Roosters in the big wide world .........

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by chrissieg, Sep 1, 2007.

  1. chrissieg

    chrissieg Songster

    OK we've had lost of posts and advice about roosters to hen ratios but, left to their own devices, how does a 'natural' flock organise itself assuming a 50/50 hatch? Do things get really bloody (survival of the fittest) or is there a group of lads hanging about .....?

    I can't believe they just get picked off by preditors as it's always my girls that take the initiative when there's something to be investigated (me shouting 'Nooooo!!!) [​IMG]
  2. Are you asking what would happen if, somehow, a flock of chickens became feral? Golly, I doubt it's possible!
  3. chrissieg

    chrissieg Songster

    Exactly! There must be chickens in the wild - just like all our garden flowers have a 'wild' ancestor.

    I can remember a thread here where a newspaper reported a threat to 'cull' neighbourhoods feral chickens. [​IMG]
  4. silkiechicken

    silkiechicken Staff PhD

    The wild relative of the chicken is the jungle fowl. There are also feral chickens that run around in hawaii and other warm places like costa rica. I believe a lot of roosters are "exiled" and don't make it, while a lot of the females live to raise a few clutches and get eaten.
  5. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    Very good question. Unfortunately, it leads to some disturbing answers.

    There are a few unheralded mechanisms at work in wild flocks; common things, really... but things not really emphasized much on Animal Planet - unless youre a wildlife biologist.

    First, wild fowl have far more elbow, er wing, room than nearly all farm/confined flocks. While territorial, wild fowl will often cover a couple of kilometers per day in search of food. We, on the other hand, almost always confine them on some level.
    Males, of course, DO vigorously fight for dominance, but cocks dont normally fight to a bloody death except:

    1. In strict confinement,
    2. Where there are no places to run to or take cover from attack,
    3. When there are many rivals present at one time.

    All most commonly seen behind chicken fences.

    In the forest, on the other hand, the beaten losers in the dominance brawls run off to the edges of the group and are forced into lower flock status. They escape death by the spur, but they don't enjoy the benefits of flock life to the same degree as the others. These "fringe" males don't totally leave the flock, ie, go into exile, since flocks are tight knit. However, being pushed to the edge for being the weaker, they are further subject to a weakening of vigor and thus predation as a result of less quality food. In the end, they're a little weaker, a little slower - and get picked off first, so to speak. It's the danger one faces when living on the edge in any group.

    Too, don't presume the 50/50 ratio. In the wild, Nature has a way of adjusting these things according to need. Most of us have heard of frogs that change sex, if a population becomes predominant in one sex over the other? Cockroaches do it, too. The same thing can occur in higher genera animal poplulations. In essence, the birth rate of one sex or another shifts, according to conditions, to favor the lesser represented sex.

    If left to themselves, chickens like other animals reach a stasis point in their numbers which favors one dominant male and 20 or so femmes. There can be many distinct groups if food is plentiful, like at the dump in Greensboro, but individual wild fowl flocks are not huge. In each flock, there are usually one or two lesser males nearby, too. These guys wait for the alpha cock to fall in battle with outside rivals, or succumb to disease and basically just try to survive - and get in a quick shag while the alpha is preoccupied. [​IMG]
    Sometimes the alpha cock even steps aside and allows these lapses in breeding control, if genetic "muddying" within the flock requires a "freshening of the blood," so to speak. So, even these lesser males have a purpose, but HOW the alpha male knows to do this is still a mystery.
    All this occurs in feral populations as well, if given enough time to remain in an area and revert to more "wild" ways (in fact, the little-studied field of domestic animal regression - which is the meaning of 'feral' - is a fascinating subject in it's own right).

    We on the other hand change all that with our husbandry - or mismanagement of it.

    CAUTION: The following may be offensive to some. If you are sensitive, stop reading now.

    - We like to be "nice" and "caring" and can't bring ourselves to cull excess males, those with antisocial or harmful dispostions, or any birds that are past their prime.
    - We like flocks that are large, since bigger is better and/or means more profit.
    - We like flocks that are genetically diverse, with lots of physical variety and/or frilly fanciness.
    - We often give little thought to the results of indiscriminate breeding. We allow any and all cockerels to breed with any female. This disturbs both the genetic vigor and stasis within the flock that Nature would otherwise impose.
    - Our flocks have little wiggle room behind their fences and so the ugliness we bemoan in roosters comes to the fore.

