Animal welfare is one of the founding pillars in our farm's mission statement. It is important to us that our animals express their natural instincts to the best of their abilities and our abilities. To this end, we have made the hard decision to reintroduce roosters into several of our laying hen flocks.
This is a monetary loss for us, as fertilized eggs can not be sold commercially. With roosters in our flock, a larger percentage of our eggs are fertilized and therefore unprofitable. Our egg candlers will also have to work harder to identify and separate the fertilized and unfertilized eggs. We do not waste fertilized eggs. We feed them to our hogs who are grateful for the nutrient-dense, fresh treats.
We have made this sacrifice because we believe having roosters in the flock is better for the hens' wellbeing. Our Poultry Production Manager, Jeff Lackey, explains in further detail the beneficial role roosters play in a laying hen flock:
"The roosters are tuned in to the skies and alert the flock to the presence of aerial predators - a major challenge on our farm. They are also fantastic foragers, and the hens know this. While the roosters sacrifice significant amounts of foraging time to stand guard, any time the rooster starts foraging the hens will quickly rush in to investigate.
One study found that with roosters present, the hens began laying at a younger age and grew larger combs. That same study also found that nearly 80% of laying hens in a flock without roosters will enter a sexual crouch when a human approaches, but only 20% will enter this position when there are roosters in the flock. This can be a nuisance when attempting to walk through the flock".
Roosters allow a more natural pecking order to develop within the flock. A flock with a rooster has a designated alpha. A flock comprised of only hens, however, will see birds jostling for the alpha position and this causes more discontent amongst the layers. Our hens will also feel more secure with the rooster on the look out. They are now able to dedicate more of their time to contently forage, secure in the fact that the rooster is on the alert on their behalf. This will be better for the hens and the land. We want our hens to live in as natural a social dynamic as possible, and be as content as possible.
We recognize the monetary loss we face will be worth it if our layers are enjoying the benefits of the full social system they evolved to coexist in. If you visit our farm, and ride out to our laying hen sets with roosters, you'll see the amazing phenomenon first hand. Our roosters are usually surrounded by a large flock of hens. The hens' heads are down, foraging, and the rooster's head is up, alert, protecting.