The Ever Misunderstood Rooster

By Abronsyth · Jul 18, 2017 · ·
  1. Abronsyth
    There are a lot of different opinions on roosters. Some people hate them and think them the devil, some think that roosters can never be our friends or pets, some think that they're unintelligent, some think that it's disrespectful to hold/pet a rooster, yet have no problem with hens (this, friends, is called sexism).
    The general consensus in regards to roosters is overall negative. A rooster seems aggressive and we jump to the conclusion that something is wrong with the rooster. Usually it's not the rooster, though. Yes, that is right, it's the humans.

    We try to apply human concepts to chicken social dynamics, and we try to use human thinking to understand chicken behavior. Chickens are not humans. Humans are not chickens. However, humans have done a lot to modify chickens from what they originally were. Without understanding the wild counterparts of our domestic chickens, it's no wonder we don't understand our backyard poultry!

    Let's start off on the right page here- understanding wild chickens, aka; jungle fowl.

    Our modern breeds, for the most part, come from a mixture of red and gray jungle fowl (Gallus gallus and Gallus soneratii respectively). There are some things that we know for sure. Junglefowl exist in complex social structures composed of multiple roosters and hens, outside of breeding season. They live fairly peacefully together with but a fraction of the aggression we see in domestic chickens. Most of the year is spent this way in a comfortable mixed flock of roosters and hens, young and old. When breeding season comes around the roosters who are in breeding condition will split off and form their own distinct territories consisting of one rooster, and a handful of hens. This is the time of year that the roosters become the fighters we generally know them to be. They fiercely defend their nesting spots and their hens from other males. They crow to let hens know they're "available," and to warn other males to not encroach on their territory (not "get off of my land" so much as "hey, this is someone's land!"). They spend their time patrolling while courting the hens by finding them food, hopefully winning over a hen so that she will invite him to mate. The roosters try to find suitable nest sites, and should the hens approve he will guard this spot ferociously. Meanwhile young roosters will hang out together, not yet old enough to win over hens on their own, and being much too social to be alone. Eventually the hormones drop down as the hens are now raising their chicks, and the flock can come back together once again, roosters and hens intermingling.

    We can still see these behaviors in our own, domestic birds, but as we've domesticated them we have modified their behavior. Most no longer recognize a set breeding season, and instead will try to mate year-round. Roosters crow regularly year-round as a form of communication, the "language" of their crow being different from that of the junglefowl. It no longer is an invitation or challenge, but rather has become a form of communication, seemingly a way for roosters to get an idea of where everyone is at. The aggression is something else entirely. We wanted fighting roosters. We wanted them aggressive all of the time. So we bred them that way. We created incredibly unbalanced, hyper-aggressive birds. When rooster-fighting lost popularity and we started wanting livestock instead, roosters were still maintaining that hyper-aggressive, confused nature that we had worked for. So roosters gained recognition as aggressive and problematic; something better off being killed and cooked than dealt with. We didn't have much interest in trying to understand them, or any animals for that matter. Taking a look at the history of comparative psychology will tell you an awful lot about that.

    Thankfully with modernization came better ways of thinking. We actually started to take an interest in the minds of animals and have started to realize that they are every bit as complex as we are. They communicate, they think, they empathize, they have fun, they mourn, they experience joy, frustration, and sadness...not in the same way that humans do, but in ways unique to individual species. Of course not all far we do have a small collection of those we now understand to be much, much more intelligent and complex than we ever thought. Some of the most intelligent, cognitive animals are birds. Most people will immediately think of parrots, and probably crows as well. Both remarkably intelligent, clever groups. However pigeons and, yes, chickens are among those birds of great intelligence.

