Many chicken owners express concern that their rooster is being mean or aggressive toward their hens. Missing feathers, bald spots, and pecking are often signs of aggression.
But, are roosters aggressive to hens? Behavior that most people interpret as signs of aggression in roosters are actually mating rituals in chickens. Most of the time roosters are only courting and mating hens and not actually being aggressive.
There are several ways to determine if your rooster is an overly aggressive rooster and how to better protect hens from harm.
Understanding Aggression in Rooster Mating
Roosters have two purposes in life: reproduction and protection. A good rooster will die to protect his ladies from a predator. This takes a rooster who knows how to be assertive.
Plus, mating is also important to him.
About the time a rooster reaches puberty, at 4-5 months old, he will become more aggressive.
You may see him pecking at the hens, grabbing their necks, climbing on them, or pulling feathers.
Signs of mating in chickens:
- Head or neck pecking
- Grabbing a portion of the back of the neck skin
- Climbing on top of the hen
- Clawing with their feet (this is done to stabilize the rooster on the hens back)
This often seems mean or aggressive and may ignite your instinct to stand up for your ladies.
But don’t worry,
Much of this behavior is normal and is communication. Let’s dive in.
First, your rooster should be at the top of the pecking order. Chickens naturally establish an order of dominance so that the flock knows who the leader is. It makes life simpler and places the leader on alert status for danger and predators.
A flock with an established pecking order will actually settle down to a more mellow existence than one where the pecking order is always disrupted or disputed.
- A rooster should be the leader of the flock. This is established through the pecking order.
Secondly, roosters initiate mating by pecking the hen’s heads or the back of their necks. If the hen wants to mate, she will generally hunker down and let him climb on top of her.
During mating, he grabs the back of her neck and climbs on top of her. This can result in a few lost feathers.
He also steadies himself with his feet on her back.
- Mating involves head pecking from the rooster
- Roosters mating a hen climb on their back and grab the back of their neck.
When is Rooster Aggression Too Much For Hens?
Roosters can become too aggressive in mating If you don’t have enough hens per rooster. You may find that your hens have consistently bald spots on their necks and backs. If they develop open wounds or bleed from where the rooster grabs them, then your hens are being mated too frequently.
Wounds often spur the bullying instinct in hens and can cause a harmed hen to sustain further injury from her flockmates. It can also cause her to fall farther down on the pecking order.
Make sure that you have at least 8-12 hens per rooster. This helps to ensure that your virile rooster has enough mates to keep from harming some of them.
If you have a mixed flock with several breeds of chickens, you may notice that certain hens show more wear than others. This often happens because some chicken breeds are more docile and mellow than other breeds.
While some hens may cluck back and refuse to be mated as often, other breeds will submit more frequently to the rooster’s mating. This results in breeding preferences and more harm to certain hens.
You can curb this by adding more hens to the flock. You can also rotate groups of 2 or 3 of your mellow hens away from your rooster so they have time to recover and other hens can get used to being mated.
- 8-12 hens per rooster help to ensure that specific hens aren’t mated too frequently
- Watch out for hen preference- which makes specific hens more likely to sustain an injury
- Don’t mix bantam hens and regular-sized roosters in a flock
Bantams are smaller breeds of chickens. They have a harder time defending themselves and a fully-grown rooster can severely injure a bantam hen over time.
If anything, having bantam roosters in a flock of regular hens will provide you with the fun rooster crowing, but keep your hens safer.
How to Encourage More Mellow Behavior From Roosters Toward Hens
Certain situations bring out severe aggression in roosters. Controlling and minimizing these situations helps your rooster to be more mellow.
1. Cramped coops
If your flock doesn’t have enough space to roam around, the hens and the roosters will become more aggressive. Chickens need a minimum of 4 square feet per chicken in a coop and an additional 10 square feet of space, per bird, outside to roam around.
If you have less than this, your rooster and dominant hens will be more aggressive and boredom and bullying will follow. Adequate space is one of the most important steps toward curbing bullying in a flock.
2. Watch the floor of your coop
Hard flooring, sand, and wire flooring will usually irritate the feet of your flock. This constant irritation can cause your rooster to become more ill-tempered with the flock.
He will lash out at them more frequently and pick on them, even when he’s not interested in mating.
You can fix this problem by spreading wood chips, straw, hay, or grass clippings on the floor of the coop. This provides them with a natural covering that helps their scratching instincts and won’t irritate their feet.
3. Provide a healthy diet and free-range when possible
A diet low in critical nutrients and vitamins can cause roosters to become more aggressive. Make sure your flock has an adequate diet, especially during colder months or if they aren’t allowed to free-range.
Providing free-range hours allows your chickens to get a healthier diet, but to also have greater physical activity while they feed themselves. This works off aggression and helps to mellow roosters out.
Especially aggressive roosters can benefit greatly from free-ranging. Hens that are picked on more also benefit as they have more space to hide or keep away from aggression.
4. Curb boredom with treats
Many a bored hen or rooster finds entertainment by picking on a subordinate hen. Sheesh- you can see this with kids and sometimes even coworkers. Chickens aren’t the only ones!
Curb this behavior by providing treats and toys. Hang a cabbage in the coop and let them go at it for a tasty treat.
Or, add birdseed to a chicken ball and let them chase it around the yard eating the seeds that fall out.
Add wood stumps, hay bales, piles of grass clippings or other distractions to allow your birds to play, dig, and enjoy the view.
5. Protect hens at greater risk
You can protect hens that are more picked on by isolating them from your rooster or by providing them with a chicken saddle. Chicken saddles protect hen’s skin and back from feather plucking and extreme mating.
Are Roosters Aggressive to Chicks?
While many roosters are protective of chicks and may even help to hatch eggs, some roosters can show aggression to chicks. Even certain hens will be more aggressive toward chicks than other hens.
If you have a larger flock with multiple roosters, you may find that roosters are more aggressive to the chicks they didn’t help to father.
If you have hens or roosters picking on chicks, it can be a good idea to isolate the chicks and their mothers from the rest of the flock. Give them a little time to grow up before you reintegrate the chicks back into the flock.
Check out this article to find out how to best pull a bully down a notch or two when you introduce new pullets to a flock.
In most cases, what appears to be aggressiveness toward hens is only a rooster doing what he’s supposed to do, mate. Understanding rooster behavior helps chicken owners to react appropriately and to raise a healthy flock.
You might also find these articles about roosters and bullying informational.