A Viewpoint on Managing Roosters

Introduction

The content in this article is not in any way meant to be a definitive guide to raising and keeping cockerels and cock birds. It is an account of my personal experiences and as such it will reflect only a narrow slice of the vast array of successful methods that can be used to achieve the same end result: a trustworthy bird that can be around humans without issue. I am not a professional, nor do I have any sources other than my own observations for what I am about to write; whilst I have made my best effort to sift correlation from causation in the interpretations I have made, I am a different species than the birds I care for are and as such my theories may be slightly or even entirely wrong in some instances. I have changed my mind more than once on some perspectives and techniques—I undoubtedly will continue to do so as my birds continue to teach me more. I will edit this article to reflect my current views as time progresses. I spent far too long paying attention to people that made blanket statements about roosters whilst ignoring my own common sense, so my aim with this article is to help those that need it stop seeing things that way and instead develop a method that works in their own flock. I have deliberated for a long time over whether to put this into an article format rather than in a post, as it seems to convey more certainty on a topic than one can have on managing roosters, but it is more convenient for me than retyping all of the below points and information out for consideration every time someone wants advice on their bird.

A little background on my own flock dynamics and setup: I have had a flock of ornamental, layer, and dual-purpose type chickens, ducks, quail, and guineas since 2013 or 2014 that hovers at a population of around thirty to seventy birds. Most of them are kept in a twelve by twelve walk-in coop at night and free range during the day all summer. The snow depth does not allow this in winter, so they stay largely indoors. Their yard layout—bounded by brush on three sides, and with easy access to the deeper woods—allows for birds lower in the pecking order to have turns in preferred areas and easily avoid dominant flock members. The closest number I can reach for how many birds I have had total comes in at about two hundred and sixty as of the winter of 2019. Accounting for the purchase of pre-sexed birds and early sales of juveniles, I am guessing I have had around forty-five roosters that were old enough to have reached sexual maturity. Out of those, only a few were human aggressive, and all but one were entirely my fault for not being attentive to how they were trying to communicate with me.

I was unsure when I began to write this which vocabulary words to use to refer to male chickens. There is formal convention, and then there is what will be understood without coming off as pretentious. I decided on using 'cockerel' or 'cock bird' when the age is influential to the topic, and 'rooster' when it could apply to either.

What Causes Aggression?

It is my belief that although there are multiple factors that determine whether a cockerel will exhibit chronic aggressive behaviours or not, the way its caretaker behaves is the most influential one. Some people discard this possibility entirely, including the popular online blogger The Chicken Chick. I respectfully disagree. Birds don't have a language with the capacity for abstract or written communication, so they communicate nearly all of their intent through body language. Because body language is so important to their survival and communication as a species, they are incredibly sensitive to it. Birds have eyesight that can detect smaller and more obscure movements than humans can; a mere five minutes watching some hens scratch about in a pile of compost will confirm this. There have been observed cases of animals picking up and interpreting human movement too small to be noticed or controlled by us. Clever Hans, a horse that lived in Germany, is probably the most famous example of this. By picking up on nearly microscopic facial movements, he was able to seemingly add numbers and answer questions. I have observed consistent correlations between a chicken keeper's behaviour around their flock and the rate at which their roosters become aggressive; if it is a coincidence, it is the most consistent and extensive one of which I have ever been made aware.

