Shadrach's stories and articles.

Shadrach

Member
Messages
114
In order not to clutter up other threads I thought I would make my own.
I'm very interested in chicken behaviour and I've been fortunate here to be able to arrange a setup that has allowed me to study flock dynamics at considerable depth.
I intend to post a few stories and articles here. Some are unedited versions from my book.
The stories, both the imaginary and the factual, are the core of the book and from the observations in the core stories I draw some conclusions about chicken behaviour.
Please feel free to comment. :)

Fat Bird's Revelations.

There was an expectant silence when I said goodnight to Tribe 1 and closed the door for the night.
Mora was perched closest to the rear door, next was Ruffles, then Fat Bird and finally Able.
Once Ruffles was satisfied I was out of earshot, she shuffled a bit closer to Mora, hopefully out of striking distance of Fat Birds beak and unable to contain her curiosity any longer, asks Fat Bird,
"How was your night with Bucket Boy then?"
Mora craned her neck out as far as she could without toppling off the perch in order to see Fat Bird past Ruffles and said,
"Come on Fat Bird, tell us what happened? Able said you fell in the pond and nearly drowned."
Able, who was busy picking mites off his bad leg hoped on to the roof of the nesting box below the perch and fearing a bit of a scrap might be in the offing, jumped up between Fat Bird and Ruffles. After some foot shuffling, squawks of indignation and a few pecks, order was restored, and Fat Bird who was now standing, said in a tone that forbade any dissent,
"I didn't fall in!"
Able pointed out he was only relaying the information he had received from Jenny the Muscovey Duck, who had told him when he went to escort Fat Bird home at bedtime, she saw Bucket Boy's sister lift Fat Bird out of the pond and carry her away.

'The Pond' is a large concrete clothes washing basin with a sloping corrugated side on which the wet clothes were scrubbed. All the chickens know the water is deep and the slope slippery. No chicken has ever 'fallen' into this basin in the past, and Fat Bird is a very experienced hen.
Chickens don't swim and avoid deep water. Their feathers are not water-proof and when their feathers are soaked, they can't fly, their body temperature drops and their body weight increases, making running much more difficult and flight impossible

"What did happen then Fat Bird?" Mora asked.
Fat Bird, looking slightly shifty, took an intense interest in rearranging her wing feathers and muttered "I can't say."
Realizing that opportunity to increase her status in telling the others the story of that night might be slipping away, Fat Bird gave one final sweeping brush of her wing with her beak and settles down on the perch, while casually mentioning that Bucket Boy takes his feather off when he goes to sleep. Ruffles and Mora's neck shot forward and their eyes widened, their attention riveted on Fat Bird.
Fat Bird mentioned in a deliberately offhand manner that while she was recovering on Bucket Boys soft rocking chair, eating the last of the tuna she had been given off the blanket that had been carefully arranged around her, she saw Bucket Boy go to bed.
Ruffles beak dropped open and her eyes went all wistful and misty "I love tuna" she sighed, and slipped into a reverie where she attempted to recount all her favorite foods in no particular order.
"Shut up Ruffles" Fat Bird snaps, "the point is he takes his feathers off at night."
"Not sure I could fancy a man with no feathers" Ruffles murmured, still deep in her food reverie.
Fat Bird, eager to get to her most astonishing revelation, sets about telling the whole story of that night.

The others sat silent and listened, eyes wide, slightly in awe of Fat Birds experience, and slightly in awe of Fat Bird, who had after all, cheated certain death and spent the night with Bucket Boy. Fat Bird arrived at the point where she's eating the Tuna, gave Ruffles a threatening glance to forestall any further lapses in Ruffles concentration and continued her tale.
"It must have been late; easily badger time when Bucket Boy finished fussing over me and got me settled for the night. He turned out the lights except one, went to the toilet, and then into the room where his perch is. He took off all his feathers, drops them on the floor, and gets on to his perch."
Fat Bird paused and even in the gloom of the coop you could see that the memory of what happened next still haunted her. "I couldn't believe what happened next. I was close to panicking. How was I going to get out? Did anyone else known where I was? There was no more tuna; no water. I just sat there paralyzed."
Able, Ruffles and More were now on the very edge of their perches with anticipation, necks craned, eyes practically popping out of their heads and in chorus shouted,
"What happened Fat Bird?"
Fat Bird took one more pause, shuddered and said,
He said "goodnight Fat Bird," rolled onto his back and went to sleep.
Pandemonium broke out. Mora who had leaned out the furthest in order to see Fat Bird as she told her tale, slipped of her perch with a brief squawk, and crashed to the floor in an undignified pile of flying feathers and dust. Ruffles, recoiled in horror, shuffled away from Fat Bird barging Able off the perch and on to the roof of the nesting box below banging his beak on the perch during the fall as he stumbled to maintain his balance. Mora, on regaining some composure and realizing what she was about to say was bound to bring an irate Fat Bird down from above her, dived into the nesting box, and warily craning her head out, neck bent so she could see Fat Bird above said. "I don't believe you Fat Bird; everybody knows only dead things lie on their back."
 

bigyetiman

Well-known member
Messages
2,238
Fantastic :)08 :)08
It reminded me of our Light Sussex Dizzy Izzie, who one day decided to chase a couple of Canada Geese, made somewhat easier as the gate that separates the lake area from rest of garden was open. It had escaped her mind that they swim she doesn't. Luckily we were on hand to fish her out as they headed into the lake with her in hot pursuit. The geese were so stunned at this sudden white tornado heading towards them they forgot to go into attack mode and just ran.
Bet she had a tale to tell of having pond weed removed and a wash a blow dry.
That is just one of her many escapades, hence Dizzy Izzie.
Look forward to more stories :D
 

bigjim

New member
Messages
85
Caught one of mine having a bath in my acer tub this afternoon. It looked quite content nestled in there.
I wouldn't mind but they've the whole garden to dust bath in.
 

Shadrach

Member
Messages
114
Unfortunately the relevant pictures won't load with the article.

Why Chicken Bath In Dust And Not In Water.

As humans became ‘civilised’ and water and cleansing agents became widely available, bathing in water became more commonplace and to some extent the purpose of bathing forgotten. We tend to bath out of habit and the primary purpose of bathing is no longer as relevant as it is to other species.
Because we now have cloths to protect us from our environment, the condition of our skin with regard to protecting us from our environment, has become of secondary importance. We attire ourselves in different garments for the different circumstances we encounter, including combat.

This hasn’t been the case for the chicken. The purpose of bathing for the chicken is primarily for the conditioning of skin and feathers.

When humans get ‘dirty’ we wash in water. Our skin excretes a saline solution (water and salt) when we sweat which helps clean our pores, but dirt will stick to the sweat and leave us feeling uncomfortable and sticky.  Hot showers, steam baths, saunas, Turkish baths all aid skin cleaning by encouraging the skin to sweat and the residue we wash off with plain water. When we become particularly dirty we scrub our skin with an abrasive be that a sponge, luffa or even pumices stones and rinse with water. All the above systems work because of the nature of our skin and because of the secretion of sweat. The salt in our sweat is soluble in water.

