Hens don’t need a rooster in order to lay eggs. Without a rooster, the eggs are infertile, so won’t develop into young chicks. If you do have a rooster but collect the eggs daily and keep them in a cool place before using them, they won’t develop into chicks.
It’s generally not a good idea to breed chickens in your backyard – allowing your hen to sit and raise chicks means that you are likely to end up with several more roosters, so you will need to decide what you will do with these birds. Roosters can be kept together when they are young, but as they mature they will eventually fight which can lead to serious injuries. If you are intending on killing male birds for meat then you need to know how to do this humanely.
If you are interested in having a rooster with your hens, there are several things you need to consider first.
First, check with your local council about rules for backyard hens. Some councils don’t allow roosters in suburban areas because of noise issues. Roosters will crow throughout the day but complaints usually due to early morning crowing which disturbs people in the neighbourhood.
To restrict early morning crowing, some people place roosters in small ‘night boxes’ which do not allow light to penetrate and restrict the rooster’s movement, in particular its ability to fully stretch its neck. Roosters are then meant to be released from the ‘night box’ throughout the day. However, there is no evidence that restricting the rooster’s ability to stretch its neck will prevent crowing. Also, in order to provide a fully dark environment within the ‘night box’, ventilation may be compromised. Any housing designed to reduce noise and restrict light will inevitably impact the ability to naturally ventilate that space.
So-called ‘rooster collars’ are another alternative to reduce the noise made by crowing roosters. These collars fit snugly around the rooster’s neck and prevent the air sac from expanding fully. This, in turn, significantly reduces the volume of the crow. However, these collars are not recommended since they prevent normal behaviours. They may also cause distress or breathing difficulties so ensure they are correctly fitted and removed immediately if there are any signs of distress. Roosters that do have such collars fitted must be monitored closely for signs of distress or breathing difficulty. The collar should be removed immediately if the rooster is not adjusting to or coping with the collar.
In the end, housing roosters in cramped and confined conditions or preventing them from expressing natural behaviours – including crowing – is not good animal welfare. Roosters are therefore best kept in areas where the risk of neighbourhood complaints due to excessive noise is negligible.
If you do keep roosters, they should be provided with an environment that protects them from wind, rain, cold and heat. They need perches and they need to be able to scratch in the dirt, dust bathe and forage for food.
Otherwise, if you want to increase your backyard flock, the best thing to do is to source chicks or young hens (poults) from a reliable breeder. Or you could consider getting some ‘rescue hens’ from a local cage-egg farm or rescue organisation.