Genetic traits are also an important factor that impacts the effectiveness of various management methods. Sensitive or flighty birds can be easily scared by any overly forceful management and may well lash out. Slower, stubborn birds may need it. Breeding for temperament has been extensively demonstrated to defy other attempts to shape their personality, but this seems to be present in distinct lines far more than in breeds as a whole. One line of Barred Plymouth Rocks may be extremely docile, while the breed as a whole still remains in the middle of the road as far as temperament goes. I personally have not seen much personality variation in hatchery-stock roosters by breed. This does not mean that breeding for temperament is a myth, it simply means that breeder or hatchery priorities are not consistent enough to make blanket statements. Where you bought the bird often matters as much or more than what its breed is. A more accurate way to predict the temperament of a bird, though with less precision, is to look at its body type. Some of my cock birds in the Mediterranean class or possessing a similar type are clearly of a temperament inclined to be high-strung and reactive, i.e. aggressive. Others, such as the eight-pound Chantecler cockerels I raised in 2016, are far more forgiving. I attempted to provoke aggression in one out of curiosity and got no response. Bantam roosters, particularly Old English Games, seem to be another class entirely and cannot be lumped in with the lighter typed large fowl. They are, in general, extremely intelligent, as far as chickens go, which makes preventing aggression in them fairly easy if they are approached in an appropriate manner for their temperament. If I want to tame a cockerel down for showing or exhibition, I would choose an Old English Game bantam every time. They can 'smell fear,' so to speak, but know instinctively when they have met their match. They have to, or they will be beaten to death by other, larger birds. One or two gentle yet confident corrections often suffices entirely. I do know several bantam roosters belonging to friends that began exhibiting chronic aggressive behaviours after repeatedly being exposed to people unfamiliar with birds, particularly children, even when their large fowl counterparts in the same situation remained docile.

I'd like to address a related fallacy before I get further along. Some people say there are no bad roosters, or bad dogs, or bad fill-in-the-blanks. That is absolutely not true. Some individuals are truly not suited to living around humans or even fellow members of their species. I wholeheartedly recommend the soup pot for these animals. Are they rare? Yes. Do they still exist? Yes.

Raising Cockerels

When one is starting a flock from scratch—no pun intended—the question of whether adding a rooster is prudent occasionally comes up. In my opinion, it should come up far more often than it does. Approaching the addition of a rooster to the flock is made far easier by coming up with a plan beforehand. I have found that allowing a cockerel to grow up with no other chickens except pullets that are the same age as him leads to warped social skills that are difficult to iron out. In some cases, it virtually ruins the bird for life. In the situations where I have interacted with cock birds raised this way, they display a startling lack of awareness towards subtle cues that any other bird would pick up on and use to deescalate conflicts before they begin. I also dislike buying adult cock birds and adding them into an established flock. They never seem to quite fit in with the others fully, and they are more difficult to work with because they don't have the preexisting comfort level with my presence that chickens I raise have naturally. I often suggest purchasing female chicks only and raising them to maturity, then getting male chicks the year after and bringing them up in the same flock as the mature hens. The mature hens will do much of the training that a cock bird would: they learn chicken manners, they learn polite courtship, and they learn how to run a flock smoothly. After a couple in-flock generations, the whole process becomes measurably smoother and the need for specific human action to keep cockerels gentle becomes lesser and lesser. In my flock, the senior males in the flock do all the training for me. I simply piggyback on the cues they automatically use to communicate with the younger cockerels.

Starting from day one, I treat all of my chicks the same, male or female. I don't own autosexing breeds so even if I wanted to vary treatment between them I couldn't. They spend the first few weeks of their life in an indoor brooder under a heating pad. I pick a few of them up whenever I change their feed or water, but I don't handle them excessively. Living indoors helps to desensitize them to humans in a variety of postures at many different levels. To chicks that have their brooder on a table, humans will be terrifying when they are placed on the floor. Once the young birds are around a month, they become more skittish and resistant to handling. I do not force them to be friendly to humans, I let them come back around in their own time. The cockerels should be identifiable at this age, or perhaps a little older. With maturity comes a noticeable differentiation in their behaviour compared to pullets. Often, they are far more gregarious and easy-going. This is particularly noticeable in smaller breeds. If they decide on their own around this time that they would rather do their own thing instead of sticking to my heels, that is great. If not, as is the case in many or most birds raised with frequent handling, I start taking action to move them away once they have started displaying a particular vocalization characterized by multiple peeps in a row that are clipped in nature and ending in an upwards swing. It's often paired with something I refer to as a 'pivotal display' that I have videoed and linked to later on in this article.