For a chicken getting clean is rather different. Chickens don’t sweat; they don’t have sweat glands.
What the skin of a chicken excretes is oil in tiny amounts through the follicles  that their feathers grow out of and through a gland at the base of their backs called the preen gland. To condition and help make their feathers water resistant, the chicken rubs it’s beak and neck around the preen gland area and spreads the oil it picks up on it’s feathers. While preening doesn’t make the feathers waterproof; it’s the zipping together of the tiny barbs on the contour feathers that give the contour feathers their water resistance,  it does condition and help the contour feathers in particular shed a certain amount of water.

The purpose of the dust bath for chickens is to absorb excess oil on their feathers and skin. Once the chicken has thrown a sufficient quantity of dust over their bodies and this dust has mixed with the oil they can then pick off the dust that has absorbed the oil with their beaks by grooming.
Some dead skin (dander) will inevitably stick to the oil but the majority of a chickens dead skin is removed through normal grooming along with dead quill ends and parasites. The chicken pecks at the skin and feathers to dislodge the dead skin and then shakes itself so the dead skin falls to the ground. For the contour feathers in particular which are the strongest feathers providing the greatest protection from the elements and during mating and fighting, a small feather called the filoplume which carries tiny nerve endings situated next to the contour feather quill can be used to arrange the contour feathers in an optimal position for grooming.

If you have kept a chicken confined in your house for some reason one of the things you will have noticed is the quantity of dander dropped on the floor. This happened without the aid of a dust bath.

If you have had to deal with a chicken with scaly leg mite for example you will know that immersing the legs in oil, or surgical spirit is necessary to drown the mites, or alternatively, a thick coat of Vaseline that adheres to the leg is needed to suffocate the mites. A chicken dust bathing is unlikely to achieve a sufficient covering of dust to suffocate mites.

There are other benefits to dust bathing for chickens. While they are dust bathing some parasites may be removed, in particular lice, but interestingly there is some evidence that when they bath in certain types of soil ants may remove parasites.

Finally dust bathing can be a social event for chickens, but my observations have led me to the conclusion that differing types of soil promote communal bathing in preference to bathing solo.

If you’ve tried to clean up spilt oil with water you’ll know it’s a pointless task. The same can be said for trying to wash a chicken in water.
You may remove some particular spots of faeces for example and the chicken will look cleaner judged by human standards of cleanliness, but not by the chickens.
People use soaps and detergents to wash chickens to overcome the problem of removing oil.
This isn’t good for the chicken. One only has to think of the damage detergents in shampoos do to human hair and the necessity of using conditioners after washing to try to restore the oils you’ve just washed out to understand this. Add to this that you can’t scrub a chickens skin through the feathers, nor can you easily apply any conditioners so the effect of any detergent will be to dry out the chickens skin and feathers leaving them unprotected from bacteria and the feather quills brittle and fragile like dry hair.

I had a young pullet with three four day old chicks get caught out in a very sudden and intense storm. Her natural instinct was to protect the chicks from the storm, a cold wet chick of that age goes hypothermic and dies very quickly. It rained over an inch of water in the space of a few minutes and the hen got completely soaked. Because she had spread her wings to protect the chicks the inside of her wings and the sides of her body which in normal circumstances would have had at least some protection from her contour feathers got soaked through. Once I had rescued her I weighed her and she weighed 18% more than when dry.

I’ve had another hen get knocked into an old style wash basin with vertical sides and a scrub slope on one side. Chickens can’t swim and because of the extra weight of the water she couldn’t use her wings to jump out. Fortunately somebody found her quickly, but she went into shock and for the first hour when I was trying to dry her out it didn’t look like she was going to make it.

Some do get very wet when caught out in the rain but given the increase in body weight and the loss of the ability to fly they’re extremely vulnerable when wet and hypothermia can push a chicken into shock and eventual death.

Water is for drinking when it comes to chickens.

Once the reasons that chickens dust bath are understood it then becomes worthwhile considering what types of soil and dust make a good dust bath.
There is a wide range of options for dust bathing for chickens where I live and I’ve noticed a distinct  preference for two particular types of  dust bath.
The first type comprises the ash that gets thrown out from the wood burning stoves here. There are two main sites for this, one is on the driveway leading to the main house and the other I constructed outside my house. At the site on the main drive wood-ash has over time mixed with the fine dust eroded from the gravel that is the main driveway material. The hens here are very fond of this site, but I have never seen a rooster bath here.

The same is true for the site outside my house. This is wood ash that over time has mixed with fine soil. Once again, the hens will bath here but the rooster never have; they just stand and guard the hens.

The dust bath on the drive.
View attachment 1556388

The dust bath I made outside my house.
View attachment 1556389

However, provide a freshly dug and sifted pile of compost and you have trouble getting the roosters out. Both hens and roosters will bath in this.
Both types provide fine particles but the wood ash sites give a fine, dry, material while the compost, or newly turned earth, has a degree of moisture in it.

Two favourite dust bath locations with moist soil.
View attachment 1556390

View attachment 1556391

I became intrigued by the difference in the roosters and hens dust bathing habits and carried out some rough experiments.
Rubbing a finger on a chickens preen gland allowed me to roughly assess the viscosity of the oil it secretes. The nearest oil I had available to this was a light oil used for sewing machines.
I poured this oil onto two pieces of silver foil; 1.0 ml per piece of foil.
I added a gramme of the dry dust to one piece of foil and a gramme of the slightly damp compost soil to the other. I waited five seconds and then tipped the dust and soil onto a sheet of white paper.
What I found was there wasn’t any perceptible difference in between the two types of ‘dust’ when it with respect to the amount of oil they had absorbed. The difference between the two was the dry wood ash dust coagulated and formed lumps having absorbed some oil, while the moist soil tended to remain ‘loose’.

The hens bathing in the dry wood ash dust spent on average 6 minutes bathing. Both the dry wood ash bathing sites are relatively exposed and the roosters have a habit of hustling the hens out of their baths at the slightest sign of danger, or when the majority of the hens move off leaving a single hen, or two in the bath. The hens when using the dry wood ash baths tended to bath with a gap between them, each hen having a small bathing area separate from the others, the senior hen often demanding the ‘best’ spot’.
The moist compost type baths are more communal and often an entire tribe bathes together, The most obvious difference with these baths is the roosters bath with the hens and everybody baths in a tight group, jostling and shoving. These communal baths last considerably longer, on average 36 minutes. Occasionally I’ve found a single rooster bathing in this type of bath.

Two roosters and two hens bathing in one of the favourite moist baths.View attachment 1556392

 
The next bath along. The soil in these baths is moist all year round because the enclosures get watered.  The roots are grape vines.View attachment 1556393

I have tried making a sheltered dust bath with both types of ‘dust’. I made one underneath one of the coops using soil and wood ash. The chickens used it once that I observed then went and bathed in one of their preferred sites. I made another outside my house with similar results. It seems the chickens prefer an open site.

The favourite bathing spots have stayed the same over the eight years I have records for. There was one favourite spot that no longer exists and this used to be the top of a pile of composting straw and hay on the outskirts of the sheep field that had some cover given by clumps of rosemary bushes growing on the bank above. The chickens used to scrape away the loose straw and make a hollow in the compost beneath.

The preferred bathing spots change with weather conditions. It doesn’t take a lot of rain to turn some of the preferred moist soil baths into mud baths. The fine dust bath spots are very weather dependant but tend to dry out more quickly than the moist soil. On the few occasions it has remained wet over a few days the chickens just don’t bath, or as in the picture below, find a make do spot with ordinary earth until the ground dries out.

