Roosters can be a problem or a source of sweetness in our laying flock. A ruffian of a rooster chases hens mercilessly, clambering on their backs and pecking them hard as a matter of principle. We can’t keep a rooster like that. A caring rooster on the other hand is gentlemanly an encourages his ladies to go outside and enjoy the fresh air. Out in the chicken yard, hens cluster around him crooning contentedly as they scratch and browse for bugs. They feel safe by him. 

If a gentle rooster finds a worm, he won’t touch it. He’ll stand up tall and call, “Look! Look! Look! Look!” offering it to his little ladies. When they hear him call, the hens hurry out from all the surrounding patches of grass, running so fast their little legs fly out behind them. The only other time I see hens run like that is when I am carrying a feed scoop of wheat and calling, “Here chick chick!!”

Right now, we have two flocks of 400 laying hens, and each flock has a couple of roosters. We have been watching them carefully to see if they are ruffians or sweethearts, but the birds are just transitioning out of adolescence and sometimes change quickly during this time of life.

One rooster has held our attention for weeks. He stands tall above the other birds with iridescent green tail feathers and a magnificent golden mane around his neck. For a long time, he looked like a prince but seemed overwhelmed by anxiety. If a hen pecked him, he ran away and hid even though he was bigger. He seemed so worried about the possibility of being pecked that he often stood on the roosting bars outside the nest boxes where he could have more personal space.

Then his hormones must have hit suddenly. Over the course of two days, he completely abandoned the roosting bars by the nests and began walking his grounds with an air of authority. All the birds stopped pecking him. We have never seen him be aggressive with a hen, so the change in social order happened peacefully in response to his new demeanor. In fact, we only saw him peck another bird once, and that is when the smaller rooster in his flock hopped on the back of a hen. The new king quickly put an end to that and sent the smaller rooster hurrying away.

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