Every single change I make in my behaviour towards my cockerels is reactive, not proactive. The reason I mention these things along a linear timeframe is because it often coincides with the behaviour changes that cue my own changed behaviour towards the bird. Sometimes it doesn't. If I have a cockerel that's extremely docile, is comfortable turning his back on me, and clucks in a soft, drawn out tone, I am not going to chase him off. That would scare him. If I have a two-week-old sparring with my fingers, exhibiting pivotal display behaviours, and deepening his peeps to whatever extent his immature vocal cords can, I am likewise not going to let him be familiar even then. Firmer handling goes along with firmer reaction from the bird; it does not predate it. If I have determined that the cockerel is ready for it, I start encouraging independence by not picking him up as often and starting to change my body language towards him, which was still fairly confident before. I do not move out of his way, I make him move out of mine. I keep my shoulders square but relaxed, feet square, and I move through him when I am working in the area. I don't chase him, he's done nothing wrong, I simply ask for respect by my stance. I don't challenge him; that would constitute of eye contact and a slightly sideways square posture. A shorter or hunched posture with hands reaching towards them also seems to set some birds off. I don't make these changes suddenly, in fact, gradually seems to be best so as not to confuse him by such a sudden change in the way his caretaker behaves. I have a personal space of about a one to two foot radius around me and I keep him out of it. If he walks inside my personal space, I make a short move at him to get him out and will kick if needed. No, I am not advocating punting a cockerel halfway across the yard because he walked too close, I am referring to a small shove used to move him away. I could do the same thing with the same intensity by bending over and giving the bird a push with my hand, but using my boot is safer for me. I have not found that it causes an aggressive response, rather, I think using my foot makes it easier to keep my upper body language clear and non-confusing. I drop this behaviour immediately after he jumps away a metre or so. In watching my birds from a distance, I almost universally see that this method is how the dominant corrects the upstart: with attacks that are short, forceful, and not sustained. That is a key point in my theory of rooster management. In situations where the winning bird continues to chase the loser until he is separated from the flock, that bird is then terrified of the winner and will nearly kill themselves trying to get away. They are frightened, beaten creatures, and that is why I think humans trying to take over the leading role completely is not a good idea if one's goal is a healthy relationship with the flock and all of its members. We are not chickens, we are a separate entity that demands respect. We are not present enough to keep the role of flock leader and do everything the lead rooster would do. When humans try this, I think that complications frequently arise when the cockerels are alone with the flock enough that they partially think they control the flock yet they're scared out of their minds of humans at the same time. This seems particularly evident if the bird is an only cockerel or the top ranking one. What I am trying to say is speak their language, but don't try to be a chicken—they have a job to do, so let them do it. I don't advocate peace by fear when working with any animal. Chickens are no exception.

I did an experiment a few years ago where I let a cockerel grow up without asking him for space at all. If he was in the way, I would move around him. I let him eat out of my hands, sit on my head, and run straight at me when he was excited about the arrival of food. Sure enough, by about 7 months he was sparring with my hand when I reached towards him and pecking occasionally. I culled him shortly after because he was destined for that anyway, but if I had more space I would have kept him longer just to see what happened. It was nice to have some confirmation of what I have been thinking. To be clear, I did not only stop keeping him away, I also added in some deferential behaviours. It's possible to raise roosters to be lap pets without also raising them to be aggressive, and I cover that in greater detail later on.

Retraining Aggressive Roosters

Sometimes I might not realize something needs to change until it's too late and the bird is aggressive. Or, maybe I don't think I did anything wrong, but genetics made him predisposed to aggression. While the best option is often an axe and a soup pot, particularly if children are involved, there are a few things I have tried, some quite successfully. I have seen some discrepancy over the definition of 'aggression', so I will define it for the purposes of this article: any behaviour intended to cause physical damage to the target. Motives are separate from definition and require different responses to each.

To understand how to change a bird, I need to know the cause of the behaviour. Aggression can have many roots. It is my belief that there are at least two distinct types of aggression: fear based and familiarity-based. They need different responses: treating them the same way will not work, particularly if one tries to reform a fear-aggressive cockerel using the familiarity-based method. Sometimes there can be an element of both in a bird.