View attachment 1556394

 
Chickens given the opportunity will dust bath in most types of ground they can scratch and break down in to dust. What I became interested in was the marked preference of the chickens here for the two distinct bath types and the roosters reluctance to bath in fine dry dust. I imagine for the chickens ancestors the jungle fowl the fine dry dust baths are not an option, jungles tending to keep humid under the tree canopies and the soil remaining moist through the seasons.

While it is true that you can get a chicken to settle in a bath of warm water if you force the issue, and there may be some medical reasons why this is advisable, I have never heard of a chicken voluntarily getting in a water bath, they even avoid deep puddles here. There are, during the summer here, lots of potential water bath sites for chickens; at least three bowls which a chicken could if the desire for a quick hot bath overtook them get in and out of without difficulty, or risk of drowning. Then there is the ‘pond’ for the Muscovy ducks. In the summer the water gets quite warm. Not once has any chicken shown the remotest interest in getting in any of these potential baths for a quick wash, or splash around to cool down, or even get clean.

Chickens spend a large proportion of their day grooming and maintain correct feather orientation.
For chickens, the condition of their feathers is vital to their survival. A chicken with damaged feathers may be that fraction of a second slower when trying to escape a predator. Better feather condition may mean they receive less damage when fighting, or mating Well oiled and groomed feathers will offer better protection from the elements and greater resistance to harmful bacteria.
Water does absolutely nothing to help condition a chickens feathers, or skin.

If chickens came with a care and cleaning label like clothing the chicken's label would read, DRY CLEAN ONLY.
 

bigyetiman

Well-known member
Messages
2,238
Fascinating and enjoyable to read. Love the idea of getting a chicken with DRY CLEAN ONLY written on it.
Found a foolproof way of getting chickens back into the coop/run. Just have the Red Arrows go over the garden. They made it from one end of the garden to coop nearly as quick as the jets. Wonder if you can hire them for bedtime :) :)
 

rick

New member
Messages
1,901
Location
Warwickshire UK
Its thought provoking! Water birds obviously do things a different way but then they don't roost on a branch! Only exception with the water is my little feather footed fella who occasionally has to paddle in flooded a dog crate tray for 10 mins as its the best way of softening up the muck balls stuck to his feet. (a bit like accumulated snow balls weighing down a long haired dog.) Walking around on wet grass would do nicely but we don't have any grass here.
 

Hen-Gen

Active member
Messages
1,198
Location
Island of Fetlar, Shetland Islands
It’s very unpredictable Rick. As a lad I used to breed Gloster Canaries. These are perching birds but loved to bathe. Parrots prefer showers.
There’s some other kind of bird who’s name I’ve forgotten that breaks open ants nests and rolls in the angry ants. It is proposed that the formic acid in their bites deters mites and lice.
 

bigyetiman

Well-known member
Messages
2,238
I know corvids especially Jays use ants and so do Green Woodpeckers and Blackbirds. I am sure lots more do as well. You notice these species doing it.
Our lot in the main dust bathe in sand in winter and anywhere dry and dusty in summer, the exception were the Bluebells which always chose somewhere slightly damp. Guess they had there own reasons for that
 

Shadrach

Member
Messages
114
Understanding Your Rooster.


The reader needs to be aware that these observations and conclusions are taken from a particular chicken keeping arrangement which was conceived to be as close as practicable to the living arrangements of the chickens ancestors, the jungle fowl in order to study the chickens ‘natural’ behaviour when unrestricted, as far as being able to make observations permitted.
There are some keeping conditions that are difficult to avoid without resorting to a completely feral population; The chickens have coops and I try to encourage them to use these at night. The bantams and hybrids will happily roost in the trees at night and for a period I let this behaviour continue. The heavier Marans have preferred coops and have voluntarily roosted in coops over the entire eight years of my observations.
The chickens get fed three times a day. This has an enormous impact on both their behaviour and their health.
I limit sitting and hatching. Every hen here, even those that have never laid an egg, have at some point shown broody behaviour. Even with predation, the population would have grown at an exponential rate and economics make this growth impracticable.
I treat the injured and sick where appropriate and occasionally kill and eat a chicken.
All the hatchings here are done by a broody hen, usually at her chosen nest site if I’m going to let her sit.
I do collect eggs but a considerable number don’t get found.
During the day, the chickens have unrestricted access to 12.5 acres of mixed woodland and fields which is surrounded by a National Park.
This unrestricted access includes my house and the various outbuildings.
It’s my belief that over the eight year period these observations were taken, and given my virtually constant presence the chickens behaviour is altered only to the extent of their direct interactions with me and I am seen as a normal part of their environment.

Initially there were two groups of chickens; one group comprised a mixture of French Marans (3 roosters and 2 hens) and Old English Game bantams (One rooster and one hen) which were kept free range.
The second group comprised two Old English Game roosters and two hens of the same breed. These were permanently confined to a small run and coop.
The free range area is virtually unlimited but normally about 4 acres is used by the various groups.
A matting between a bantam hen and a Marans rooster in year 1 of my observations, led to the first hybrids and it was at this point that all the chickens in this article were allowed to free range (Open an hour after sun up and when possible closed in coops at dusk. In some circumstances the chickens roosted in trees until a coop was provided) and chose where and with who they lived with. As the groups changed I built coops to accommodate them. Beyond the scope of this article but relevant to what follows is the chickens chose to live with either their own breed, or groups where a genetically related individual/s were already established.
In the event that a hen, or rooster was rejected by an established group they eventually formed a new group at which point I would build another coop.
See:....https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/shadrach%E2%80%99s-multi-coops.74344/

The chickens here are kept in closed flock arrangement. However, there have been occasions when a ‘rescue’ group, or individual has been kept here. In all these case the ‘rescue’ chickens have stayed as single individuals in living arrangements, or stayed as a separate group from the existing groups.
I refer to these groups as tribes because this best describes their chosen living arrangements and behaviour.
There has been a maximum of 5 tribes here and a minimum of 3 from the point when all the chickens free ranged. At certain points there were tribes without roosters and roosters without hens.
The maximum number of roosters kept at any one time is 9 and the minimum is 5, all free range.
The maximum tribe size has been 8 individuals (excluding chicks) and the minimum has been 2.

The primary goal of a rooster is to further his genes. this goal underpins all rooster behaviour.

In order to further his genes a rooster needs a ‘co-operative’ hen. A hen has the ability to prevent a roosters sperm from reaching her infundibulum (note) where it can stay viable for up to three weeks and a rooster cannot force a hen to sit and hatch eggs.


While rogue roosters can and will force a hen to mate in some circumstances a roosters chances of successfully furthering his genes are improved greatly by regularly mating with a hen.
In order for a rooster to get his sperm on target the hen has to crouch and I’ve seen numerous occasions when hens would not only not crouch for a rooster but would fight the rooster off, or run away, often taking flight to a branch off the ground which makes it virtually impossible for the rooster to make the behind the neck grab that helps to ensure his balance during mating. Some of the stronger hens here will just keep walking with a rooster desperately trying to maintain his balance and force the hen to crouch. While this looks very funny, the important point is it is extremely difficult for a rooster to mate successfully with an uncooperative hen.

Most cockerels here have tried the force hens to mate.