    Chickens from nearly a day old are capable of understanding a concept of numbers. They have a distinct language with actual words that spans across an entire species globally. The social dynamic that exists within a flock is something we have not yet been able to fully grasp at. Hierarchies are not linear and straightforward, but rather built upon relationships formed between individuals. Chicken relationships are not merely comprised of "higher ranking" and "lower ranking" but rather of friendships, familiarity, parents, siblings, mates, and so on. They are incredibly social, and as any incredibly social, intelligent animal, they are fully capable of pro-social behavior such as helping one another, comforting one another, and so on.

    This does not just apply to hens, or roosters. This is a species-wide thing. I am mostly here about roosters, though.

    The way we deal with roosters is appalling. I have actually been advised to hurt and frighten an animal because I don't like it's attitude. Such tactics may have stopped roosters from attacking, but it ruined our relationship. I have watched birds I raised from hatch become frightened of me, and this is not the way it should be. My sibling and I have taken on different approaches now to raising roosters, and we're finding with our current flock that things are much, much less stressful for the birds. When any bird, be it a hen or rooster, decides to behave like a brat then we do not hurt them. We simply pick them up, tuck them under our arm comfortably, and walk around with them, talking to them. We wait for them to relax and start chattering with us, and then we set them down and carry about normally. They do not like having their locomotive ability taken away, so they stop being little turds, but they realize that we do not hurt them, so we maintain a relationship with them. The roosters, regardless of ages, are comfortable laying next to us, in our laps, and perching on our shoulders. They talk with us, interact with us, and will enthusiastically greet us upon our arrival. When they are frightened they come to us to hide about our feet, they jump into our laps, and calm down as we gently stroke their necks and talk to them. Not all of them want to cuddle, and we respect that. My favorite hen does not like touching much, but she loves people, she wants to be close to people. My rooster, who was raised with her, is a cuddle-bug who wants to be in my lap or on my shoulder and talk into my ear. He respects me, and I've been able to teach him how to appropriately act. I let him chastise the other roosters if they're rough on a hen, but I stop him from being overzealous, and he is learning.

    That is an important thing to realize. They can, and do, learn. The best thing for them to learn is that you are not a rooster to challenge or a hen to woo, but you will not harm them. You're a friend, a flockmate, a familiar face. You're not a threat, so there's no reason to fight or fear, no reason to keep the hens away from you.

    Positive reinforcement absolutely works with chickens (hens and roos alike). Ours love dried peas, so we keep some on hand. When a bird greets us, we offer a pea or two, when they are good to one another they get treats. When they are unpleasant then they do not get treats, but are picked up and carried. Once they calm down and relax, they get a treat while still being held, and then we set them down.

    I do not want my roosters to fear me or see me as a threat. I love my birds, and I do my best to show it. We have 11 roosters in our flock. Right now four of the boys are penned together because they are too young to know how to be polite to the hens. The others are all out among the hens, and everyone is quite content. The largest hen keeps the other boys in check, the two older loose boys keep each other in check, my rooster keeps the youngest boys in check. A very stable, comfortable dynamic has been established, and we are lucky enough to be a part of it.

    Cockerels are full of hormones, yes, and because of our poor choice in selective breeding they can be over-defensive and/or aggressive when still young. If an older rooster is not in the flock to keep the young males in line, then the males in all of their hormonal lust and anger will be unpleasant toward the hens. Our answer is not to be rid of the roosters. We just separate the problem birds and give them time to mature. Sometimes a bird does need to be rehomed, if they cannot form healthy relationships within the flock, but so far this has been very, very rare.

    A very important thing to note is that I do not treat hens and roosters differently. I don't feel the need to only handle hens and never handle a rooster because it's "disrespectful." If you don't want to disrespect an animal, that's good, but apply it to the entire species, yeah? Not just the males because you feel the male is somehow more deserving or demanding of respect. Hens and roosters get the same treatment because they're the same species that speak the same language and have the same comprehension of social dynamics.

    Killing, beating, or getting rid of roosters because you do not understand them is not the answer. You might not ever end up with a healthy flock dynamic if that is your answer to a problem. Instead try to know your birds well enough to identify who is causing problems, why they are causing problems, and fix it peacefully. Yeah, it's a little more work, but it's worth it to me to see these animals in my care be happy.

