Keeping Your Roosters Sane
The Easy Chicken
for beginners
The Bad Bird
Nasty roosters have long been a part of keeping chickens. Lots of people remember that evil bird from when they were a kid, how he'd wait for you to take your eyes off him for just a minute, then pounce on you. It's a big reason why a lot of people who would like to keep chickens decide against it later on in life. It's a big part of the reason some people just keep hens. That's a shame. When you don't have a rooster around your hens, you miss a huge part of the joy that comes from raising chickens. You miss watching the rooster look out for his hens, taking his girls to dinner, and of course, the peeps!!!

Why it happens (just getting started)
Chickens operate under a distinct societal structure. There's the boss, he's what's called the Alpha Male. He enjoys first position in everything from liberties with the hens to fighting oncomers, to "leading the pack".
This "pecking order" (yes, that's where the term comes from) goes right down the ladder to the very last rooster with each having his own distinct position. The Beta male will sometimes share duties with the Alpha, but the Beta has to be careful not to overstep his boundaries. The moment the Alpha Male takes exception, the Beta Male will receive a well placed reminder.
There is also an Alpha Hen. The same structure works all the way down to the last hen. It's much more subtle, but if you watch the birds, you'll see which hen is the boss, and where the others lie in the chain.

How the birds keep track
The societal structure in the coop doesn't remain the same forever. At times, the Beta Male will take a shot at the Alpha Male. This may result in an all out battle, but seldom does it go that far. The Alpha Male consistantly reminds the Beta and all his subordinates who the King is. He does this a number of ways. They include anything from a good, old-fashioned beating, a peck on the backside, or just a posturing where the Boss will put himself between the subordinate and whatever the subordinates' intentions were. The dominant male will often assert himself by showing up when the Beta is mating one of the hens. When he arrives at the act, the Beta will yield, get pushed away, or take a beating.
There's a key here...
It's consistancy (huge point, remember this one!!!). The Alpha is ever-vigilant. He doesn't let up for a second because he knows if he gives his subjects an inch, they'll take a mile. If he lets things start getting away from him, he'll have big problems on his hands.

Back to how the structure changes...
When an Alpha Male ages, he'll eventually be replaced. This can happen through battle or just by tiring of his duties. When the Alpha is replaced by a younger male, a chain of events takes place. Once the Alpha yields, he's got a huge problem to face. The next rooster down the rung will have a go at him. Then the next, then the next. In a day's time, he'll can drop from Top Dog all the way to the doghouse. Lots of times he'll end up last in the coop, even to the hens (who will also take a shot at him during his descent).
All this time, there never has to be a fight. When the Alpha decides to submit, he's been beaten psychologically and seems so devastated that he's unwilling to take a stance against any of the birds for anything. At this point he's been reduced to simply saving his hide, and he knows it. There's an exception here. If the Alpha is replaced because he's injured or sick, when recovered, he's going to come screaming back to take his rightful place.

Changing places takes a million forms...
The scenarios I've mentioned are only a few of the many social happenings that take place in a flock. A flock's societal interactions are every bit as diverse as ours. The birds feel, care, protect, watch, learn, remember and hurt. They don't wonder, worry, think or guess. They don't have as large a brain as we do, and they don't hide their emotions well. They act on them outwardly and immediately. They show their emotions on the surface constantly. They don't have "Should I?" moments like we do. They act, reassess, act and reassess. They play our their lives rather than mulling about them. They are driven simply by necessity and survival. Survival of the Individual.

What about survival of the flock?
Chickens don't worry. They don't suppose, think or wonder. They have no idea that the way they do things is why they are still here. The fact that they've survived all these years, aside from domestication (or is that in spite of domestication?), is a byproduct of the way they carry on their lives. Chickens look out for each other as a byproduct of their nature. They see something that scares them, they chatter, and the other birds know that the chatter means "Ohhhh Boy". They run for cover to save their lives. If the Alpha Male figures out what the danger was that set him off in the first place, and he realizes he's the badder cat, he'll stand his ground and square off. If he doesn't figure out what it is that scared him, he's outta there, and everyone that isn't ahead of him will be behind him.

Okay Shilala, you're losing me here...
All this brings us to how we keep our roosters in line. There's two ways. The first way is to develop a deep and sincere love for soup. I love soup. Chicken Noodle, Chicken Vegetable, Chicken and Dumplings, Chicken and Rice, doesn't matter. I love it all.
The second way is to be the Alpha Male of your flock.

How in the world do I get to be Alpha Male?
Earlier on the page I asked that you remember something. It was CONSISTANCY. In order to keep roosters in line, you must establish a dominant position and be ever-vigilant. You have to act like a chicken (less the flapping, crowing, and pecking). You have a HUGE advantage here. You can think, chickens can't (regardless of what the science class experiment showed).
Because of this great gift you've received, you've conquered an age-old problem. You're already smarter than the object you're working with.

