Friday, January 18, 2013

No Rooster, No Problem

by Shannon Cole of Country Girl In The Village

 I first became interested in backyard chickens almost four years ago. Two friends of mine were starting flocks and I could not resist the excitement that came with getting that first set of day old chicks. My requirements in getting backyard chickens were a little different than my rural land owning friends. I had to get birds that fit within the rules of my Village. These rules included a set number amount but also restricted having roosters. With no rooster to maintain a flock dynamic, my ladies were on their own to establish a pecking order to live by.

Head Hen stands tall over her flock
Pecking Order is something that is established through sheer confrontation. It can be messy, mean and in some cases even fatal to birds. Roosters in a flock, for the most part, take the lead role. This leaves the hens to figure out their pecking order down from the rooster as head to the lowest lady on the totem pole.  Once pecking order is established the flock dynamic is usually settled until a new comer takes a place within the flock or someone is usurped from their leadership position.  This social hierarchy is what determines who eats first to who gets to roost at the highest point in a coop. There can even be egg box territories based on pecking order.

When there is no rooster to take the lead role, a hen is forced into the spot light of Head Chicken. She could be an older chicken or maybe just the largest or sassiest in your group. This Hen will take over the rooster duties of helping to find food in the yard to keeping an eye out for predators. I have read reports that some head hens will even attempt to crow after time and have been seen trying to mate with other hens.

The head hen is kept busy working to manage the flock. She is often too busy watching for predators and food scraps to even lay eggs. In multiple flock experience that I have had with no rooster, the head hen lays minimal eggs even if she is a breed known for being good layers. My first head hen was a Buff Orpington and she only laid once a week at most. Next, I had a Black Australorp and she too almost completely stopped laying once she came to her position of power. I now have a young but large Blue Laced Red Wyandotte as head hen.  As a new addition, she took her place in my flock after a dog attack left  my Black Australorp dead. The BLRW became head hen after a bout of pecking order antics that helped reestablished flock dynamics. She also rarely lays now.   

Could this be only my experience? Maybe, but after speaking with many backyard chicken keepers as well as researching through online forums, I have come to the conclusion that without a rooster, a head hen will take the lead of the flock. She will act as manly as her fluffy hen butt will let her. She may even attempt to crow. A head hen instead of a rooster is not a problem per say. Roosters are not needed for a hen to lay an egg and let’s be honest those wonderful treasures are why we get into chicken keeping. It does, however, change a flock’s dynamics. It is also equally important that when choosing hens for a backyard flock, to choose layers who will compensate for the diminished laying of the lead hen.

If you are planning on starting a flock soon or adding to one you have, be sure to keep in mind that in a backyard situation, when you are limited to number of birds, to choose the best breeds for your goals of raising chicken whether it is for egg production or ornamental pets.

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