Under laboratory conditions certain characteristics have been what determined a hens willingness to mate with a particular rooster; comb size is one often quoted, position in the flock is another. My observations suggest that while these may be contributing factors attracting hens is far more complex.
In order to maximize his mating opportunities a rooster must persuade a hen to be ‘his’ hen. This usually means they will cohabit and range as a group if more than one hen is involved.

How a rooster attracts hens.
Below is an example of how a junior rooster established his own harem.

Rip and Notch were brothers. They were the sons of a hen called Dink from Tribe 3. While they were cockerels they lived together in one of the tribe coops. Tribe 3 occupied two coops at that time. When they got old enough to attract hens Notch drove Rip out of the tribe coop and Rip perched up a tree outside my house at night for a while. The place he chose to perch was reasonable safe and he was too high for me to easily get him down.
During the day he would follow his tribe but at a safe distance from Notch. When Rip got too close, Notch would drive him away. This went on for a few weeks.
One of the maternity coops became free and I managed to get Rip out of the tree at night and put him in this maternity coop.
Notch had seven hens and when the hens went to lay an egg Rip would follow the hen and Notch and wait close to where this hen was laying. Notch would return to his tribe to guard the remaining hens.
(
Note, read egg song)https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/the-egg-song-it%E2%80%99s-not-about-the-egg-it%E2%80%99s-an-escort-call.74386/

Once an egg laying site is established the senior roosters don’t always escort the hens to the site, or escort them part of the way and then return to the tribe.
When the junior hen came out of the coop, or laying site Rip would already be there. The senior hens and Notch’s favourites would make the escort call and Notch would arrive to collect them and drive Rip away. When it came to the junior hens Notch didn’t always answer their calls and Rip would already be there waiting. Rip would escort the hen back to the outskirts of the tribe without trying to mate with her and remained on the fringe until another hen went to lay an egg. Rip did this with the three junior hens in Notch’s tribe for a couple of weeks.
Eventually the junior hens stopped making the escort call and would follow Rip rather than return to their tribe and Notch. Notch kept an attentive attitude towards his favourite hens, but seemed largely unconcerned about the junior hens staying with Rip throughout the day. After a couple of weeks three junior hens were spending their days with Rip.
The three junior hens lived in a separate coop to Notch due to space restrictions. One evening Rip who had been living on his own climbed the ramp to the coop of the three junior hens making coo cooing sounds and nodding his head repeatedly outside the coop door occasionally poking his head into the coop. The hens, or a hen made an acceptance call which I’ve heard on a few occasions and Rip went into the coop. Rip and these three hens formed a new tribe and stayed together until Rip died.

This has been the most common way that roosters have acquired their own hens and in tribes where there is a senior rooster, and cockerels, this has been the primary method the cockerel has sought out mating opportunities.

The junior roosters strategy here has been to be at the nest site location when the hen makes the escort call either by staying in the locality, or by responding more quickly than the senior rooster. It seems from my observations that escort duty, or at least attendance at the nest site after the call is accepted by the senior rooster. In a tribe of 5 or 6 hens, it is often not possible for the senior rooster to get his hens to a place of safety at the time of the hens escort call and response duties fall to the junior rooster. It seems from my observations that it is not until a hen stops making the escort call that a junior rooster may attempt to mate with that hen. Often a hen will make the escort call, a junior rooster will respond and they will move away from the nest site but the hen will still call for the senior rooster. If and when the senior rooster responds he will drive the junior rooster away and often mate with the hen.

The most commonly reported method of a rooster trying to attract hens is through the ‘I’ve found food’ calls and postures. The rooster nods at the ground and makes a particular set of sounds. This combination of sounds and body language attract the hens to the roosters location.
If a hen takes the food offered by a rooster the rooster takes this as a sign she may be willing to mate with him. Mating does not necessarily take place but the rooster gains credit depending on the quality of the treat he finds. The next time he makes the ‘I’ve found food’ call the hen that investigated the first call is likely to investigate again and the rooster builds a level of confidence with that hen.
In a tribe with a senior rooster this strategy has it’s problems. If the senior rooster notices a junior rooster making these calls he usually attacks the junior rooster and drives him away and then he calls the hens for the food.
In order not to attract the senior rooster the junior rooster will often just carry out the head nodding and postures but wont make any call hoping a hen will notice but the senior rooster wont. Senior hens rarely investigate junior roosters food calls.



In my observations once a relationship between a rooster and his hens is established this bond is very strong. One might assume for example, that in the fights between roosters kept under the conditions above a rooster who continually loses fights to another rooster stands the risk of his hens deserting him for the victor.
This has never happened during the period of my observations.
It is also worth noting that the size of the rooster hasn’t been a major factor in winning fights.

The largest rooster I’ve had here (Major, Marans Tribe 1) who also had the biggest comb and virtually unrestricted access to any of the territories didn’t have his own harem in his lifetime here. He did mate with the Marans hens but the mixed breeds and the bantam hens would do their utmost to elude him. Given they were smaller and more agile Major, despite having the requisites often described in chicken literature as ‘best genetic prospects and highest level of attraction’ wasn’t as successful at furthering his genes as many of the other roosters with less ‘desirable’ characteristics.
From my observations it seems that what is often touted as the criteria for successful mating is an extremely limited view of a hens ability to make what could be described as her investment strategy and many other factors come into play.

There have been a few extraordinary relationships established between roosters and hens during the period of my observations that conventional explanations of attraction between the sexes fail to explain.
One such relationship was between a bantam rooster (Random) and a bantam hen (Mini Minx ).
pic
Both Mini Minx and Random lived with the Marans of Tribe 1. When Mini Minx became broody she was moved to a broody coop kept in the car port, midway between the territory of Tribe 1 and Tribe 2 and 3. I didn’t see Random mate with Mini Minx and the father of the chicks was most likely Major, the most senior rooster of Tribe 1.
None of the Marans visited Mini Minx while she sat and hatched, but Random would arrive every day. Once Mini Minx’s chicks hatched, she and her chicks were moved to a maternity coop kept in Tribe 2 and 3‘s territory. For the first couple of days in the maternity coop Mini Minx and her chicks would be out in the small attached run and every day Random would be there watching Mini Minx and her chicks through the wire. He would dig around the coop finding treats and making I’ve found food calls, sit and rest on the top of the run structure and only move away when the other bantam roosters came close. It was apparent very early on that Mini Minx’s chicks had Marans genes.
Mini Minx took her chicks out of the safety of the run on day five and Random was there waiting for her. I had expected Mini Minx to show some hostility towards Random. He wasn’t the chicks father and out of all the roosters that lived in the coop of Tribe 1 he was the most junior.
I had never seen Mini Minx show any interest in Random before she hatched her chicks. Random, Mini minx and the chicks went everywhere together. I never saw Random mate with Mini Minx and when Mini Minx started to lay eggs again, Random would be out and about with the chicks, digging for treats and keeping any inquisitive hens and roosters away. One afternoon I found Random lying dead on the track that leads to the house. He had wounds on his head and chest and his neck was broken. I found Mini Minx with all her chicks alive and unharmed hiding in some large shrubs close by.

Summary.
a) Hens choose their roosters.
b) It can take months of escorting hens, finding treats and avoiding the wrath of a senior rooster for a junior rooster to attract his own hens.
c) While physical characteristics play a role in what attracts hens it seem a minor factor and factors like attentiveness, responsiveness, persistence and treat finding abilities are more important.
d) Given a choice, hens will choose a rooster of their own breed, or one that is genetically related to them.

