What Happens When You Have Too Many Roosters?

too many roosters

We were naively ecstatic when our first chicks were hatched in 2003. Not only were the chicks adorable, but it also meant that we were self-sufficient when it came to providing eggs for ourselves. Our hens were providing us with eggs, and they were providing us with their replacements so that when they slowed down and eventually stopped laying, there would be younger hens to replace them.

A year later, we had about forty hens and twenty-four roosters. Most of the hens had bald backs because roosters think they need to mate a hen at least every fifteen or twenty minutes. And when one rooster pinned a hen, three or four other roosters would line up for their turn. The constant mating pulled all the feathers from the hens’ backs, which then exposed their skin to the roosters’ toenails as well as to the sun. I understood why the books say that you only need one rooster for about every dozen or two hens. I realized that if the hens went into winter with no feathers on their backs, they could freeze to death. We briefly considered butchering some roosters but quickly dismissed the idea, hoping that the urge to mate would decrease as fall approached.

One day as I was walking through the barn, I saw Emerald, a beautiful Silver-Laced Wyandotte rooster standing like a statue. As I walked towards him, he didn’t move. I stood right next to him and crouched down. Nothing. I waved my hand in front of his face. Nothing. As I moved around to the other side of his body, I realized his other eye had been pecked out. I gasped and ran to the house to tell Mike that he needed to put down the rooster.

Of course, I expected Mike to put the rooster out of his misery. He objected, “Well, can’t you do something for him?” I explained that although I could get medication for him, he would have to spend the rest of his life in a cage because his blindness would make him an easy target for predators and other roosters. “Emerald was the king of the barnyard,” I explained. “Being in a cage is no life for a rooster like that.”

Mike finally agreed, but by the time we went back out to the barn, Emerald was dead. We thought about what to do with him, and it seemed like a waste of good, organic meat to bury him. A few months earlier, we had decided to eat a hen that had wandered onto the road and been hit and killed by a four-wheeler. When we thought about the reasons that we did not eat meat, none of them applied to our chickens. They were not vaccinated or medicated or debeaked. They were healthy, living happy lives, running around outside, eating bugs, and doing all the things that chickens naturally do. We decided to eat the rooster.

Over the next few weeks, the rooster fights became more frequent. I found another rooster standing in the barn, staring into space. His head was covered with blood. It didn’t take long to convince Mike to butcher him, but by the time he had sharpened his ax, the rooster was dead. After the third rooster died, we decided that something had to be done. The roosters were obviously fighting to eliminate the competition for mating the hens, and it was getting to be quite inconvenient to drop everything to butcher a rooster that had lost an argument. We realized we could either butcher them on their schedule or ours.

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This is an excerpt from Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide for More Self-Reliant Living by Deborah Niemann.

This is the story of how we changed our thinking and our practices regarding roosters. Many people get chickens and don’t think about what they will do with the extra roosters. We were no exception when we moved to the country in 2002. It only took us a year to figure out that it was not a good idea to keep all of the roosters. Now we butcher cockerels around 4 months of age, and we keep the pullets as replacement layers.

33 thoughts on “What Happens When You Have Too Many Roosters?”

  1. How is it thrifty to feed something that isn’t producing? 8 to 11 weeks it’s bucher time for any undesirables. The meat in your freezer is the harvest.

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    • That’s very true, and we do butcher roosters now. This is the story of when we first moved to the country in 2002-03. Because we raise heritage chickens, we butcher roosters at 4 months.

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    • When I was first starting out, I was also reluctant to butcher my roosters. I had about 1/2 roosters and 1/2 hens. When, for the safety and comfort of my hens, I eliminated all but one roo to every 8-10 hens, I went from filling the feeder every day to filling it every 4th day. Which means that half the chickens – the roosters – were eating 3/4 of the feed, and producing but noise and stress on the hens. I now keep the ratio down, and if there’s a young rooster I want to keep, an older one has to go.

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  2. We need to butcher some roosters, too. We just haven’t found the time yet. I think as homesteaders we go through that learning curve and learn why it’s best to just go ahead and butcher them.

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    • Come on y’all castrate those roosters before they are mature and get some of the biggest best tasting Chicken on the planet capons I live in the city and even I know that capons are great

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        • Stromberg’s hatchery has some excellent books on all aspects of poultry husbandry, including how to sex day old chickens and how to castrate cockerels. They even sell a kit with the instruments needed.

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          • The testicles on a chicken are inside the body. You are going to do an open body cavity surgery on an awake bird? No anesthesia?? Sounds insanely cruel to me. I would never torture an animal that way!!!

  3. Thank you for posting this, I think the problems of having too many roosters are not what a lot of beginner chicken lovers think about! It was nice to read how you worked through the issue and found the most thoughtful and humane choice, especially when you had already chosen to not eat meat! Bon appetit!

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  4. I’ve heard that having a guard goose, eliminates barnyard rooster fights. (Justin Rhodes , now Art and Bri’s, guard goose breaks up barnyard disputes) anyway, thought I’d mention it, for those who might want to keep some of their birds a bit longer.

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    • This seems to be a personal trait of some animals. Our geese never cared how much our roosters fought. But we used to have a dog that hated it and would break up fights. However, that only works to a certain point. If you have as many roosters as we did, there was nothing that was going to keep them from fighting because there were just too many.

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  5. I really need to learn how to process my extra roos. I’ve watched lots of videos, but I just cannot take that step without assistance! I need to either watch/help the first time.

