On the cover

Roost­ers are the most beau­ti­ful of the poul­try world, but they are the most trou­ble too.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Contents - Words Sue Clarke & Nadene Hall

The wild world of roost­ers & how to man­age them,

Roost­ers can be a prob­lem. If they’re not crow­ing at 4am, they can be ag­gres­sive, espe­cially if you have sev­eral of them in your flock. Worse, they can turn their ire on you, and each other.

Strate­gies to man­age rooster be­hav­iour de­pend on the breed, their age, and the rooster-to-hen ra­tio of your flock.

Ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour in roost­ers (and other live­stock) is in­flu­enced by:

• learned be­hav­iour

• ge­net­ics

• their cur­rent en­vi­ron­ment A rooster’s role in life is to mate with as many fe­males as pos­si­ble, but mostly it’s a small group he keeps as his ‘harem’. He is their guardian, sound­ing warn­ings when preda­tors like hawks or cats are around. He will also help ‘his’ hens find food.

A flock has a set ‘peck­ing or­der’ where birds fight to find who is higher and who is lower.

The lead rooster must show dom­i­nant be­hav­iour to other roost­ers to main­tain his top sta­tus. Fight­ing among male birds is usu­ally in­tense, and roost­ers are more likely than fe­males or young birds to keep fight­ing un­til one kills the other.

Un­for­tu­nately, they can also turn their ag­gres­sion on their own­ers.

Ag­gres­sive be­hav­iour is more preva­lent in spring when hens are com­ing back into lay and younger roost­ers are seek­ing to build their own harem.

Sev­eral roost­ers can be run with a flock of hens. The key to suc­cess­ful man­age­ment is to keep the ideal ra­tio of hens to each rooster. A heavy breed rooster (eg, Or­p­ing­ton, Barred Rock) can man­age 8-10 hens. A light breed (eg, Leghorn, ban­tams) can cope with 10-15 hens.

If there are more roost­ers and fewer hens, the roost­ers will fight each other to gain more hens.

Al­ter­na­tively, if there are too many hens for the res­i­dent roost­ers to cope with,

they may be­come ‘hen pecked’. They will con­tinue mat­ing un­til they are too tired, and lose weight and con­di­tion. This low­ers their fer­til­ity.

If you want to keep mul­ti­ple breed­ing males, and mate them with spe­cific hens or place them in your flock at key times, keep them in in­di­vid­ual runs and only bring them out when needed.

If you do have to keep groups of adult males, make sure they have a spa­cious run, to re­duce the risk of fight­ing.

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