Roosters as fathers.
Conventional wisdom has it that rooster do not play a role in rearing chicks. The story in the above suggests that while it may be unusual to see a rooster rearing chicks in a domestic setting, particularly where the chickens are contained given a particular set of circumstances, roosters will assist mothers in chick rearing. I have read reports of roosters sitting and hatching eggs in free range settings and with my own observations, roosters assisting in the care of chicks is not uncommon.
For broody hens that sit and hatch in their tribe coop the roosters here have all played a role to a greater or lesser extent in raising the chicks.
With hens that lay and hatch away form the tribe coops, the rooster will still respond to any distress calls given by the broody hen. While he may not be sitting on the eggs, he is still carnying out his role as protector.
In my experience it has been the hen that has determined the extent of the fathers involvement with the chicks. In some instances the imprinting is done very early and the entire tribe move together, the mother tending to steer the chicks away from the other hens rather than the rooster.

As soon as the mother hen allows the rooster to imprint the chicks, the chicks come under that roosters protection. Some rooster will dig and let the chicks take any food found. It’s not possible to state that on such occasions the rooster is digging for the chicks, but I’ve not seen a rooster drive a chick away. Another common occurrence here is to see a chicks that may have got on the wrong side of a hen in the tribe and received a peck, to run and stand under the senior rooster.
An interesting observation would be should the father of the chick not be the senior rooster, but be in the same tribe. So far, this hasn’t been the case. All the chicks that have hatched here have been the progeny of the senior rooster of that tribe.
I have never seen a rooster attack or otherwise hurt a chick; not one of his own, nor one from another tribe.
Summary
Without wishing to get embroiled in gender politics it seems that roosters do participate in rearing chicks, but the role of the rooster is usually different to that of the hen. Conversely, there are instances when a hen will take on the role of a rooster in single sex flocks. The circumstances would seem to determine to some extent who adopts which role.

The Rooster As Provider And Protector.
In order for the rooster to further his genes he may have to compete with other roosters.
The roosters claws, beak and spurs have evolved to be effective when fighting other roosters, but are not particularly effective against predators. Predators are not competing with the rooster for mating opportunities. There may be instances where chickens compete with predators for resources, but direct conflict for the chickens in such cases is rare in my experience.

What the rooster may do is increase the risk for a predator, in some cases even inflict an injury, but what the rooster can provide is a distraction and warning which may allow other tribe members to escape the predator. Assuming the rooster has mated with the hens he is protecting and those hens heed the rosters warning call and escape the predator, the rooster will have increased the chances of his genes being passed on to the next generation.

Warning calls are quiet and are meant to be heard by the roosters flock, or tribe. Alarm calls are loud and their purpose may be to frighten, or distract predators. There is no obvious advantage for the rooster of one tribe in alerting another flock, or tribe of chickens that are not in the immediate vicinity of the predator strike. In fact the opposite would seem more likely. A predator strike diverted to another flock, or tribe means the rooster that initiates the warning has a better chance of survival.

Ariel Predator Warning Calls
The rooster acts as a lookout for his flock or tribe. When he spots anything he considers a threat he makes the warning call. The other chickens look to locate the threat and depending on the type of threat, and the proximity of the threat, take appropriate action. The younger less experienced flock and tribe members tend to seek cover every time the rooster gives the warning call. The more experienced tribe members make an individual risk assessment and act accordingly.
What actually happens when say a hawk attacks depends on the rooster and the local environment.
Sometimes the rooster doesn’t see the threat until the last few seconds of an attack. The rooster gives the appropriate warning call and the rest of the flock or tribe scatter. Those hens that can’t find cover in time crouch where they are. The rooster doesn’t crouch so even if the hawks intended another target on its approach, a standing rooster presents an easier strike than a crouching hen in the open.
If however, the hawk strike is on a hen, some roosters may attack the hawk at this point. In such cases the outcome depends on the size of the rooster compared to the hawk and the aggressiveness of the rooster. The hawk is hunting for food, while the rooster is protecting his genetic investment.
It seems that the rooster is more likely to exhibit aggressive, or protective behaviour if his hens are under threat than he is if his own life is.

I’ve had young roosters that gave the warning call for almost anything that flew, and while the more experienced hens look, they don’t always seek cover. As these roosters matured they became more selective in what they gave the warning call for.
It seems that the rooster learns to grade threats in relation to his environment and experience and the experience of other members of his flock or tribe.
There also seems to be a variation in loudness and pitch of the roosters warning call. My observations lead me to believe these variations may represent the proximity of the perceived threat.
It’s interesting to note that roosters use the warning call for other things apart from predators. I’ve seen a group of chickens of mixed tribes eating and a rooster will give the close proximity warning call. What happens is the majority of the other roosters and hens run for cover, the rooster that gave the call carries on eating and consequently gets a larger portion or the most appetizing pieces. Usually it is that roosters tribe that returns to the food first and benefit from the lack of competition from members of other tribes.


Ground Predator Warning calls.
This is also a quiet call and is different to the aerial predator call.
The problem roosters have with ground predators is they hunt by stealth. Often the rooster doesn’t even see the ground predator until it’s too late to give a warning call. Some hawks sit in trees waiting for the group to approach and if unnoticed by the rooster or hens attacks.

I’ve seen a weasel attack a hen when the rooster was about 15 metres away. In this instance the weasel attacked a hen that hadn’t kept tight to the tribe. Fortunately the weasel only managed to grab a mouthful of feathers and the hen ran for cover with the weasel trying to hang on to the hens rear end. The rest of the tribe ran for cover, including the rooster who didn’t give a warning call. The hen managed to shake the weasel off by flying down a bank. So far I haven’t seen a rooster attack a ground predator.


Quite often its a hen that spots the predator first and then the rooster gives the warning call. Instead of running for cover the tribe gather at the base of the tree and give the general alarm call. The predator up the tree no longer has the element of surprise and gives up the attack. However, it can’t risk coming down the tree while there is a group of chickens at the bottom, it risks getting mobbed by the entire tribe. Eventually the chickens move on and the ground predator slips away.
The majority of the ground predators where I live hunt by night so the opportunities to see how the rooster reacts in the event of an attack are very limited.

In the normal course of events the hens stay close to the senior rooster as they move around as a group. Initially I thought being able to see the rooster was the most important factor, but further observations made me realise that what was more important was being able to hear the rooster; line of sight made no difference. Because the roosters warning call is relatively quiet the hens need to be close enough to hear it. Further, what one might expect to happen is the hens run towards the rooster for protection after he has given the warning call, but they don’t, they either all seek cover together, or disperse away from the rooster. The possible implication of this is the hens are not expecting the rooster to protect them against a predator but they are only expecting the rooster to give warning of a possible threat.
The only time the hen seems to expect the rooster to protect her is when another rooster is making mating advances towards her, or from aggressive attentions of other hens. This would seem to make sense because the hen chooses which rooster she thinks makes the best investment when fertilizing her eggs and the rooster has an obvious interest in making sure the hen only mates with him in order to further his genes.

There is a third warning call given by roosters that is relatively easy to hear and this seems to cover such things as humans and other known animals.



