Hens will lay eggs with or without a rooster. Without a rooster, your hens’ eggs are infertile, so won’t develop into chicks. If you do have a rooster, eggs need to be collected daily and kept in a cool place before being used so that they won’t develop into chicks.
Owning a rooster so that you can breed your chickens is generally not a good idea. In allowing your hens to have chicks, you will end up with several more roosters. Although roosters can be kept together when they are young, as they mature they will often start fighting, which can lead to serious injuries. Therefore, if you are planning on owning several roosters they will need to be housed separately from other roosters once they are older or otherwise be rehomed.
Considerations for keeping a rooster
If you are interested in having a rooster with your hens, there are several things you need to consider. First, make sure you check with your state/territory Department of Agriculture or equivalent, and your local council about your legal obligations and requirements when owning backyard hens and roosters.
Roosters are not allowed in some neighbourhoods because of noise issues from crowing. Roosters will crow throughout the day and people will often complain, particularly about early morning crowing. To restrict early morning crowing, some people place roosters in small ‘night boxes’ which light cannot penetrate and restrict the rooster’s movement, in particular its ability to fully stretch their neck. Roosters are then meant to be released from the ‘night box’ throughout the day. There are significant welfare concerns with using these boxes including limiting the rooster’s ability to move and poor ventilation. There is also no evidence to suggest that restricting the rooster’s ability to stretch their neck will prevent crowing.
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, which is meant to significantly reduce the volume of the crow. However, these collars should not be used since they prevent normal behaviours and may also cause distress or breathing difficulties. Where it is considered necessary to use a rooster collar, the collar must be correctly fitted and removed immediately if there are any signs of distress. Roosters who have such collars fitted must be monitored closely for signs of distress or breathing difficulty. The collar must be removed immediately if the rooster is not adjusting to or coping with the collar.
The RSPCA opposes these practices which prevent roosters from crowing because they prevent naturally motivated behaviours leading to negative animal welfare outcomes.
Keeping a rooster in a neighbourhood where you may have to use methods that prevent or discourage them from expressing natural behaviours like crowing will result in poor welfare for that rooster. Roosters are best kept in areas where the risk of neighbourhood complaints due to excessive noise is negligible and they are free to perform all their natural behaviours.
If you do choose to have a rooster, then it is important that they are provided with comfortable, clean and suitable housing that protects them from the weather and predators. They should also be provided with an enriching environment that includes perches and forms of enrichment that provide opportunities for and encourage natural behaviours, like dust bathing and foraging.
Considerations when introducing a rooster and/or hens into your flock
Instead of getting a rooster or attempting to breed your own hens, if you would like to increase your backyard hen flock, then you could source hens from a rescue organisation.
Chickens are very social creatures and naturally develop a social hierarchy within their flocks. When you introduce a new rooster and/or hens into your backyard flock it will initially disrupt their established social hierarchy. It is therefore very important to allow new birds time to adjust and find their place within the flock. Introducing new birds is best done in pairs and birds should be of a similar age and size to your other hens to prevent the new birds from being isolated or bullied by the flock. New birds should be housed initially in a separate fenced off area for several days to allow them to meet and socialise with the flock while still being kept safe. After several days, if birds appear to be socialising well together then they can be provided supervised time together like during the day when they are free ranging in the garden. After several weeks and once you are confident that the flock is socialising well, then your new birds can start being housed unsupervised with the rest of your flock.