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Managing cockerels coming of age in a young flock

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by RonoKT, Mar 16, 2016.

  1. RonoKT

    RonoKT Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Hello all,
    I have a young flock of mixed breeds and mixed ages, ranging from 8 weeks to 3 weeks. I thought I had a decent plan for males but I am now rethinking it. Firstly I should say that the younger chicks are separate, but in the same area, I was hoping to fully mix all ages this weekend but may now not.
    My plan had been to eat males as and when they became problematic through their crowing or through their behaviour with the pullets. My only previous experience with chickens is a batch of table birds, Ross 308, so I had unrealistic views on how large they would be when they became problematic. I wasn't expecting full carcasses but I was expecting enough for two people to have a light meal. Today I saw my only confirmed cockerel trying to mount one of my pullets, he held her comb in his beak and while she complained loudly he tried and failed to get on top of her. I heard her a few more times and also heard his rather cute crow a few times. He is bothering the same pullet repeatedly, she has the reddest wattles of any of my pullets. They are both 8 weeks old this Friday, she is a barred rock and he is a wheaten marans, he is pretty tiny. He is certainly not worth butchering.
    The other side to this is that I have been reading that cockerels that grow up without a rooster or older dominant hens around tend to be nasty little boys. If my housemates and neighbours don't mind the crowing, I would like to have a rooster, but can I expect to get a nice rooster if it has grown up without being put in it's place by any older chickens? The most logical choice seem to be to buy a mature rooster, but I would then only have pullets for him, so then I aught to buy some POL hens for him.. I have hatched all of my current flock and I would like to keep a closed flock, adding only with hatching eggs. I would also feel pretty stupid if I bought some hens and a rooster at relatively high expense, brought them home, only for the rooster to make a nuisance of himself, have to eat the (expensive) rooster and end up with some hens I hadn't planed on.
    I now see more clearly the logic of the "bachelor pad", this is a possibility but I would like to avoid it, especially as I can only identify one cockerel at this point. If I did go that route, I don't know how I would choose a cockerel to keep (assuming I have more than the one cockerel) as I wouldn't be seeing the way they treat the pullets. Also, would the cockerel be any less aggressive in a few months or would he be just as poor mannered but larger and stronger?
    If I leave him in with the pullets, where should I draw the line? Should he be removed if he draws blood, or.. what?
    Culling him is an option, but I am really looking forward to eating some dual purpose birds and also to hopefully watching a cockerel grow to being a good rooster.
    I have also wondered if I should separate him behind some wire mesh so he is still part of the flock, but unable to hurt any pullets. This option seems kinder than keeping him alone in a bachelor pad but also like it might just wind him up and make him impossible to integrate back into the flock..
    Lastly, the younger chicks (3 weeks) are separate from the rest of the flock, although they can see each other and I have done some successful test introductions. I want to mix the two groups fully this weekend, but will my hyperactive little thug be a problem? So far I have only seen him bothering the one pullet (with the most red face), the younger chicks are a smaller group (5 younger, 11 older) of the 5 younger I am quite sure one is a cockerel.
    Thats allot of questions, I welcome any insight/ observations.
    Thank you.
     
  2. RonoKT

    RonoKT Chillin' With My Peeps

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    [​IMG]
    This is the offending cockerel about 10 day ago.
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2016
  3. keesmom

    keesmom Overrun With Chickens

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    What does the pullet look like? An 8 week old should not have red wattles.
     
  4. RonoKT

    RonoKT Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I will try to get photos tomorrow. She is my reddest faced pullet, she is not as red as the cockerel. She is a barred rock, so I'm pretty sure she is a pullet.
     
  5. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    I"d stay with your current plan for now. Yes, roosters raised with older hens usually have nicer manners, but they can still be little buttheads and not all older hens put them in their place. So, you've got what you've got and I say keep the flock closed.

    I don't know how Marans do in your area, but here I'd try selling him. In my neighborhood they're a pretty unusual breed and I could probably find a taker for him.

    At this age, he's a pretty early maturer. Most cockerels don't start making pests of themselves until more like 12+ weeks. If your older birds are 8 weeks and you don't see any more cockerels, I'm thinking you should be safe on the older batch. Just take things one bird at a time, selling or butchering them as you need to manage your flock.