If it was left to the roosters here to provide for their hens the chickens here would have died of starvation many years ago. The hens find their own food when free ranging and occasionally a rooster will dig up something tasty and call his hens.
What the rooster does do, is by standing guard he enables the hens to concentrate on foraging and not on keeping an eye out for predators, or often overlooked, pestering from other roosters.
Watching the roosters from the various tribes here it has always struck me that a rooster gets an inordinate amount of credit for the few treats he finds. Those roosters that find the most treats seem to be able to attract more hens.
I believe from watching the most stable couples here that it is not the quality, or even quantity of the treats that attracts the hens, its for want of a better description, the generosity. I would assume that in times of poor foraging a rooster that is prepared to go hungry in order to feed his hens is a great asset and with regard to furthering his genes, makes good sense. Sick, or malnourished hens tend not to lay eggs and no eggs means no future generations.
Other seemingly small actions by a rooster which are seen more commonly in established couples make more sense.


The ‘best’ rooster here check the coops at roost time, they will show more patience when hens dust bath, they are more responsive to the hens escort calls, be it when going to and from a nest site, or when the hen has encountered some kind of problem such as getting separated from the tribe, or coming across something she considers hostile. Fidelity seems to be a factor as does
The above would also help explain why under laboratory conditions a hen might show one set of preferences, but relaxed and in her natural environment another.


Once a rooster has managed to attract two or three hens he doesn’t actively seek any more. He will happily accept more hens if they choose to follow him but it’s the core favourites that get most of his attention. A rooster can’t force a hen to follow him. Even if a cockerel wins a fight with a senior rooster who had more than three hens, the hens don’t automatically leave the rooster that loses the fight. The fights seem to be over resources and freedom of movement. The rooster that can provide more interesting, or more regular food for his hens tends to keep them. Furthermore, being able to move around the best foraging areas without conflict is far more desirable for the hens. When the roosters do fight in general the hens stand to one side looking bored and wander off. There is also the thorny matter of chickens forming bonds through affection, or whatever non human quality one cares to use. I have absolutely no doubt that chickens do form emotional bonds that cannot be explained by the normal ‘scientific’ explanations of attractiveness or successfulness.

All the roosters here show greater interest in laying hens.

Rooster Body Language.

The Herding Shuffle.
Roosters herd their hens. I’ve had countless hours of amusement watching a tribes’ rooster try and move his hens in a group from point A to point B. A few years ago the best show in town was Major trying to get Fat Bird to the coop at roost time. The pair would set off from the car parking area up the track to the top of the sheep field. They looked like any ordinary couple out for an evening stroll. They would progress a few metres and then Fat Bird would suddenly veer off course to investigate a promising looking patch of grass on the bank for bugs. Major would have marched on another couple of metres before he noticed Fat Bird was no longer following. He would stop and turn to watch Fat Bird. You could almost see him tapping a foot with impatience. Fat Bird would be oblivious, head buried in the grass, just an over sized bum on view. Major, running out of patience would walk back to Fat Bird and do the leg kicking herding move and Fat Bird would reluctantly make forward motion. Some evenings this performance would take 10 minutes to cover the 50 metres of track. The track isn’t the safest place to dawdle; there isn’t any easy cover and any chicken is in plain view from the vantage points in the woods leading to the West ridge. I often imagined Major asking Fat Bird when they finally got onto the roost in the tribe coop if she had to eat everything on the track before going to bed.
Moving a group of hens is liable to have a rooster tearing his feathers out. The rooster gets a few to a point of safety only to hear one of his hens who has disappeared into a patch of undergrowth and lost sight of the rest of the tribe giving the escort call and looking most upset that she’s been deserted. Back the rooster goes to pick up the straggler and with a few herding shuffles and kicks the pair move off to join the rest of the tribe. Of course, by the time the pair return another hen has wandered off and the whole performance get repeated. You can almost see the sigh of relief from the rooster when he final gets all his hens closely grouped at the chosen safe destination point.
The body language that so often gets called the mating dance (rooster hopping around the subject kicking his offside leg out)has absolutely nothing to do with mating; It’s a herding and possession movement. Roosters will use this movement on other roosters in their tribe and to move hens from other tribes back to their rooster and tribe. They use it to get hens out of dust baths and places the rooster considers unsafe. They will also use it on humans if that human is viewed as a flock member and this is often mistaken as aggression.

The Mating Hustle.
Cockerels and some young roosters will try the neck grab when interested in mating with a hen. Most of the time if the hen isn’t interested in mating she will pull away rather than crouch and try to escape. With more mature roosters with established favourites the mating technique is rather more civilized. The rooster walk up behind his hen (It has to be one of his hens) and gently bumps her bum with his chest. If she crouches they mate. If she doesn’t the rooster moves away and tries again some other time.
In established tribes the hens will often crouch and invite the rooster to mate when a rooster approaches them.
The Neck Grab.
The rooster makes an open beak peck to the back of the neck of a hen with the intention of mating.
The Hackle Flash.
This is when a rooster briefly raises his hackles as he would when fighting and takes a step towards a hen. It’s a herding tactic for stubborn hens. It’s the equivalent of move now! I’ve seen this used most often when hens are dust bathing when for some reason the rooster considers this unsafe. I’ve also seen a rooster do this when splitting up fighting hens.
The Discipline Peck
I’ve observed this most often at feeding times. Usually the rooster gives what he forages to his hens, but at regular meal times he eats with his hens. Junior hens who try to eat while the rooster is eating get this peck and junior roosters get driven away.
The Step.
The rooster approaches a hen and attempts to place on foot on their back. This may be used to encourage a hen to crouch for mating but is also used to make a hen move. I’ve seen this used most often when hens are dust bathing and the rest of the tribe has moved away from the bath site and the rooster is trying to group the hens.
The Close Shuffle.
This has only been done by cockerels to me. Roosters do this to hens. It’s not aggressive and seems to be a reinforcement of tribe belonging. Roosters do this to each other as well as to hens.
The rooster stands close to the other rooster, or hen, and shuffles sideways with an upright stance. When this has been done to me the rooster usually does the shuffle and then cocks his head and looks at your face. The difference between this and the herding shuffle is the rooster doesn’t kick out his offside leg.
The I’ve Found Food Head Nod.
Most people who keep roosters will have seen this. It’s an invitation to take whatever the rooster has found.
The Mating Charge.
This can look intimidating. The rooster runs towards you with his head low and his wings spread out. Usually seen in response to a hens escort call after egg laying. It’s not aggression.
Nesting Language.
The rooster crouches very low and scratches at the ground making excited clucking noises. This is encouragement for the hen to lay an egg at this site.

None of the above are aggressive displays.

In my experience there are no ‘rules’ that will tell you an attack is imminent. The posturing seen with roosters about to fight another rooster do not necessarily apply to confrontations with humans. I’ve had roosters fly at me from a standing start with no prior warning and others that have walked right up to me and given me an open beak peck that has drawn blood.


Tribe care duties.
In tribes where there has been a senior rooster and adult male offspring, when the hens finished mothering the chicks, both male and female, it has been the junior rooster, rather than the father and senior rooster who has taken up the role of answering any distress calls from the chicks and often a ‘supervisory’ role, forming a sub flock. This sub tribe only fully integrated into the main tribe comprising the senior rooster and the adult hens when the pullets began to lay.
In the two instances I’ve been able to observe, while before the senior rooster would chase the junior if any attempt to mate with hens was made by the junior rooster, once the new pullets and cockerels rejoined the main tribe, friction over mating between the senior rooster and the rooster who escorted the sub tribe became noticeably less.