Fear-based aggression is characterized by the bird holding its feathers close to its body, its head high, moving jerkily, like a squirrel, and vocalizing alarm calls when their keeper walks into the yard. When they attack, it is usually from behind, and they run away as fast as they can when confronted. Scared birds will bite as well if handled. In 2015, I had a Sultan cockerel that was treated more like a lap dog than a chicken. He would run up to me and sit on my lap, follow me around in search of treats, and was trained to do a few different tricks. He was a real sweetie. Then, as it does for all birds, maturity came. He became more distant and acted a bit off. Being a new chicken keeper with a year or less under my belt, I didn't do anything to correct him and gave him the same gentle treatment as always. I do not remember all the details, but I think it was at about eleven months that he began attacking. He ran up to me whenever I came near and would whale and beat at my ankles and do whatever he had in his small, fluffy power to put bruises on me. He was quite successful at it too and managed to inflict bleeding even through a pair of boots. Unfortunately, I turned to the Internet for help, and it didn't give me much of it. I read posts written by those that wouldn't even let the bird look at them without correction. I tried that. He wasn't allowed to crow, mate, or come into the coop while I was there. He was not injured physically during this, but it scared him badly. I was too harsh and inconsistent. That backfired, and it turned into a case of fear-based aggression where he would sneak up on me, nail my boots, then run away in terror before I came after him. After that, I read posts from the 'roo huggers' that cuddled their aggressive birds. I tried that to see if it would work even though he had been handled a lot before the first incident. He was so terrified of me by that time that all that did was make him more hostile. It started as a classic case of familiarity-based aggression but unfortunately I did all the wrong things and it spiralled down to aggression based in fear. If I ever had another fear based case (which shouldn't happen—this is easy to prevent by simply not scaring the living daylights out of them) I would try moving slowly and calmly. I would also avoid any strong body language. This does not mean I would not act confident, rather that any affrontive messages would be removed. I think I would even spend some time holding the bird. The reason why I think gentle and frequent handling might help in these cases is that these birds see us as threats, like hawks or dogs. They've placed humans into the index of bad things in their mind, and that has to be remedied or the behaviour will persist. They think they are being brave and defending themselves and their beloved hens. This approach might have still worked for the aforementioned case if I had been willing to spend longer working with him, but I was sick of not being able to enjoy the hens, and I didn't know then what I know now, so he was sold for slaughter.

When I acquire mature cock birds, they seem to require a similar approach to fear-aggressive roosters even if they aren't actually exhibiting problematic behaviour. I have had maybe five cock birds that were purchased after 4 months of age. In my limited experience, they required a different, softer hand for a good while. These birds were unsure about me, and clearly had the potential to go sour. My usual technique of moving towards them if they wander by only solidified me being a danger in their mind. I had noted this with the last two I bought, one of which actually ended up jumping me a few times. With my most recent purchase, I tried a new strategy. I held him. I'd catch him in the morning and lug him around while I did chores. I didn't let him go until he was relaxed enough to close his eyes and put his hackles down. It worked. He no longer beat himself against the pen bars trying to get away, and he didn't bite. This isn't promoting overt familiarity, this is making up for what home-raised cockerels have that he didn't: confidence in me, that I won't harm him or his flock. Will he get any more leeway than my own males in the future? No. I'm just setting a foundation.