    When I run a bachelor pad, I watch how the birds interact with each other, but most importantly how they do with me. A bird that's respectful of me is of prime importance. I've only had one male in 20+ years of chicken keeping that, when mature, was less than a gentleman with the ladies. As they get older, you'll have favorites and some you'll know you'll be culling. You can start letting the potential keepers out with the pullets and see how they do, eventually making your final choice as they mature.

    If, somehow, you wind up with a rooster that's a terminal jerk, you can always cull him, be roosterless for a while, and bring in either chicks or hatching eggs and get another cockerel that way.
     
    1 person likes this.
  6. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    Good advice from Donrae, as usual
     
  7. RonoKT

    RonoKT Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks, I will just keep an eye on him for now then. If I do end up setting up a male pen I will feel better about it knowing I will still be able to judge their personalities.
    I think if it comes to him leaving the flock, I will just eat him. I really enjoyed my broilers and an excited to try some slow grown meat. I don't know how easy it would be to sell him either, I live in London so I expect cockerels are not in high demand locally, also when I was last buying wood shavings and cat food at the closest thing I have to a tractor supply (pets at home) the cashier told me their largest London shop sells marans! Probably pullets though. When I went out to feed the chickens this morning, my little thug was being perfectly pleasant and the pullet he had been bothering was hanging out close to him the whole time I was with them, so maybe his flirting was better received than I thought. Also there was another new sound, one of my birds was shreiking if I moved to fast and when I leant down towards them, they all ran for cover as soon as this call was made, I'm not sure it was from little thug but I guess if not it's from another stealthier cockerel? I will still mix the flock this weekend as I really want to be starting some veg in the space my youngsters are currently sitting in.
     
  8. RonoKT

    RonoKT Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Some pictures from this morning:
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
     
  9. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    I’m not sure on that barred rock. The comb doesn’t look bad but the wattles and the posture give me concern. Could you put up a sideways shot showing posture and legs? Long heavy legs are generally a sign of a cockerel. Thinner shorter legs are more in line with a pullet.

    You can eat any chicken of any age and sex, people eat quail, but that one looks really small. Are you sure he is not a bantam?

    I’ll copy something I wrote for another post that involved older chicks but I think it might help you. Then I’ll try to come back with some comments on your other questions.


    Typical mating behavior between mature consenting adults.

    The rooster dances for a specific hen. He lowers one wing and sort of circles her. This signals his intent.

    The hen squats. This gets her body onto the ground so the rooster’s weight goes into the ground through her entire body and not just her legs. That way she can support a much heavier rooster without hurting her legs.

    The rooster hops on and grabs the back of her head. The head grab helps him get in the right position to hit the target and helps him to keep his balance, but its major purpose is to tell the hen to raise her tail out of the way to expose the target. A mating will not be successful if she does not raise her tail and expose the target. The head grab is necessary.

    The rooster touches vents and hops off. This may be over in the blink of an eye or it may take a few seconds. But when this is over the rooster’s part is done.

    The hen then stands up, fluffs up, and shakes. This fluffy shake gets the sperm into a special container inside the hen near where the egg starts its internal journey through her internal egg making factory.

    With five month olds you are not dealing with consenting adults. You are dealing with adolescents that have no control over their hormones. The cockerels normally mature earlier than the pullets and are being driven mad by their hormones. The pullets have no idea what is going on so they certainly are not going to cooperate.

    At that age most of this is not about sex either. The mating ritual is about dominance. The one on bottom is accepting the dominance of the one on top, either willingly or by force. It’s not about pecking order either, but total flock dominance. The cockerel’s hormones are screaming at it to dominate the pullets but the pullets are not ready for that. It takes both to do their part, pullets as well as cockerel.

    To do his job as flock master, the cockerel has to be the dominant chicken. How can he keep peace in his flock if he can’t break up a fight without the others beating the crap out of him? What good does it do to warn of danger if no one listens? How can he fertilize the eggs if they don’t cooperate? A cockerel is usually bigger and stronger than the pullets. If they don’t cooperate willingly he is going to force them. That’s part of his job, to be the dominant chicken.

    Part of being the dominant chicken is that he has to act like a mature adult. He needs to dance for the ladies, find them food, watch for danger, keep peace on his flock, and do all the things a mature rooster does to take care of his flock. He also has to have enough self-confidence to win the hens over by his personality. It takes a while for most cockerels to get their hormones under control enough to be able to do this.