Aggressive Behaviour.
Roosters are much like hens with respect to aggressive behaviour; more or less limited to an outright attack. What may be different is the posturing that goes before the attack.
Roosters are like any other creature, they avoid serious conflict if possible, it’s expensive and unproductive. The roosters from the tribes here fight every day, but rarely are they serious. The fights are about territory and food in general. They are over quickly and the injuries, if any, are minor.
There are breeds that will not tolerate another rooster and will, if that rooster doesn’t run away, kill the opponent. Often the keeping conditions of the roosters determines their death rather than the aggression of the assailant. If this were not the case jungle fowl would not have survived and managed to coexist in small units in what are relatively small densely populated areas. (see .....)
The opportunities for conflict are virtually limitless here yet the various tribes manage to coexist, moving around each other as they move across each others territories. I’ve observed a level of cooperation between roosters that completely belies the common portrayal of rooster behaviour.
(see.......)https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/cooperative-behavior.1288804/


Causes of human aggressive behaviour.

The main causes of human aggressive behaviour in roosters is the misunderstanding of the terms ‘domesticated’ and ‘tame’ and the humans lack of understanding of roosters.
Understanding that as far as any rooster is concerned, the hens he depends on to further his genes are his hens. It doesn’t matter what you do to you will never make him believe otherwise. Not being able to accept this one simple premise is likely to result in an aggressive response, most probably directed at you and possibly his hens.

The boss.
My view is, if you want to be the boss then you need to be able to do what the boss does.

Can you fertilise the eggs of all the hens each day?
Will you be there every day and every night?
Will you escort the hens to and from their nesting and egg laying sites?
What about giving them the best bits of your dinner?
Can you get the hens to follow you?
Are you prepared to die for them?
Of course, you won’t get bored and wander off when they have a long dust bath.
Are you going to dig for treats and give them to the hens?
How about breaking up their fights?
Can you see that hawk in the trees?
What about that weasel over there in the bushes?
Can you get the hens to accept you as boss?

Yes I know you can kill the rooster….

He’s still the boss, he’s just the dead boss.


It’s also important to understand that chickens are territorial by nature.
When you define a roosters territory, by containing him in a coop and run for example, that coop and run becomes his territory.
One of the behavioural advantages of keeping chickens with roosters free range is territory becomes less well defined and less easily defended. Here the various tribes do move about through each others territory, but they don’t occupy it and tend not to venture into another tribes territory if the rooster of that tribe’s territory is present.
What tends to happen when two tribes meet, is the roosters posture and if the ‘invading rooster does not back away, fight. Usually the invading rooster backs away taking his tribe with him. However, should the roles be reversed the rooster that backed away when invading the others territory will not back away when another rooster invades his territory.
Usually these fights are brief and there are no serious injuries; one rooster giving way to the other.

In the event that a particular tribe has a fight seasoned rooster that other roosters cannot defend their territory from, that rooster has full access to all the territories until such a time comes when another rooster becomes confident and able enough to challenge him. In my experience this set of circumstances can lead to fights to the death.



Over familiarity can lead the rooster to believe that you are one of his flock or tribe. I’ve had a couple of roosters that believed this and I got the I’ve found food calls and the herding dance and when I’ve picked them up, it’s quite apparent that the cockerels in particular believe this is mating.
Once they are mature and established with a tribe of their own this behaviour fades away. Personally I find their ‘you’re one of my hens behaviour rather endearing, but for keepers with little knowledge and/or interest in chicken behaviour some of these possessive antics can be construed as aggressive behaviour. One particular rooster who used to hurtle towards me with his wings outstretched as he might to a hen, also did the you’re and the herding shuffle when I let him out in the morning. I was a bit upset when he grew out of it.

Feeding his hens. Given the rooster attracts hens primarily by finding food for them it’s hardly surprising the rooster will consider you as competition if you attempt to give his hens treats. As far as the rooster is concerned you are trying to entice his hens away from him much like another rooster might. The solution is easy in theory at least, you make it look like the rooster has found the food for his hens. I’ve calmed a few roosters with this tactic. As a rule now when giving treats and for at least one daily meal for the less confident roosters I offer them the food first; the hens have to wait. I have a rooster now who leaves his tribe and comes to look for me at usual meal times. We both walk back to the hens with the food which I hold in front of him first. He usually takes one peck and then I put the food down for the hens and as far as he and his hens are concerned he got the food. Everybody is happy. I don’t have a challenging rooster, he keeps his position as provider and I haven’t undermined his confidence and the hens get to eat.

Lack of hens can lead a rooster to adopt you as his hen. Naturally he will expect to mate with you. If he titbits for you and as far as he’s concerned protects you, then eventually if you won’t mate he will become aggressive. Particularly with cockerels, picking them up is as far as they are concerned how you mate and while this does help inhibit the aggressive behaviour, you could find yourself with a permanent ‘friend’.

Picking up his hens for roosters that you have handled a lot especially if you’ve picked them up as cockerels to reduce aggressive behaviour, is as far as the rooster is concerned, you mating his hens. It’s hardly surprising this can produce an aggressive response.
An easy test for this is if you observe mating you will see that once the act is completed the hen will shake herself. This shaking is to help the sperm travel to her infundibulum where it can survive for up to a month.
If when you pick up a hen the hen shakes herself then it would seem reasonable to assume she thinks mating has taken place. A rooster is aware of this reaction and reasonably enough will come to the same conclusion.

Tribe less roosters and cockerels will in my experience all become aggressive eventually. Like males from many other species (wild boar are a prime example where I live) they go rogue. While they may not immediately become aggressive towards humans they cause so much disruption to the other tribes by stalking unescorted hens, flash fighting with established roosters, competing for food and resources that unless one is prepared to become a substitute hen there are only two realistic solutions. You either cull them, or build them a coop and get them some hens.
In the chicken keeping arrangement I have here, tribe less roosters hens are fortunately uncommon.
There have been two reasons why cockerels here have become tribes
a) they were hatched away from their tribes coop and their mother and any other living relatives except their father have died before the mother had integrated them into the tribe by returning to the tribe coop with her offspring. In my experience unless the mother makes this introduction the father will not tolerate any of the offspring be they male or female and the neither will the tribe hens,
b) a chicken has been rescued and is not related to any of the current population.

There have only been two occasions where a cockerel has been hatched and there have been no surviving relatives or spare hens for him to bond with. Satellite, or junior roosters are not the same. One got predated and the other I spent considerable effort in introducing him to a tribe of hens that had had their rooster killed by a predator some months earlier.

Taking his hens eggs. Roosters and some mature cockerels know about eggs and nests. I had one rooster in particular who got very upset if he caught me taking eggs from one of his hens nests. I’ve had others who are completely fascinated by piles of eggs. They strut and cluck around the nest and even sit on the eggs for short periods of time. Both hens and roosters will defend a nest containing eggs.

Stress. Chickens don’t cope with stress very well. With hens they are more likely to having egg laying problems initially and extreme stress can send a hen into paralysis. Roosters tend to react to stress with aggressive behaviour. Like many other creatures, roosters can gauge the confidence and mental state of other creatures. Highly strung, nervous erratic people tend to provoke adverse behaviour in roosters.
I’ve found that coop cleaning particularity when there are eggs in the nest boxes can illicit early signs of stress in roosters that if ignored could lead to aggression.

