The Ever Misunderstood Rooster

  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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  1. Eggsakly
    A great article. I love it. I've had a few cockerels in my life, most of which I rehomed. I have two now that are seven months old, both bantam Wyandottes. I lost a young bantam buff Brahma rooster last summer, and it was so sad. He was such a good boy and we never had a single problem.

    Of my two cockerels now, one is in love with me. He doesn't want to be held, but he engages with me all the time, is the first to greet me every day, stays near me, and talks to me. He's a goof. He's not nearly as smooth with the ladies as his bro, but he's learning.

    One of my Wyandotte pullets had a terrible accident and found herself free ranging into a bucket of kerosene. I found her within a short time afterward and brought her into the house for a successful rehab. When she felt better and was ready to rejoin the flock, my little boyfriend was on her relentlessly! None of the rest of flock bothered her at all. I ran to separate them, and I poked him with my finger firmly but not hard one time. He immediately stopped harassing the pullet, and calm settled over the flock.

    However, I had hurt his feelings. He did not greet me for three days. I didn't notice well enough, I guess, because on the third day I was in the chicken house tidying up and he ran in from outside. He ran and stopped and faced me about four feet away. He leaned forward and stared into my eyes for a few seconds. Then, he turned and ran out exactly as he had run in. He was clearly saying, "I'm ignoring you!"

    I apologized to him for poking him, and fed him apples and things he liked. I assured him that I love him best. Fortunately, all appears to have been forgiven. We are great friends again, and I'm sure glad because he's really adorable.

    And the little pullet that needed care now also loves me lots. She jumps in my lap every time I sit down now. You can tell when they love you, because they look right in your eyes a lot, they stay very near or on you, and they aren't afraid. I lean down and look at all my little chickens and greet each one by name every day.

    I also love how they do form their own relationships. Two of my Brahma hens are devoted to each other, and do everything together all the time. Among the Wyandottes it is obvious which ones are friends.
    1. gimmie birdies
      Hen best friends are called "hench hens" They form a friendship like that mostly at a younger age, (their version of 8th grade) at older ages I notice, hens get more independent .
  2. Double Yolked
    This is a wonderful article.
    I sure wish more people had your attitude regarding roo's. I love my Blue Wyandotte roo, he's a giant and way too big for me to lift so he's never really gotten used to being handled, but he is as gentle and sweet a boy as I could ever wish for. My hens love him, they were the dumbest little clucks when they were young, trying to drop eggs at random and not having a clue about foraging. He patiently taught them where to lay eggs, how to find the best bugs, grains and so forth. My family thought I was nuts when I said I wanted to get my hens a rooster that he'd be "nuthin' but trouble". Now they all love Master Fluffybutt.
      Eggsakly likes this.
    1. gimmie birdies
      I love it when the roosters try and show a hen where to lay..."Thank you, Mr. Rooster, you are so wise!"
  3. gimmie birdies
    Roosters can tell if you are afraid. If you back off you are submissive in their eyes. If you chase them they consider you aggressive and will treat you that way. Starting off with an adult rooster, I will ignore them and go about my chores. Roosters like to test you, they might come close and pretend to be interested in pecking the ground at your feet, before a jump, if they are close enough to jump they are close enough to pick up. I pick them up, so my hands cover the wings, put them under my arm, so their wings are covered and I have their feet as well, with my free hand I pet his head, and comb/waddle area, might gently tug it, to let him know I have him then put him down. But no chasing, and no backing off.
      Eggsakly likes this.
  4. NikAndHerChicks
    Wow! What an amazing and informative article. I'm ashamed to say that I was one of those ignorant people who didn't understand the capacity of a rooster to respond to positive reinforcement. I'm a 3rd generation chicken owner, however I've only had my flock for a little over a year and a half. My grandparents and parents were all of the old-school way of thinking that if a rooster showed aggression, then he would always be aggressive. It's how he was born and he'd never change. Therefore, for the safety of the hens and the care-givers of the flock any aggressive roosters needed to be culled at the first sign of aggression. We had two beautiful silkie roosters (we bought them as day olds, and were told they were pullets... oops!) they would attack me every single day I went out to feed them, several times drawing blood. It got to the point where I was intimidated to go into the chicken run in the mornings. Finally my husband said "Enough is enough!" and took them to be processed. Not gonna lie... none of us ate dinner that night. We just stared at he platter with the roosters on it. Such a waste! They were such beautiful birds, none of us felt good about culling them. If I had been better informed I could possibly have avoided that whole scenario. Thank you for this article. If we ever unwittingly get roosters again, I now know that the old-school way isn't the only way, and now have a new way of handling rooster aggression.
      Hen Pen Jem likes this.
  5. gimmie birdies
    I love roosters, I currently have 2 LO roosters. Most chickens I have I hatched. These 2 I got as chicks with 2 more LO pullets. They were very shy, and it took them a while to come around. but I feed them treats every day and they are always the first to come running. With other roosters I have had, I held them from the beginning they know if they are near me they will be picked up and loved. If they don't like to be picked up they will avoid me, but knowing me, they decide what they like, most of MY roosters like to be loved.