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  6. We have about 17 of the most beautiful roosters I have ever seen – cross of Black Australorpe Rooster and a gold sex link hen. They are about a year old. Wish I could sell their feathers. Can’t near to kill them. We don’t mind that hey crow as a choir at 4 in the morning. Hens follow them like groupies. Our problems same as yours. I think I will ask our chicken processor if he will process them for us.

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  7. Thank You! This article came at the right time. I am on a farm in South Africa. I didn’t think I could ever love birds as I love my hens, chickens and roosters. Such comedic characters! I captured 4 roosters today for the pot. They screamed like children. It was traumatic! I now have 5 roosters left and 20 hens. Please may I have some advice? Do I need to cull more roosters? I don’t think I can go through the trauma for a while!!!

    Reply
    • You are definitely getting closer to a good rooster to hen ratio. If you are feeling up to it in another month or so, and you could butcher two more, that would be ideal. But hopefully you won’t see too much fighting with the number you have now. Good luck!

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  8. I just hatched around 20 eggs earlier this year. Now that they are about 3 months old, I’ve discovered that more than half are roosters! Thank you for your honesty about how you handle roosters.

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  9. Or you could STOP BREEDING the damn birds and separate them by sex so they do not reproduce. Like a sanctuary that loves animals would do. Hens in one area, roosters in another area. Stop buying from breeders too and just adopt/rescue. That’s what I do. Adopting saves lives. Breeding is greedy, for profit, and adds to the problem.

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    • I work in rescue and I have my own farm. If you want chickens as pets you can adopt, sure. But adoption for egg production isnt very feasible. There aren’t many adoptable hens out there. They never come solo. It’s always a breeding pair. Not only that but getting a bunch of random chickens and putting them together doesn’t often end well. Also, you cannot combine random roosters together. That’s a mess. I know bc I’ve rescued my fair share. Now I have a bunch of coops with animals that can’t be with others. Not everyone can do that.

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      • ….because the only good animal is an accident, and the only breeder worth supporting is the irresponsible one.

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  10. Oh, thank you for sharing!! Our stories are so similar! We started with 11 and a year later we have 42 and counting! The roosters are out of control! The poor hens, just abused! Now we know what needs to be done to get our happy balance back.

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    • we started out with 8 “hens” of 4 different breeds for the diversity in beauty 3 months in I walked out my back door and heard Lavern crowing to beat the band and now Panelope is named Hey Hey because its crazy to call a rooster Ponelope. But wait now we have 20 more hens…well atleast they are for now… they are only 2 weeks old yet. We will see.

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  11. Hi!! We got six chickens for the first time and they are now about for months old. We realized we have five roosters and one hen. I’ve noticed just lately that we is an issue here!! I know most of them have to go but how many? And do I get any more hens? I feel terrible for our one. Thank you.

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    • Unfortunately, if you have only one hen, even one rooster is going to run her ragged. You don’t need a rooster at all if you only want eggs to eat. You definitely need to get more hens. You can buy sexed pullets of most breeds from hatcheries.

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  12. We purchased 20 pullets and 2 roos – we ended up with 10 DOA (they sent extra) and 7 hens, 5 roos. Super unfortunate ratio! Be careful where you get your chicks.

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  13. I thought I had 1 rooster to 6 hens (Rhode Island Reds & one Plymouth Rock Hens). However, I now realize after 3-4 months old. I have 2 Roosters. The (Roosters) are not taking any feathers from the hens….a little establishing alpha between them though. Neither Rooster has feathers on their necks ??, although , which their Dad didn’t either. Should I wait more, or butcher one Rooster? Any other counsel is much appreciated!

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    • At only 3-4 months old, the hormones have not kicked in fully yet. They are not sexually mature until closer to 6 months. It is highly likely that they will start fighting within the next few months since you only have six hens. However, if one of them is more submissive than the other one, they could get along fine. It’s going to come down to their own individual personalities. Sometimes you’ll have a rooster that attacks people, although most don’t. They are all individuals. As I write that, it makes me think that you should definitely wait until they get more mature to choose one to butcher, if needed. It would be sad if you butchered one now, and then a few months down the road, the remaining rooster starts to attack people — because that is definitely a one-way ticket to the stew pot!

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  14. Thrifty Homesteader

    I m reading your web page and learaned you also had hens over bared and lost back feathers. Living in Bristol, VT with about 13 roosters and 20 hens, I have several abused hens and wonder how they will survive the zero and minus winters.

    We have names for all the birds so our choices to reduce the roos is difficult and impossible. Adoption farms, etc. is an option we are exploring.

    The noise at sunrise is beginning to put a burden on our family.

    But, my immediate concern is for the de-feathered chicks and winter.

    John

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    • If you reduce the roosters to only 3, the hen’s feathers will start to grow back within a couple of weeks, and they’ll be fine for winter. If you don’t get rid of the roosters, then the feathers can’t grow back, and you will likely have some dead hens that will freeze to death. I spent a lot of weekends at Mt Ascutney when I was in college, and I know Vermont winters well. You have to ask yourself what’s important and what’s really inhumane. Giving them to someone else who is willing to eat them is an option.

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  15. This was an honest post. My husband and I also have chickens, moving rural 3 years ago. The springtime hatch tends to be 50/50 male to female, although the hens are more apt to die than the males sometimes. They’re well cared for, safe from predators. I realized the roosters (too many of them (about 6) for our small flock of 7-10 hens) had to go. It ‘s brutal to watch what happens to the hens, and no feathers on their back means death by freezing in the winter. Get a very sharp, long knife and keep it alone for the butchering. Be kind, and humane, doing the deed as quickly as possible. With the sharp long knife, the small head removes quickly. You will have delicious chicken meals (kill before their 6 months, or use them for stewing thereafter).

    Reply

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