Dealing With Aggressive Roosters.
The best way to deal with aggression is not to get to the point where it happens. An important step in this direction is to recognise the difference between a domesticated rooster and a tame rooster. I’ve never kept a tame rooster, I don’t think I’ve ever met one. The people I know who keep mixed free range flocks all work with roosters on the same principle; they are essentially feral creatures and need to be treated with the same respect as any other feral creature. I and other chicken keepers I know can handle their roosters, but that ability has little to do with trust, or tameness, or being the one that provides them with food and shelter. It’s about understanding your position in the tribe, or flock and knowing what is likely to produce reactive aggressive behaviour.


Emergency Measures.
There are seemingly endless suggestions on what to do if it all goes wrong and a rooster attacks you from beating him to death to picking him up a cuddling him.
The first thing I suggest to anyone keeping a mixed flock is wear the appropriate clothing; boots or substantial shoes and heavy duty cloth to cover the lower parts of your body and decent strength gloves.
Try not to use your feet. Foot aggression is fighting talk to a rooster.
Learn the back of the neck grab. Senior roosters use this to discipline juniors. You grab the top hackle feathers behind his head between your thumb and forefinger and shake the rooster with enough force to unbalance him and let him go.
A peck to the head using your forefinger can work if you’re fast enough.
You can sweep a rooster out of your way with one hand. You catch him under his chest and with a firm sweep take him off his feet so he has to use his wings to make a safe landing.


There is one method of showing friendly intent and making a bond with roosters that has never failed, provided you can get the rooster calm enough to do it, and that is grooming him. Rooster love it. The roosters here get most upset if their hens won’t groom them. Many other creatures use grooming as a method of showing friendly intent.
This is best done with the rooster standing. Lower your head until you are about a foot away from his and stare intently at his comb and the back of his neck. Very slowly move your hand to touch his comb or high up on the back of his neck and make a pinching movement as if you were pulling a loose feather off. Do the same for his comb and wattles and around his eyes. The art is is not to make any other fast movements apart from the final pinch. If you can watch a hen do it. You should find that in time you will be able to inspect a rooster for skin and mite problem easily in daylight once he is used to you grooming him. It can with some roosters get to the point that you only need to lower your head and stare intently and he will stand dead still.

Some will say that aggressive behaviour is genetically inherited. Every rooster inherits this; it’s an essential part of being a rooster.
I have yet to find any evidence that a particular breed of rooster is any more human aggressive than another.
Like most other creatures there is no incentive for a rooster to be aggressive towards a human unless the rooster considers himself, or his hens under threat.
I’ve had 5 different breeds of rooster here over eight years and there has not yet come a point where I felt I had to cull a rooster because of his behaviour towards me. I’ve been flogged, spurred and pecked as I’ve learnt. The most important thing I’ve learnt is let the rooster be what he is.












I would like to thank
Frank Hammond (Australia)
Aleksie Takala (Finland)

who also keep chickens in a multi-coop environment who have helped me confirm some of my observations from their own studies.
 

chrismahon

Active member
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Location
Gascony, France
Wonderful article Shadrach. I completely agree with everything you have observed, as we have. We were lucky enough to have a tame cock- he lived in the house with us for nearly 7 years. He used to peck on our legs (or visitors) for a cuddle, at which point he would fall fast asleep and snore. We took in a Springer Spaniel whilst the owner went away on a course. The spaniel decided that the cock's bed, a large dog cushion (because he was very large), was where she would sleep. When he came in from his morning with his girls he spotted the dog in his bed, walked straight over and pecked her hard on the nose- she did squeal ! Thereafter she was allowed to share the bed. The cock stretched out in the centre and the dog wrapped around the very edge. He considered the house his coop and kindly allowed us to share it. He was very wary of visitors and always gave them a long 'one-eyed stare', before wandering back to his bed, satisfied they posed no threat I suppose. We miss him.
 

Shadrach

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114
chrismahon said:
Wonderful article Shadrach. I completely agree with everything you have observed, as we have. We were lucky enough to have a tame cock- he lived in the house with us for nearly 7 years. He used to peck on our legs (or visitors) for a cuddle, at which point he would fall fast asleep and snore. We took in a Springer Spaniel whilst the owner went away on a course. The spaniel decided that the cock's bed, a large dog cushion (because he was very large), was where she would sleep. When he came in from his morning with his girls he spotted the dog in his bed, walked straight over and pecked her hard on the nose- she did squeal ! Thereafter she was allowed to share the bed. The cock stretched out in the centre and the dog wrapped around the very edge. He considered the house his coop and kindly allowed us to share it. He was very wary of visitors and always gave them a long 'one-eyed stare', before wandering back to his bed, satisfied they posed no threat I suppose. We miss him.
I'm pleased you liked the article. I have often thought there should be a section on roosters on the main forums.
The snoring rooster made me smile. One of the hens that sat and hatched in the house nest box snored. Despite being about five meters away I could still hear her at night. It took me a while to work out what the sound was. Between the snoring and the egg turning I didn't get much sleep that month. I ended up buying some ear plugs. :D
 

Shadrach

Member
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114
rick said:
Thoroughly enjoyed reading that! Will try the preening thing. So amazing to have the space for multiple tribes!
Each tribe makes use of around an acre but the tribes move through each others territory to access various prized spots for forage, dust bathing and shelter.
The grooming has it's drawbacks in that if you do it regularly you end up with a permanent friend. ;)
It's a shame loading pictures and videos is such a mission. All my articles have them.
 

Marigold

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Hampshire, U.K.
Shadrach said:
It's a shame loading pictures and videos is such a mission. All my articles have them.

Sorry you're finding this difficult Shadrach. Do you have an app to reduce the size of your photo files to 400 X 600? Then just upload the photos in Full Editor. As for videos, if they're posted on your YouTube channel you can then just copy and paste the link. We'd like to share!
 

rick

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Location
Warwickshire UK
Found it! The pictures are lovely!
https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/understanding-your-rooster.75056/
I think loading pictures in an article on here would be very difficult even if they were resized. Multiple images time out too quickly (I presume as a very simple solution to keeping the forum safe from being maliciously swamped) but a single picture uploads easily and will resize automatically as long as it's not too big.
 

Shadrach

Member
Messages
114
Marigold said:
Shadrach said:
It's a shame loading pictures and videos is such a mission. All my articles have them.

Sorry you're finding this difficult Shadrach. Do you have an app to reduce the size of your photo files to 400 X 600? Then just upload the photos in Full Editor. As for videos, if they're posted on your YouTube channel you can then just copy and paste the link. We'd like to share!
Getting one or maybe two pictures posted is fairly easy. Getting an article with embedded pictures in the right order and place is next to impossible; the site times out.
 

Shadrach

Member
Messages
114
rick said:
Found it! The pictures are lovely!
https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/understanding-your-rooster.75056/
I think loading pictures in an article on here would be very difficult even if they were resized. Multiple images time out too quickly (I presume as a very simple solution to keeping the forum safe from being maliciously swamped) but a single picture uploads easily and will resize automatically as long as it's not too big.
That is exactly the problem. I'm pleased you checked out the original article and liked the pictures.
 
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