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    About Author

    Abronsyth (Arik) is a chicken-enthusiast and novice showman. Among his passion chickens and writing are some of the most developed, and the two naturally combine to writing about chickens.

Recent User Reviews

  1. DobieLover
    "I like it"
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Nov 5, 2018
    Very interesting read with some background information on chicken origins.
  2. Shadrach
    "I can't help liking this."
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Oct 5, 2018
    I'm going to be very blunt. There is so much nonsense written about roosters and how to treat them. I've read truely horrific posts regarding both attitude and treatment of roosters. I wouldn't let some of the posters near a virtual reality play farm.
    Empathetic....what a lovely change.
    Interesting.....well written, with an easy conversational style.
    However, the description of the jungle fowls living arrangements isn't really accurate.
    I don't agree with some of the points on handling the rooster either.
    It doen't matter. An awful lot of articles aren't particulary accurate and many are missinformative.
    The article is worth 5 stars none the less.
    Well done. Write some more.
  3. ChickenyChickeny
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Aug 23, 2018
    I enjoyed reading it. a good contribution to the rooster discussion

    roosters are interesting


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  1. the cluck juggler
    Yes, yes, so much yes! To appreciate roosters it's vital to understand their natural behavior, why they do what they do, and what they regard as their role in the flock.
  2. fur-mum
    Fantastic article! :thumbsup
      Farmer Connie likes this.
  3. Lucyincharge
    What gorgeous coloring. What kind has a black comb and white feathers. I love unusual coloring on chickens
    1. Abronsyth
      White silkies (crosses)! Silkies have dark purple/black skin, beautiful blue earlobes, and come in a bunch of colors. A lot of folks also experiment with fibromelanism (high levels of dark pigment in chickens) and you get some wild looking birds, "Golden Feather Farms" has their own experimental breed called "Mosaics" that are a gorgeous example.
  4. chickenmeadow
    Now my Ameraucana rooster is ushering any hen that comes into the coop to putting their head down & going to a corner. This just started when my broody hen would fight with other hens that came near her chicks as she was out of her & chicks separate pen in the coop. He is so smart to break up fights & remind the hens to behave when they come in.
      BarredRockMom and Lucyincharge like this.
  5. chickenmeadow
    Love the roosters, their colors are often more brilliant, & their crowing adds to my strong sense of home. My current roo is an Ameraucana & one of the best ones I've ever had. He dedicates his every moment to his girl's protection from sky & land predators, quickly breaks up squabbles to keep peace, alerts them of food & water time, lets them know when it's safe to exit the coop in the morning & when it's time to retire for the night. A rooster's dedication never ceases to amaze me, he even talks & pecks the ground to the new broody chicks who are in their separated area in the coop. He never misses anything & keeps it all in order. A real "bossy but" & my hens all love him.

    "Buckbeak" & I used to exchange crows & once we got up to 32x's, then I got tired & gave up. He has become quite attentive & even gentle with me. After his second year when he showed some aggression with me, all I had to do was get brave, put protective clothing on & watch my face, scoop him up (no chasing), hold him securely close, & parade him around in front of his hens for about 5 min to set pecking order (did this one more time about a week later, to make sure he was embarrassed enough to never think of it again). Now I can run my hand along his back when he's near.

    My attitude is so much better with my own chickens than it was with the ones I grew up with; my own 1st roo came as an adult & was not people friendly, but all the ones that I've raised from young have been wonderful (most all of them hit an age & got the 5 min walk around to let them know who really was boss (Ha, Ha), or at least help them learn respect for me their "caretaker").