Familiarity-based cases of aggression are characterized by the cockerels that stare their keeper right in the face, give them the figurative middle finger when they are asked to move out of the way, and attack their keeper right from the front without any hesitation. Many times these birds are the hand-raised brooder babies that were just darling as chicks. They have no respect for humans and make that quite clear. Like fear based cases, these are best off defused early before they attack, but if one is reading this in desperation for their little Fluffy, there are a few things I have tried successfully. I'd recommend evaluating one's body language to determine whether it might be an issue. If the bird attacks just one member or all but one member of the family, that is a tip-off. Just like starting a young bird, I keep him out of my space, except in a stricter fashion. I don't let an aggressive rooster any closer than a metre for any reason, ever. He is not allowed to run up to me, even in an innocuous manner. If he perches above head-level on objects and stares down at me, I pull him down and run him off. I am extremely careful to be consistent with this. I will only scare him if I am friendly one day and hostile the next. I don't jump on him suddenly; my intentions are never concealed. I don't mean that I give him a five minute warning, but rather that I don't stay completely disengaged and then suddenly lunge towards him. If another attack occurs, I get after him IMMEDIATELY and use as much force as I need to get him up and running. I don't let up until he stops trying to circle back and get after me again. Usually, roosters run a good 10' off when they've given up. After a move at the bird I copy to some extent the quarter turn/side exposed move the winning cock does to a lesser. I think it tells them "You have a choice. Come at me again, I'm still ready; or drop the matter now and I won't continue." Often they pause and then scurry away. How I disengage after an interaction is most important and determines the success of my attempt, in my opinion. Accidentally showing deference may make him turn right around and get after me again! All of the above are instituted if I have a bird showing just the warnings of aggression. Birds that seem dangerous and possibly aggressive as cockerels can be trained up as lovely flock leaders with a bit of care and watching. Some of the most common pre-attack signs are as follows:
  • The bird gets very close to his keepers and often follows them around without interacting, possibly shielding himself with other flock members.
  • The bird stares at his keepers from a distance and tries to get higher than them on objects.
  • The bird drops one shoulder and shuffles at his keepers in a sort of dance. Sometimes he'll pick up and drop rocks or items with his beak. He'll seek out eye contact and have a rather villainous look on his face. I believe that there are two ways the bird can perform the exact same behaviour, and one is innocent while the other is indicative of an affrontive mindset. I'm not entirely sure how to describe the difference and recommend frequent observation of many different birds as the fastest way to learn it.
  • The bird takes to crowing pointedly in his keepers' direction when they enter or leave the area. I wouldn't really recommend this as something for a newbie to look for as it's too easy to mistake regular crowing for aggressive. Nevertheless, I included it as it is something I have noted.
  • His clucks take on sort of a low minor tone that swings up at the end. They're often chopped in sound and may be directed to hens, which is innocuous.
  • The bird moves around stiffly and seems to pivot back and forth like a carousel horse. His neck posture may be rigid. This is a subtle behaviour and present to some extent in normally maturing cockerels.
  • The bird moves his head around a lot and flips his wattles back and forth. I think that this is a byproduct of the bird cutting head movements off short to provide a more still and focused view of what the keeper is doing, resulting in kinetic energy transfer to the wattles.
If I see these signs, I respond in kind and work with the bird until my level of intensity and my approach is appropriate for changing his behaviours. I have prevented a few birds from going bad this way, including a six-month-old Svarthöna cockerel that I had been too slow on instituting the handling method he clearly needed. When I became aware of the issue, I moved him around a metre and a half away and never let him get closer for a few months. No exceptions. He completely dropped all of his prior signs of aggression and became a model bird. After a while, I gradually reduced that bubble size and let him become a bit friendlier again. If I had tried to change my approach from aggressive back to friendly in only a day, he would have been disoriented and perhaps even lashed out. By the time he was a year old, I had reduced that bubble size to nearly nothing and he behaved perfectly. He turned into one of my most respectful yet tame cocks and he was trustworthy around even children. That was quite a change from a bird that acted ready to take an eye out.

Now, what about those special exceptions, the cockerels that are just the sweetest little cheese puffs and the other cockerels that seem to be made of smouldering evil? Those exceptions are why I apply common sense and change my methods sometimes. Case one: an OEGB cockerel that was softer than a feather mattress and refused to stop being friendly. He really seemed to be different. He was quiet, meek, and good with the girls even when he was well past the stage to have started hen-chasing. So, I let him be friendly, and I'm glad I did! He was the sweetest thing and would come and interrupt picnics to beg for some food. He particularly liked cotton candy. He would come to oversee all projects, whether it was changing the tyres or fixing the lawnmower or weeding the garden. He was a character, and children loved him. After a while, he did grow a bit more distant but he was still quite respectful until he got killed by a dog at 10 months of age. :( We all miss him and I am glad I made an exception to my methods for him. I rather wonder if he had something wrong with him, because the amount of damage the dog did should not have killed him, and his comb was purple after death. A weak heart, perhaps.

