Debunking rooster myths
Roosters tend to be misunderstood and, as a result, the SPCA far too often sees roosters that have abandoned or mistreated.
However, roosters can make a wonderful addition to any farm or lifestyle block. Although some councils have bylaws on the types of properties where roosters can be kept, for those people who have the space and can legally keep roosters, these birds make entertaining and fascinating companion animals.
Here we bust the myths about roosters and reveal why our crowing friends deserve much more credit than they often receive.
Myth #1 - Roosters aren't intelligent
The truth is quite the opposite. There is evidence that five-day-old chicks can count (up to five!) and chickens can demonstrate selfcontrol, delaying a smaller reward to get a larger reward later – something which children typically cannot do until the age of four. Chickens can also tell apart up to 30 individual chickens and can also tell apart individual people.
Due to their intelligence, roosters are also happiest when they have things to do, such as find treats or perch on different levels or objects. Just like dogs, they can also be trained to come when called.
Myth #2 - Roosters only crow in the morning
This is probably the most widespread myth about roosters, which is quite untrue. Roosters do indeed crow at the first sight of a sunrise – they have an inner circadian rhythm and will increase crowing around dawn, even when they can’t see the sunrise or sunset (for up to two weeks).
However roosters also crow at other occasions, including whenever they perceive danger, or to reassure a stressed hen. Roosters are advanced communicators and have more than 24 vocalisations, each tailored for a specific purpose.
Many rooster owners will agree that you can get to know the varying sounds of your rooster and what these sounds may mean, and will testify that life wouldn’t quite be the same without the dulcet tones of the familiar animal they know and love.
Myth #3 - Roosters aren't interesting
Roosters are indeed fascinating and much more like people than you may first think. For example, roosters experience rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is a deep level of sleep where they dream, just like we do. Perhaps they dream about finding some delicious grubs or watching over their flock of hens!
Interestingly, roosters and chickens also experience a stage of sleep that humans do not, called unihemispheric slow-wave sleep (USWS), which is where part of their brain is awake while the other half is still resting. This is why they can often be observed ‘sleeping with one eye open’, a fascinating evolutionary trait allowing them to watch for predators while they sleep.
Myth #4 - My hens don't need a rooster
Roosters truly are natural-born leaders and will keep a flock of hens in order and happy. A rooster will be happiest when he has a group of hens to ‘watch over’. His duties will include protecting them from danger – and crowing to alert them to any predators that might be nearby. This helps his hens flee or hide for safety. He will also make it his mission to source out yummy grubs and morsels for the hens to enjoy.
Without a rooster to keep the harmony within the flocks, hens are likely to fight amongst themselves. Roosters love their hens so much that they can be known to dance to impress them and perform a routine known as the ‘shuffle’ or ‘titbitting’. During this, they drop a wing and do little shuffles to show off their feathers. Whether it works on the hen or not, they get 10 out of 10 for effort when it comes to impressing their ladies!
Myth #5 - Roosters are aggressive
Roosters often get a bad rap for being aggressive. But they are certainly not wired this way, and any behavioural issues will usually be down to the way they are treated by humans. Show them love and care, and give them the home and set-up they need, and roosters make extremely attentive and sociable animals.
If multiple males are in the flock, then aggression may occur, but if a rooster is paired with a flock of his own, and not contending with other males in the same flock, he will bring nothing but harmony to the group.
Myth #6 - Roosters are herbivores
Roosters are actually omnivores and need to eat a balanced diet consisting of quality commercial chicken feed, fresh vegetables (or occasional fruits), and occasional table foods (e.g. whole oats) and insoluble grit.
If you are feeding your flock scraps, make sure these are not high in fat or salt. Roosters don’t have teeth and swallow their food whole. The gizzard, a special part of their stomach, then pulverises the food before moving it to the small intestine. They actually use the grit, sand, and pebbles they have swallowed to help them digest their food. Roosters also love foraging for their food, so they need to be provided with lots of opportunities to search for their food. If you have a rooster, it is important to provide him with enrichment to keep his intelligent brain stimulated – for example, providing treat balls and scattering food in different areas.
Myth #7 - Roosters all look the same
Roosters have striking and magnificent looks, and each one offers something quite different. Their feathers are adorned in varying colours, from crisp white to glimmering shades of blue or green. They also tend to have larger and more striking combs and wattles than hens. The comb is the red plume that sits on top of their head, and the wattle is the part that dangles from below their beak. Research has shown that the wattle and comb are used to attract hens, and a larger and more colourful comb is a sign of a healthy rooster that will appear more attractive to hens.
So all in all, our rooster friends are intelligent, handsome and engaging animals who should be treated with kindness and compassion. We encourage all those with backyard flocks to think about adopting a rooster and to give their roosters just as much consideration as their hens.