January 9, 2012
Last Rooster Standing
Our first chicks were of mixed breeds: Delawares, Ameraucanas, Welsummers, and Barred Hollands. Out of 24, we ended up with 13 roosters. Almost all of those were either scardy cats or greedy guts; they either ran away at the first loud noise, or else they pushed every other chicken out of the way and gobbled down all of the feed. There was only one that actually took up what I would call roostering, i.e. keeping an eye out for the hens and finding them things to eat. He was obviously the one to keep at the time.
Out of this year's batch of 18 chicks we had ended up with 14 survivors. Eight of these were roosters. They were different for several reasons: all but one was the same breed (Buff Orpington), were hen raised, and had an adult rooster already on the premises. A rooster that chased them all over the place, I might add. The biggest difference however, is that with our first batch, it was every rooster for himself. They all competed with one another for the food and the hens. These however, banded together as a pack. They would forage together with one keeping watch and giving warning if I walked around the corner. They would chase, corner, and jump the hens. One would pin her down while the others all pecked at her head.
All of this caused no little upset in my original flock, especially once Lord B was gone. Mama Welsummer had a place in the new pecking order, but the other Wellie and Barred Holland refused to leave the coop. The Ameraucana sisters vacated it altogether, taking up residence in the garden tool room of the coal barn.
I realized part of what was going on was because we already had a flock rooster. I assumed once he was gone however, things would settle down and another would naturally take his place. That wasn't the case. There were changes in the cockerels' social structure as we thinned their numbers, but none became any more attached to the pullets and hens than any other. They were their own team.
I watched them carefully over the days, trying to figure out which rooster would be the best one to keep. At first I looked for the characteristics that make a for a good flock roo. As we thinned them out however, I realized that the next guy in the pecking order simply moved up, and nothing else really changed. In the end, I chose this guy....
... not so much based on personality characteristics, but for some reason, he didn't hang out with the other Buff Orpingtons as much. In fact, he could often be found with with my older hens. They in turn, kept a wary eye on him, but didn't run in terror every time they saw him. I even saw him try to sweet talk one of the older gals one time, with some tidbit in his beak. I figured if I kept this guy, he would eventually be accepted by all the hens, and I might have a chance of restoring peace in my chicken yard. In addition, he was one of the largest cockerels, which is a quality to pass on to offspring.
With only one roo, the chicken yard was immediately quieter and calmer. Since there's less roosters now, there's less crowing in general, but even on his own, this one doesn't seem to crow as much as Lord B did. Nor is he constantly "talking." With no other roos around, the chosen one has no competition and no one else to hang out with (nor run away from), but the hens. Initially he spent more time with the older girls, but gradually migrated toward the Buffs.
Now that things have settled down, he tends to stick with the Buffs. All the chickens spend the night in the coop (the Ameraucanas consented to come back), but it's still as though we have two flocks. Lord Buff will chase the older gals back into the coop if they try to come out into the yard, though he doesn't harass them like the other cockerels did.
About the only original hen who is happy with the new set-up is Lady B, my original Barred Holland hen. She was at the absolute bottom of the original pecking order. She was picked on terribly to the point of having most of her feathers pulled out. Now, she's closer to the top, over most of the Buff pullets. She's a happy camper.
I'd like to think that things will eventually work out. Perhaps they will. At least things have settled down in the chicken yard.