We're already well on our way...
Chickens begin earning a spot in their society very shortly after they come out of the egg. At a week old, they're sparring. (Sparring is the play fighting that chicks do.) The females spar with females, the males spar with males, and the males spar with females. The sorting out has begun. As the birds age, size and pluck determine who's who.
THIS IS WHERE YOU MAKE YOUR FIRST IMPACT!!!
The moment you see chicks sparring, step in. Use your fingers to push them apart. Knock them down. Stay and watch.
As soon as another pair (or the same pair) start up again, take control. Use your fingers to push them apart. Knock them down. Stay and watch.
DO NOT hurt the chicks. Hurting them helps nothing. It's not necessary, it's counter-productive, and it's just plain mean. If I find out you hurt them, I will swing by and, well, you get the picture.
At a point, the sparring will stop. It won't stop all the time, just when you are there. If it does happen, it's time to reassert your dominance. VIGILANCE is the key.

Now that you're King...
There's a few things you need to do as the birds grow. These things will assert your dominance and remind ALL the birds who's the boss...
1.) As soon as you can tell the Roosters from the Hens, you've got to single them out. If you take feed or treats to your birds, never let the roosters come to the feed first. Start with a nasty look, then a nudge, then a swat, then a slap. Whatever it takes. If it's got to escalate to a boot to get the point across, so be it. A rooster won't let other roosters come to the feed until his hens do. Don't you do it, either. A good King is a kind and merciful King. Once the hens have begun eating, relent. Stay close by, but relax your posture and allow the Roosters to the food.
All it takes to keep the Roosters at bay is VIGILANCE. You need to take this approach EVERY TIME YOU FEED. It only takes a few minutes, and it will pay major dividends down the road.
2.) Never let a rooster assert his dominance in your presence. That means to you or any other bird. If a rooster grabs another rooster by the butt while you're around, swat him. If you can't get a swat in, chase him. Corner him if you can. Scare him. Deliver the message that only YOU take those liberties with the flock.
3.) Never let a rooster mate one of YOUR hens in your presence. Remember, whether you are a boy or a girl, man or woman, you are the Alpha Male in this picture. If a rooster pins a hen in your close proximity, knock him off of her. If it's happening a distance away, take a run at him. If he sees you coming and persists, you need to get to him and give chase. If you've been consitant over his lifespan, he'll get off the hen as soon as you act like you're coming after him.
4.) Don't hunker. Don't crouch. Don't try to "talk in" a bird who's scared of you. Coochy-coo smootchy is not the way to gather up a rooster, ever. A rooster should NEVER want to approach you or touch you. He SHOULD be at ease with your presence. If you want to pick him up, then pick him up. Love him all you want once you've got him. Pat him on the butt when you sit him down.
Don't ever assume a submissive posture with him, or he might just take your eyes out when you're expecting it least.
5.) Handle your roosters!!! Gather them up, preen them, fuss over them. Make them know that you are not going to hurt them, you're just having your way with them. This reinforces their submission splendidly, and strengthens your bond with your birds.
The rooster has no idea that you are in love with him. All he knows is that you've got him, and you're not going to hurt him. That's good enough for him.
6.) If you even get a moment's sense that a rooster is getting too comfortable around you, take a swipe at him. It may seem like senseless aggression. To you it is. To a rooster, it's life. It's what he understands. A swipe is vigilance, a swipe is reinforcement, a swipe is consistancy.

My rooster is dancing and dragging his wing at me, what's that mean?
If you've spent your time doing your due diligance, this will NEVER happen. If it does, it's simply your rooster telling you "I really dig high velocity lead", or "I absolutely love sharp, cold steel". Give him what he wants and then start doing all the things I suggested. Do it better this time. Do it more often. SPEND TIME WITH YOUR BIRDS!!!
If you don't have time to spend with your birds, that's not a sin. The sin creeps in when you don't have time and you still keep birds.
A lot of times, as with any pet, people enjoy the drudgery of cleaning and feeding and watering while the critter is young, sweet and cute. When the pet gets older, it's not as much fun. Attention wanes, care slips, and the pet suffers.
A guinea pig can take it. A cat can take it. A hermit crab prefers it.
A rooster won't accept it, and will pay you back.
He'll remind you by sending you for stitches. He'll remind you by tearing your pants. If he's exceptionally talented, he'll send you to the eye doctor.
Remember the merciful King? Roosters don't do mercy. They do what comes naturally. If you haven't enforced to him what's natural in your world, he'll be more than happy to show you what's natural in his.

A parting thought...
If a bird goes bad, soup is good. While you're enjoying your meal, take a moment to rethink what you're doing. Realize that your dinner is a direct result of how busy you are. If time is too scarce in your life to do what your animals need, make freezer space or at least consider finding another home for your birds. Just because you don't have time now does not mean you can't have birds later on in life. Not having time for the birds will turn an extremely joyful hobby into a miserable and dangerous one.
Being a good steward to God's creatures is a choice that you've made on your own. Now that you've made it, you are responsible for the animal's care. Finding homes for birds that you can no longer care for is not irresponsible, and it doesn't mean that you are defeated.
It simply means that you are keeping up your part of the bargain!!!
This page was last updated on: January 15, 2010
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