will need a rooster to mate with the hens.
Raising your own chicks can be much more rewarding than buying them at the store especially if the hen does it.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many hens per rooster?
A rooster in his prime should be kept with 10-12 hens. However if you put him in a flock of 20 or more hens he will still consider them all to be his and be possessive about them.
For the exact hen to rooster ratio refer to our table here.
It is not advisable to have less than four hens to a rooster unless he is penned.
How many roosters can I have in one flock?
As a general rule you should only keep one rooster in each flock.
However the exact answer will depend on your breed of rooster and the relationship of other roosters to him.
With more docile breeds my favorite ratio is 20 hens per 2 roosters.
This gives a good balance and allows the ladies some quiet time to themselves.
How many hens per rooster for fertile eggs?
To make fertile eggs a rooster should be kept with no more than 12 hens.
Any more than this and he will struggle to fertilize the eggs.
If you are having problems with fertility there are a couple of things to check on.
- Rooster past his prime: If he is over three years old you may need to swap him out for a younger rooster.
- Fluffy butts: Certain breeds (Wyandottes and Cochins) have fluffy butts so try trimming off some of the excessive feathering to help the rooster find his way.
- Inexperienced rooster: He will get better with practice but should have the hang of it by six months old or so.
Many folks consider roosters a nuisance.
Whilst there are lots of mean roosters out there you can find some good ones.
This is especially true if you raise your own rooster.
A good rooster will care for his hens by finding tidbits, standing guard and sounding the predator alarm.
If you are able to maintain a good rooster for a couple of years your flock will benefit from the continuity of leadership and by extension so will you.
Understanding his role in the care of your flock will help you to get along well enough with him.
Let us know about your roosters in the comments section below…