    One more thing to say about roosters. A friend gave me a rooster she said because it was jumping on her grandson. When he came to my coop, he would follow me waiting for his chance to jump, I would do as I said from above and turn real quick catch him, hold him and put him down. after that he would follow me and get picked up, which he seemed to like, but never jumped me again.
      Farmer Connie likes this.
  6. Farmer Connie
    WE have a heavy population of free roaming roos. Down to 20 from the mid 30's. Not a single one of them has pecked, charged or tried to spur any of us. Feeding time they are like walking thru an ocean of friendly pets. A couple will hop on my arm when layed out for the invitation. Ours are from left overs. Not wanted by people whom buy birds from us. During warmer months, we hatch & sell poultry for a sub income. NOBODY wants males. Sometimes months later we get calls from previous customers whom are willing to give them back to us for free. The majority claim they just want eggs.. not ruthless bullies.
    A beautiful Barred Rock Roo was giving back to us a couple months ago. The sweetest, kindest male we ever had. I sold him to a couple who wanted to breed Rocks along with a few Rock pullets we sold them. They were so amazed of how calm and tame this 8 month old male was and drove home with him in their lap in the front seat while the rowdy girls were caged in the back.
    We have been processing more than we rehome. That is because of economics. Can't afford so many mouths to feed.
    Roosters have a bad rap... But not on our farm.
  7. mschickiemama
    The world needs more people like you. I loved this article and learned a thing or two. Animal behavior is fascinating.
      Eggsakly, chicken4prez and Abriana like this.
  8. RoostersAreAwesome
    Very informative article! I have 7 roosters of varying ages, 6 of which live peacefully together in a rooster flock. :)
      Eggsakly and Abriana like this.
  9. Riley Ranch
    I so love this article. I have 3 roosters now. 2 fought the first day and I just picked up one and calmed him. It took one day and now everyone is happy. One is 7 weeks old and is doing great. Treats and love are my tools to everyone getting along.
  10. SilkiesInSuburb
    Love this article! My silkie roos were always the sweetest little things. Thunder was actually the sweetest chicken I've had yet. He learned his name and how to come on command. Unfortunately he and his two brothers, Carl and Hammy, passed away a while ago. I want another rooster but my dad hates them.
  11. Abriana
    Great job in this article, very informative and well written! I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said, people do misunderstand roosters. They really can make amazing pets, but most people don’t want to take the time to make them onto those amazing pets. All animals have potential! Again, great job!
      Eggsakly and Hen Pen Jem like this.
  12. Beer can
    The roosters has always been my favorite since I was a kid. I love how they let their girls know where the food is, noises they make, 'here girls over here's a nice big fat worm for you' .
    Sometimes I wonder if they ever eat? They are always telling the flock to eat and don't seem to partake themselves :gig
    That and the males are the prettier, cooler one's in the avian world :cool:
      Eggsakly and Hen Pen Jem like this.
  13. MollySunshine
    Beautifully written!
    I also have many roosters' (14) and treat them with respect and love and get the same back. Nice to see someone else out there with the same appreciation/understanding of their roosters or roosters in general. As you said, it's more work but well worth the time invested.
      Abriana and Hen Pen Jem like this.
  14. N F C
    Interesting article, thanks for sharing it!
      Farmer Connie likes this.
  15. Hen Pen Jem
    What a great article! I too have found chickens to be very intelligent and thus, trainable. I have had 8 roosters and trained them all with methods similar to yours. Positive reinforcement works just as well with chickens of both genders, as it does with dogs. I successfully re-homed 6 of the roosters to keepers that want gentled roosters for their flocks. Now, I have only one left, my beta rooster RIR, "Mr. Frito"; his brother, Barred Rock, "Bumni" the alpha, passed away this year.

    People find it hard to believe that Mr. Frito experienced grief over his brother's death. Each day, he would go into their coop and sit under Bumni's perch and make a sad crying sound. His appetite decreased, which worried me. He did this for a month. I gave him extra TLC and he finally got over it. Now, he is the big daddy of the flock and is very happy and is doing a great job of keeping the peace among the girls. When he gets tired, he'll call to me with a particular crow. I'll go out and see what he needs; usually he wants to come down to the house and hang out with the family.

    In the beginning Frito was extremely aggressive, but when he saw his brother Bumni sitting on my lap and getting kind attention. I think he decided that he wanted that too. He started nudging me on my arm, then I'd say "NO PECK", and I'd tap his beak. Eventually, I would pat my lap to invite Frito to sit with me. He learned quite well, and now, he is a wonderful rooster, and part of our family!

    Thank you for the article, I hope others learn from it!
      Eggsakly likes this.

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