    NOTE: A hundred years ago, a common number given was 15 square feet or more per bird in houses and 100 square feet or more in the pens. Whats the number given today?
    4 sq ft. in the house and NO thought given to how many are kept in the pen. Sound familiar?

    For the record, I'm not pointing fingers here. For most of us small flock keepers we just aren't taught differently - especially newcomers. Many of our "modern" small flock methods have come down to us from a combination of things...

    a. Factory farming offshoot concepts,
    b. The "peace, love and tie-dye" mentality,
    c. Psuedo-scientific New Ageisms.

    But in the farmyard or backlot flock, these mingling concepts lead to results we are ill-equipped to deal with. We end up scratching our heads and wondering what went wrong. We have the opportunity in our small flocks to keep it simple, more closely model what Nature intends and get closer to a self-regulating and vigorous ecosystem - if we will only trouble ourselves to do so.
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 2, 2007
  6. pricem11

    pricem11 Songster

    Aug 14, 2007
    Pittsboro, NC
    Elderoo, you make some interesting points.

    Just to clarify, when amphibians, fish or invertebrates (or even plants) change sex, it's called sequential hermaphroditism because these organisms had the potential from birth to go from male to female (protandry) or female to male (protogyny). Chickens don't have this ability. Rarely, chickens can have both male and female organs and are thus simple hermaphrodites, but they can't go from all male to all female or vice versa.

    I don't think you were implying that, but it just seemed a bit confusing since you mentioned frogs and chickens in the same sentence.

    The more interesting point to me was that feral flocks may have the ability to maximize one sex over the other in their offspring. It seems that, not for a lack of trying, there isn't a lot of scientific evidence at least in feral chickens that they are able to greatly alter 'unity', that is, relatively equal numbers of males and females. However, this could be because scientists aren't able to observe and control for all the environmental factors that come into play in various feral communities. The article below is an interesting read. The subjects weren't feral since researchers acknowledge that in the act of fully controlling all factors, a group of chickens is no longer feral. The outcome is that the researchers observed a fairly small altering of the sex rate of the offspring, and they think it's due to maternal hormones, but they really can't peg down the mechanism. Some of the other studies cited in the references at the end came to the same conclusion, supporting your point that 'Nature has a way of adjusting these things'.

    Thanks for the 'food for thought' you gave me this morning.

  7. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    Youre absolutely right, Mark. I used the frog example, only since it is familiar to most people - thanks to 'Jurassic Park'. I am no scientist, and dont always know all the terms. I think like "common folk."

    In higher order creatures like chickens, the mechanism is different and I alluded to that in my edit. It is as you say, that there is a changing in the ratio, favoring one sex or another. And there isn't a lot of understanding of this within the biological community. It does happen, this we know. The jury is still out as to how and why.

    More pointedly, how does an alpha cock know when to allow a lesser male to "breed in?" Normally he excludes the beta males from breeding the favored hens. Oh, they get to pop off a few of the lesser females when no one is looking, sure. But, why does he shift his focus to other hens, thus allowing the betas to have a go at his better females?

    This isn't something you hear about in modern poultry discussions, I might add in aside. This comes from much observation over years and was known in the old texts - which have of course fallen from favor in the rush to new things. It isn't seen unless you allow your flocks to come close to a controlled, natural condition of vigorous living.

    Aint chickens fascinatin'?
  8. chrissieg

    chrissieg Songster

    Pricem11 and elderoo you are both stars! Thanks so much for your time [​IMG]

    It's just interesting how we try and influence nature which has the upper hand always .......... so many people these days are no more than battery chickens - safe environment - temperature controlled - food and drink on tap - just makes me angry [​IMG]

    Cheers ...... Chrissie (free ranging)
  9. Davaroo

    Davaroo Poultry Crank

    Feb 4, 2007
    Leesville, SC
    I agree, Chrissie, and its a neat point of divergence - likening us to battery chickens.

    I wonder, though, would you, or any of us, trade that away for survival of the fittest?
  10. chrissieg

    chrissieg Songster

    Today 6:47 pm I agree, Chrissie, and its a neat point of divergence - likening us to battery chickens.

    I wonder, though, would you, or any of us, trade that away for survival of the fittest?

    Better get my teeth fixed! [​IMG]

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