    Thanks for your article Abronsyth, I have no need for more than one roo at this time anymore, but can certainly admire your way of keeping peace with a number of roos, that takes kindness, consideration & respect for animals.
  6. Elizabeth Hasse
    I've always had an understanding of roosters, having a special knack for only hatching those male feather-brains :) (I appreciate your truthful article about them!)
    I also recently lost my locally famous Black Copper Maran rooster, Big Red (due to foxes). He inspired many because he'd lost both feet, most of his comb and waddles from frostbite more than four years ago. (he'd gotten lost and had to stay outside one freezing winter night). He was my tamest chicken ever and somehow managed to keep the beautiful coloring associated with B.C.M.s
    1. gimmie birdies
      When I was 10 my dad gave me an old rooster that some farmer gave him, his toes were frostbitten off, or maybe fused, I am not sure. I loved that little guy, I called him "Superchicken" He was a neat bird, seems you always lose the roosters you love. Neighbor dogs got mine.
  7. Dr.T
    I cannot thank you enough for this article! It truly has been a complete turnaround in my relationship with my guys! I loved my first roo that met an untimely early end protecting his gals from a mink :( I am now looking forward to working with my cockerels and roos and have been carrying them around daily!
  8. Gavinthesheep735
    i have a white Chantecler rooster and he is great
  9. Gavinthesheep735
    i love this article
      Lucyincharge likes this.
  10. FlyWheel
    Finally, a humane and very well detailed and researched article about roosters. I hereby dub thee "The Cock Whisperer".
    1. Grubby girl
      MilleFleurs likes this.
  11. Brahma Chicken5000
    A very well written and put together article, full of great information.
  12. All Ball
    Thank you for a great and informative article. I had just been thinking about why roosters crow all year, instead of during only mating season, like other birds. Sounds right that it is the impact of our selective breeding, and that it now means communicating with other flock members, rather than just being about mating.
  13. chickengr
    thank you for this article. I adore my boys.
  14. Whittni
    This was super cute, especially the last graphic. You should add more flock-together action.
  15. BarredRockMom
    While everyone has their own experience with roosters (or no experience), I loved this article. I only had 2 roos in my flock and they were the most wonderful creatures. One was gotten as a peep & supposed to be a hen (surprise, not a hen!) & the other was given to us by a friend who'd gotten a roo in his group of peeps from a feed store. They were both the most magnificent, smart & loving fellows, but not to one another.

    The re-homed, White Leghorn Mr Peanut was a cuddly lap chicken & he gave the senior Barred Rock 'Rocket Man' a wide berth. It was quite a privilege to interact with them. Rocket Man did not want to be touched or held during the day, but come night time he didn't mind so much. If the girls made it to the roosts before the lights went off & he didn't, he'd chirp softly & brush against my legs, asking me to help him up to bed. I always spoke softly to him, told him that I was going to put my hands under his feet & gently lift him to his spot in the perch, next to his favorite hen. I was always able to kneel down and pet him gently after lights out & he was always quite content. I think of him often and with much love, admiration & respect.

    When Mr P got his share of raging hormones, there was a lot of friction as one tried to bring the other in line. Mr P would always run away & then come find me for protection & comfort.

    So I can identify with your article and agree that chickens are the most amazing, smart and teachable creatures. I've got a couple of saucy hens right now and picking one up and carrying her around until she settles is going to be just the ticket. I think I can take the sauce down a notch or two, and treats as an incentive will work wonders.