Case two: a huge, brooding Australorp named Glurk. His behaviour was so far off standard that he barely even seemed like a chicken some days. He was raised the same way as every other cockerel I've ever had. He was raised with two brothers that were docile, well-adjusted birds. Not him. He was a biter from week one. Correction didn't seem to have an impact on him. He would accept it then turn around and bite again. He would bite if you came close, not in a confrontational manner, but as retaliation for coming near. Birds don't generally exhibit tit-for-tat tendencies, so I found that quite strange. Repeated attempts to get him moving out of my space did nearly nothing. I had to shove him out of my space every time I came near—he would not move much on his own. I dialed up the severity of my pushes with some success. By the time he was 6 months old, he'd grudgingly wander out of my space when I approached. He stopped biting at puberty, but that foreboding look still lingered. He made no outward moves to be aggressive. I still trusted him as far as I can throw a polar bear (which isn't far, by the way.) He aged to about nine months, and then he finally attacked. I sent him running about three metres (whether he felt like it or not) and repeated that every time he came near. He settled back down a bit and did not attack me again but he still felt like a bomb and a match stuck in a concrete mixer. I couldn't have kept that brooding thing around to possibly injure children—or me, since I don't wear shoes in the summer. So I butchered him for the table. I can't help but think that I was missing some aspect of his behaviour that I should have paid attention to. Maybe if I get another bird like him I'll be able to see more. :pop

Examples of Different Behaviours

Describing body language through text frequently results in confusion as everyone takes their own experiences into account when interpreting it. To counter some of those effects, I thought it prudent to try and provide some imagery.

Here are some photo comparisons of aggressive and non-aggressive cockerels I have owned.
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The first bird in these photos, the Sultan, was aggressive. Note that in one photo he's holding a rock in his mouth while dropping a shoulder towards the camera. In all of them, his head is inclined to me, he is using his body as a barrier to prevent me from going past a certain point, and if his feet are down, he is standing very squarely. The other birds were not aggressive at all. Their bodies are much more relaxed, their eyes are softer, and their shoulders are up. The last image shows a good example of a curious but non-aggressive cockerel.

Right now I don't have a good selection of roosters to film, but these are a few quick examples of some various temperaments in birds of several different ages.

#1—non-aggressive. This rooster is four years old and I basically let him do whatever he wants now. The slight posturing you see is intended to impress the nearby hens I was throwing food to. Note at the end that when I move through him, he circles around, but not tightly. He doesn't feel threatened by me and therefore doesn't see why he should move significantly, but he isn't trying to get behind me. That's good. In a younger or fierier cockerel, I probably wouldn't tolerate that. Note: I only moved him for the purpose of the video, not due to any behaviour of his. I don't bother him, he's earnt my trust.

#2—cockerel in a friendly stage. I haven't made any effort to keep him out of my space. I may or may not have a bit of a soft spot for him. He's two or three months old, I think. There are no indicators of aggression or attitude in this video. He just wanted chips. The slight tense carriage he's exhibiting is due to the camera in his face.

#3—respectful but scared. This rooster will occasionally bite out of fear if I try and pick him up. I bought him as a cockerel so he isn't as confident around me as some of the others. He has never made any attempts to flog and based on his behaviour I don't think he will. He settles down eventually if I insist on handling him. I am working on reducing his fear levels because I don't like fear biting when handled either, even if it isn't a problem that would balloon. Please note that he's usually comfortable being closer to me, but the fact that I had to walk towards him to get a proper zoom on the camera set his alarms going. Broody raised birds seem to be more sensitive to body language, and he is a good example of this.

#4—aggressive tendencies. This is a new rooster, and he's possessive of hens. I really don't like roosters that I haven't raised. It doesn't help that he's in a pen, which is one of the worst ways possible to keep a rooster, in my experience. It greatly reduces the amount of body language I can use, especially that contained in posture, which is my mainstay. Note that when I reach towards him to move him away, he scoots sideways with his shoulders held out and his attention directed on me. His wings are nearly dragging on the ground and he keeps throwing glances at me. His movements are sharp and deliberate. He is scared of me. He never turns his back on me without clearly keeping an eye on what I'm doing, and he moves stiffly. Note that I only moved him like that for the purpose of the video. What I did was an affrontive gesture intended to produce the behaviour I wanted to film. When working around him in daily life, I use softer hand movements and encourage him to not fear me reaching into the pen.
You can see in his mannerisms when he turns the pivotal behaviour I mentioned at the beginning of this article. I am not referring to the watchfulness contributed by his fear, but rather the way he shows his sides like he's a carousel horse, if that makes sense.