    Normally the pullets and cockerel will mature enough to play their part in the flock. For the pullets that is often about the time they start to lay, though some take a few months longer. I’ve had a cockerel do that at five months but that is really rare. I’ve had some that took a full calendar year to win over all the ladies. Normally around seven months a cockerel will mature enough to start getting his hormones under control and act like a flock master should. Normally the pullets are ready to accept him at this time but more mature hens may hold out a little longer. It’s going to vary with each flock, depending on the personality of the individual hens and rooster.

    Until the cockerel and the pullets mature enough to fulfil their duties in the flock and learn proper technique, it can get pretty rough. Normally neither the cockerel nor the pullets are harmed during his maturing process but since force is involved injury is always possible. The big problem for a lot of people is that it is just hard to watch, especially if they don’t understand the dynamics of what is going on. I don’t see anything unusual or out of the ordinary in what you describe.

    You may hear that disaster is assured unless you get more pullets. Some people believe that a magic ratio of hens to rooster will solve all these types of problems, ten to one is often quoted. It doesn’t work that way. Many breeders keep one rooster with one or two hens throughout the breeding season without any problems. One secret though is that they use roosters and hens, not cockerels and pullets. That makes a big difference. You can have the same problems with very small hen to rooster ratios as you do with very large hen to rooster ratios. If you want to use this as an excuse to get more pullets by all means go for it. But it is an excuse, not a real reason.

    Some cockerels crow a lot. Some don’t crow much. It varies a lot by the individual. I don’t know of any way to control that during the day. Often if they are crowing at night they see a light. Maybe you have a security light or street light shining in a window. Maybe a car passing on the road will light up the coop. Maybe it is just a full moon. If you can keep the coop dark at night you can usually reduce the night-time crowing.

    Good luck! It’s probably going to be a messy down there for a couple of months, but if you can get through this phase, you should have a nice flock.
     
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2016
    1 person likes this.
  10. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    The other side to this is that I have been reading that cockerels that grow up without a rooster or older dominant hens around tend to be nasty little boys.

    Don’t put too much faith in this. I do like a mature rooster in the flock when an adolescent is growing up to take over, it keeps things more peaceful, but I’ve had some really nice roosters that grew up without this influence. The key is “grow up”. When they are adolescents they are quite typically nasty little boys, with or without the influence of older chickens. Once they mature enough to take their flock master duties seriously they usually mellow out.

    Also, would the cockerel be any less aggressive in a few months or would he be just as poor mannered but larger and stronger?

    Once he really matures he should be a lot less aggressive toward the hens, but until he matures he will be bigger and stronger. If you can get through that adolescent phase you should be OK but the adolescent phase can be hard to watch.

    If I leave him in with the pullets, where should I draw the line? Should he be removed if he draws blood, or.. what?

    I generally leave them alone unless I see blood, which I never have. Yes, the pullets will be harassed, but I consider that chickens being chickens. Over the past few thousands of years chickens have developed techniques to growing up in a flock. One big caveat to that is that they need room. If the pullets don’t have room to get away from the cockerels or avoid them when they want to, your chances of problems go up.

    I have also wondered if I should separate him behind some wire mesh so he is still part of the flock, but unable to hurt any pullets. This option seems kinder than keeping him alone in a bachelor pad but also like it might just wind him up and make him impossible to integrate back into the flock..

    Don’t worry too much about being kinder. I don’t advocate being cruel, but they are chickens, they will adjust. He won’t like being in a bachelor pad, either by himself or with other cockerels, but he will be OK. It can still be a good life. If you keep him separate like that until he matures, when you let him go he will immediately mate a few hens to establish that he is dominant. They will probably accept him with few issues, though the dominant hen may resist him for a while. If he is not fully mature there could be more issues, but normally they aren’t too bad. I do think it is important that the pullets mature some also. They have a part to play in flock dynamics. At least wait until some are laying.

    If you have another fairly mature, cockerel/rooster the situation changes. They will determine which is boss. That might be a small skirmish or two or it could become a series of serious fights. If you have a lot of room it normally works out but occasionally you have some that are just going to fight to the death. The less space they have the higher your risk.


    I want to mix the two groups fully this weekend, but will my hyperactive little thug be a problem?

    If you have sufficient room, probably not. But each situation is unique in many ways. It’s something you need to watch. The problem, if there is one, could easily come from a different chicken.
     
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