    Thanks for sharing!
    1. featherhead007
      surprising, you are living the same life as me .. everyone hates my roo but i love that crazy ameraucana . he attacks people but never me god i love that roo
      Lucyincharge, Dr.T and BarredRockMom like this.
  16. Chullicken
    I'm a huge fan of Le rooster. Roosters are the exemplification of the breed in my humble opinion. Nothing against breeders for type, but I find that very thing part of the issue and misconceptions. The original bargain with the chicken was eggs and meat, not 5 lb feather balls that are created from some one else's standard and type..not for what I believe is or should be intended. That is temperament, alertness, social behaviors, excellent guardianship and the like. A great rooster in a managed flock is a priceless blessing...once one realizes a rooster is a different bird and respected for those differences. Sure they get a little obnoxious and can be down right irritating as growing up teens, but most settle down like you stated and mature. Like people, some are better than others at certain things, some are all around and some just give you anxiety and stress. But are they worth it? Educate, observe and understand. Yes and yes to the rooster. Thanks for the article!
  17. featherhead007
    One of my roos tells me when it's time to go to bed 22:00 and then wakes me up at 05:00 like clockwork every day. bad thing is, there is no snooze button to shut him up! :rant
    1. gimmie birdies
      I put my roosters in a sleepy box in a dark part of the coop. (wooden box big enough for him to lie down in) and let him out when I want to get up. He will not crow so much if he cannot stretch his neck, and he still does, he is going to be more quiet.
      Lucyincharge and featherhead007 like this.
  18. nenebynature
    I was very hesitant about roosters. This summer I had a friend of a friend in the city who had a rooster, hand raised, that needed a home due to poultry restrictions. He was hatched this spring and I took him in around July. I'll be honest I thought about making him Sunday dinner a couple times. Once he learned his role in my rules he has been a dream. He's doubled in size and is very good to the girls. He also still lets me pick him up and carry him around which I do more often when he is sassy to me. He was so protective of the girls and I am very thankful to have him. I now believe they have a place in my flock and wouldn't want to be without one. Thanks for your article.
      Lucyincharge and Dr.T like this.
  19. ChickenGirl555
    "Littles turds" :lau
      Lucyincharge likes this.
  20. Lucyincharge
    I love my roosters. They come when called and love to be picked up by me and petted. They really love it when I put lotion on their legs and feet. They will actually fall asleep in my arms.
      DaviJones likes this.
    1. DaviJones
      Wow thank you so much! You inadvertently answerved a question of mine. I noticed my pullets feet were a bit dry and flaky, so I've been wondering ever since if I can put lotion on them but I was worried it might sound silly' What would you recommend Cetaphyll or is scented okay?

      Thank you so much again!
      Lucyincharge likes this.
    2. mschickiemama
      Wow you put lotion on them? What kind? lol
      Lucyincharge likes this.
    3. Lucyincharge
      I use Aveeno lotion and vitamin e oil mixed. If their feet are really dry, I use straight vaseline.
      mschickiemama likes this.
  21. featherhead007
    I love my two roosters. Yes I do cater to them more than most, but they reciprocate by being friendly "to me" and they watch over my hens with great care!
      Lucyincharge and Dr.T like this.
  22. Crazy for Chickens!
    Very good article!
      Lucyincharge likes this.
  23. BYCforlife
    I agree, but sometimes I have way too many roosters, and no place to keep them. I only need one per 10 chickens, and the others just eat all of my feed without paying for themselves.

    I like roosters, and I like how they try to protect their flock. It doesn't really bother me that much when they get a little aggressive, because it's instinct.

    There are so few people who would buy my roosters, especially since they are extremely mixed breeds. I think it's more humane to get rid of them myself than to let them into the wild. They would sit around the coop until another animal came along and brought them home for dinner.\

    Thanks for posting your opinion!
      DaviJones, Lucyincharge, Dr.T and 5 others like this.
    1. DaviJones
      I don't see much wrong with someone butchering their roosters, so long as their method is humane (anything that couldn't be mistaken as a prop or scene from Saw) Not to mention the gender of hatchlings being split around 50/50, which could lead to problems in the flock (ever asked a rooster to share his ladies) such as fights or overmating, not to mention the sheer amount of chickens if left to multiply(chicken math) one could possibly find themselves charged with animal hoarding (well actually that's not accurate, I believe someone should be allowed as many animals as they can properly care for, but you get the point, the multitude of fowl to feed and care for and check for ailments.) Sorey for the rambling, the point is your setup sounds great!
      BYCforlife likes this.

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