#5—young and docile. Like the first cockerel, there zero indicators of aggression. The alarm calls they were wheeling off at the start were not directed at me. I think a crow had just flown overhead. I don't handle him that much, but he is comfortable with me squatting nearby. Note the relaxed leg positions and complete confidence in turning his back on me. Despite already having gotten his air time, the little rooster in #2 decided he was going to hog the camera as well. Can you hear the lower-toned peeping sounds he's making? Not the mature rooster tidbitting in the background, the one on my lap. As mentioned earlier, when cockerels start making this sound I start working on keeping them out of my space.

Raising Friendly Roosters

Despite the impression you may have gotten from the above passages, I am far from strict with my cockerels. I got chickens to have fun with them, not so I could keep them at arm's length and clean up their mess every day. Still, my purpose for my flock is more practical than that of many others on this site, and my handling methods reflect it. I fully acknowledge that roosters can be raised to be respectful even when handled frequently and treated as pets. I have done it a handful of times for experimental/exhibition purposes, but I don't have time for that in my main flock. I get over a dozen males every year just out of the birds I keep to maturity, and I eat most of them that same year. I do not want to invest weeks of training just so I can walk safely in my own yard, and I expect to be able to handle the hens whenever I want to and move them how I wish. What my method boils down to is that I'm not going to limit my interaction with the flock because of a bird; neither will I limit that bird's interaction with the flock. This can be modified easily on a case-by-case basis; all I have detailed here is simply a baseline for me to work off of.

The birds eating off my lap in the below image were just under a year old. Ordinarily, they got out of my way when I came near. This time, I had given them permission to come near, and look at them: they are not afraid. Respect and fear are different, and I'm trying to gain respect. One's method does not matter as long as the same result can be elicited. Speak their language, and they will listen. Scare them by whacking them around without rhyme or reason, and they will not. As I stated at the beginning, I do not currently nor will in the future condone management by fear. It's unnecessary and borders on abusive in many cases. What I am doing hijacks already laid circuits in the bird's brain for interaction with other, more dominant flock members and converts them into an easy way of communicating respect between us.
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Conclusion

I am sure I have forgotten some points, especially since body language is hard to describe in words. There are most likely some things I do that I still don't know about. This seems an exhaustive tirade to some, but it is really only describing what some people do naturally and others have to learn. One other general technique I find useful is tapping on the back of the head with a finger. It is a great way to correct young birds. It's what an older bird would do to reprimand a younger one and they get the point instantly. It works well on older birds as well, especially aggressive pullets or hens. Everything detailed in this article is highly dependent on my own personal situation and may well not apply to other persons. One can find as many opinions as there are flock keepers and that's because everyone has to develop their own methods. Roosters are by far the best teachers of the subject of rooster brains, so if you listen to only one thing I say, make it this—listen to them. If you are interested in digging deeper into animal communication, I highly recommend anything written by Temple Grandin. She has an incredible gift for taking the subtle and writing it so even fools can understand. She's put into words some things I've struggled for years to describe or communicate.

I hope you've come away with some things to think about. Roosters are a lovely addition to any flock, and I would never have a coop without one—they make the entire flock run smoothly and safely.

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About author
BantyChooks
BantyChooks is a backyard chicken keeper with a penchant for science and engineering, which usually ends up leading her to the hardware store for the supplies to yet another insane chicken experiment. She breeds chanteclers to the Standard of Perfection and has some mutt projects on the side, as well as guinea fowl, two species of quail, and ducks.

