Why does my cockerel grab at the back of the hens heads and necks?


Feb 28, 2016
I don't know if this is normal behavior or if i have a meanie in the making? My cockerel and ladies will be 17 weeks old in a few days. When I open the coop door each morning, he frantically chases the ladies around and nips at their necks. They run from him as if they are afraid. After a few minutes, he relaxes and everything is fine. The other evening he grabbed at my favorite girls neck and when she attempted to get away, the skin tore. She has been in isolation while she heals, but today I took her out because she seemed to miss her pals. At first, the cockerel kept doing dances around her as to keep the other girls away. Then, after 20 min he grabbed ahold of her neck once again. Luckily he did not grab at the wound, but he did end up pulling several feathers out. I immediately removed her.

Is this normal or do I have a bad Roo in the making? He does so good at watching over the ladies, but the grabbing at the neck so violently is worrying to me.

Feed back would be greatly appreciated :)
It's part of mating. The rooster grabs the hen and jumps on her back, then digs in his spurs to hold on. Young cockerels are very clumsy at first. They mostly just try to grab and mount, but are rarely successful at first. And the hens may be too young to instinctively squat and be still for him. With a young flock, there is a lot of chasing and screaming at that age. Most cockerels will settle down and get the hang of it after a month or so.
Thank you, this gives me hope. I had a suspicion that this was the cause, but since its my first time having chickens I wasn't sure. It'll be nice when he calms down. It's sad keeping my girl isolated due to the wound he made on her neck, and almost making a 2nd one. She must not only be my favorite, but his too. I used to always find those 2 roosting next to each other, seperate from the others.
Might want to give the cockerel a time out(separate him) to give the girls a break if he doesn't settle down soon.
I agree and was working on a plan on how to do that. Luckily, as of this morning he seemed a little calmer, as if he knew what I was plotting to do. I also saw that he was able to mate or mock mate with one of the ladies this morning, so I'm sure that made him a happy fella, although, she jumped on my lap with one of her friends and complained about the whole thing.
I wrote this for another thread a while back so some things may not exactly fit your situation but you might get something useful out of it. It can be pretty rough when they are cockerels and pullets but when they mature into roosters and hens it usually mellows out. If he continues to cause damage isolating him for a while might be a good idea.

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 eventually 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.
Wow, oh WOW! Was that helpful! I wish I had seen this before when I was doing my research about chicken and behaviors. This explains so much and you touched upon behaviors that I've seen, but didn't recognize as something a good cockerel would do, such as his excitement when scratches at the ground; which is him alerting the ladies that there is food where he is scratching. I now understand the dance as well. Had I known the reason for this dance, I would have been able to protect my injured girl from getting pecked at for a 2nd time by him. I was under the impression that he was doing the dance as a way to isolate her from the other girls so that they wouldn't peck at her wound and injure her more. I did not realize that his intent would be to mount her.

This made everything fall into place for me. I can't thank you enough for posting this! Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!!!
I have faith in my Biggie now, that he will turn out to be a good and protecting Rooster. I feel at peace knowing that he is doing everything a normal cockerel would do at his age, and that he is not some big meanie weenie.

Again, a sincere Thank you!

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