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Will a Rooster Kill Baby Chicks?

Rowan Burgess |

As a poultry farmer, you'll know that plenty of wild predators would be all too happy to get their hands - or teeth - on your chickens. With that in mind, you'll have spent plenty of time and resources protecting your chickens from these dangers. But did you know that the threat is not always from the outside?

Understanding the social and hierarchical relationships between chickens is paramount to keeping your livestock as safe as possible. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the potential dangers roosters pose to chicks.

Understanding Behavior: The Dual Nature of Roosters

For some time now, we have understood chickens to be an intelligent and sophisticated species. They are socially and cognitively complex and will organise themselves into a hierarchy with defined roles and relationships. Most clearly is that of the leader - the rooster himself. Given that roosters tend to be slightly larger than hens, that's not surprising.

Generally, the rooster's job is to protect his flock, and while often he will live far more independently than the rest of the flock, he will be around to ensure those beneath him are safe.

However, there is another aspect to chickens and roosters, especially, and that is how aggressive they can be. It's known that free-range chickens are more aggressive than battery chickens, but roosters are known to be the worst culprits. While they are there to protect the flock, if they feel threatened, they will also not hesitate to attack within to maintain dominance in a skewed act of protection.

How Do Roosters Interact with Baby Chicks?

Part of the social standing of chickens is that the rooster lives independently of the rest of the flock. So that means, while he may have fathered some chicks, he won't have much to do with their upbringing. With that being the case, there have sometimes been instances of a rooster seeing his own chicks (or simply chicks from his own flock) as outside intruders and attacking them to protect his flock and his authority.

In fact, poultry cannibalism is known to be a real issue within chicken communities during extreme circumstances. Those circumstances could be overcrowding or overheating, but they can also be due to the introduction of new birds. As stated, the social hierarchies of chickens are well-defined, so any threat to that is taken very seriously by the group.

What Are the Potential Risks of Aggression?

Unfortunately, chickens do tend to be aggressive - and it's not just the roosters. Both roosters and hens can become very violent and kill (or even eat) members of their flock when provoked or see a reason to attack.

While it is common and healthy for chickens to groom themselves and each other as part of feather care, problems arise when it goes past this point. Due to their sharp and strong beaks, grooming can quickly turn into aggressive pecking if not kept under control.

The worst-case scenario is for a member of the flock to be eaten, but even if it doesn't get to that extreme, the potential outcomes are still unpleasant. These consequences can cause severe injuries and sometimes exile from the flock.

Steps for Safely Introducing Chicks to Roosters

Keeping your chickens safe and protected should be of utmost importance to you - both for their welfare and your business. With that in mind, you must be careful and considerate when introducing new chicks to the flock's rooster. The best way to do this is to make the introduction gradually.

A good place to start would be to introduce them using visual separation tools, such as a mesh fence. This way, the rooster can see the chicks and learn they are not a threat. It also helps the chicks to understand the social structure of the flock. Once you feel ready, you can start supervised interactions to get both parties used to each other. Stay on hand at the beginning to step in if required.

Eventually, once the rooster has accepted the chicks into the flock, you should be okay to leave them to it.

How to Handle Multiple Roosters with Chicks?

If you have enough chickens that warrant more than one rooster, you'll need to think clearly about managing that. Ideally, you'll want one rooster for around 10-12 hens. Given roosters' potentially aggressive and dominant nature, much care will need to be taken in these instances.

With any other chickens, but certainly with chicks, it's best to primarily work around the roosters' needs. That means ensuring he has ample space to live independently from the rest of the flock as he would in the wild. This should be the case in both the coop and the run space.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can Baby Chicks Be With a Rooster?

Yes, but much care must be taken when introducing new chicks to a rooster in a flock of chickens. Do not put them all together immediately, but instead, slowly introduce the two via visual separation first - such as mesh fences - and then with supervised time within the same coop.

Why Would a Rooster Kill Baby Chicks? 

It's very possible that a rooster might kill baby chicks if they have not been appropriately introduced first. That's because the rooster may not recognise the chicks as part of his own flock and mistake them for outside intruders. It's essential to take time to introduce chicks to the rooster slowly to avoid this unfortunate circumstance.

Final Thoughts

Due to the aggressive nature of chickens - and certainly free-range roosters - much care must be taken when gradually introducing new chicks to a rooster. In extreme cases, the rooster may attack, kill, or even eat the chicks, so it’s worth taking the time to ensure this doesn’t happen.

For all your flock and poultry health needs, head to Dalton Engineering today!