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Raising Cockerels isn't for the weak and this article really shows the dedication you need to raise them properly. My jersey giants have been the easiest to raise so far after they're over that hormonal stage.
Fantastic, well written article complete with photos and video examples. What more could one ask for?
I loved this article! So much time and insight from someone who really knows their stuff. Greatly appreciate the in depth knowledge into roo behavior as well as my own. So much of what you said has sharpened my own insight and cleared up some questions I had. We are first time (& first year) owners and learning as we go. This is one article I will keep and read over and over again! Thank you.

Comments

Outstanding article! So many nuances and no one-size-fits-all strategies. I have only had one rooster, a rescued, somewhat elderly bantam Frizzled Cochin. At the time I rescued him, he was missing lots of feathers and had never crowed at his previous "home," presumably because he was one of several roosters and knew that he would not fare well on that totem pole. So it was quite a surprise when he started crowing! Thank you for such a valuable, in-depth description of various rooster behaviors!!
 
WOW! This is terrific to read! I definitely needed this info. I plan on keeping a few roos for my flock, but I don't plan on tolerating aggression at all.
 
Another fabulous article re roosters. I particularly liked how you reminded readers that mindless charging of roosters is not an appropriate tactic to establish leadership, and that doing so only causes fear. My elderly rescued frizzled cochin rooster has been feeling his oats lately because I have a whole passel of new babies. Today, he actually had the temerity to jump at my leg--at which point he was swiftly reminded that I was claiming the space and moved him away from me. But if I did that as a matter of course--rather than as a specific response to a transgression--he would be freaked out and therefore be more likely to engage in unstable behavior.

I am also flabbergasted that the Chicken Chick thinks that treatment/handling methods do not affect behavior. As a newbie chicken keeper--but long-time cat/dog/horse mom--the concept that there is only nature--but no nurture--is complete anathema and contrary to a lifetime of experience with animals. I am amazed by chickens who seem to me to be a very anomalous combination of hard-wired reptilian behaviors --like pecking anything red-- and very emotional mammalian behaviors--like pair bonding. Although I very much believe there are unredeemable "bad seeds", I always try to handle any animal in a manner calculated to earn trust and respect.
 
I reviewed this article a while back (liked it - and still do!) but I have to add a note here. The description of bantam roos is spot on. They're such feisty, sporty ... umm ... goofy ... little guys!
 
Oooh this is terrific!! I actually have a roo who acts exactly like the Sultan pictured above. I'm worried I've scared him by being inconsistent. He does try to flog me. Never caused any damage and never tried more than once in a while. How would you approach a fearful aggressive roo? He's about 5 or 6 months. I think your method of handling roos sounds like something closer to what I've tried to do (maybe unsuccessfully.)
He gives me about 3 feet of space usually, but when he sees me around the hens or walking away from the hens is when he tries to flog (with his baby spurs lol)
 
Oooh this is terrific!! I actually have a roo who acts exactly like the Sultan pictured above. I'm worried I've scared him by being inconsistent. He does try to flog me. Never caused any damage and never tried more than once in a while. How would you approach a fearful aggressive roo? He's about 5 or 6 months. I think your method of handling roos sounds like something closer to what I've tried to do (maybe unsuccessfully.)
He gives me about 3 feet of space usually, but when he sees me around the hens or walking away from the hens is when he tries to flog (with his baby spurs lol)
About what I described in the fear aggression section, probably. I've never dealt specifically with a rooster that attacked when hens were handled, so I can't say anything as to the cause, but in general, add consistency in, maybe handle him more (in a non-confrontive manner, and end the session once he's calm and not freaked out) and make sure that when you move him around you're not doing it forcefully.
 
Hello, I really like your article. I have a question about space. Should I always keep them from getting too close to me, even at treat time?
I have a roo who will eat from my hand one moment, then flog me when I turn my back to leave. I need help understanding how I can help my behavior. Thanks!
 
Hello, I really like your article. I have a question about space. Should I always keep them from getting too close to me, even at treat time?
I have a roo who will eat from my hand one moment, then flog me when I turn my back to leave. I need help understanding how I can help my behavior. Thanks!
It's really difficult to offer advice without being there to see other potentially hidden factors, but in general, I'm not sure you should be hand feeding a rooster with an aggression issue. I would stop that and work on getting him to understand that humans have control over their own personal space.
 

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