“How do chickens mate?” might be a question you have when you first keep a rooster. And it might seem a bit disturbing at first if you have not witnessed a rooster pursuing an available hen. The rooster has many amazing skills and benefits that he will bring to the flock. Being a gentle suitor is not one of his skills. When a rooster notices a hen nearby, quietly doing her thing, scratching and dust bathing, he swoops in for the action.
How Do Chickens Mate?
It seems that the rooster loses all sense of decent behavior as he tackles his love interest. Mounting her back he uses his feet and toes to grasp her wing and shoulder area. He will grasp her neck or head feathers with his beak, often pulling the feathers out entirely. This causes her to crouch into a submissive pose that enables the rooster to successfully penetrate. The whole act takes seconds. The hen is freed. She will shake her feathers out and go on about her business as if it didn’t even happen. The rooster, eager to show anyone watching, will almost immediately begin looking for his next victim. When you think about and witness the answer to how do chickens mate, you will come to the conclusion that the rooster is a barbarian! In many ways, your rooster will act like a caveman. But despite his lack of skill in the romantic arts, your rooster has nothing but the best interest of his hens in his mind.
The rooster will put aside his thoughts of how do chickens mate if he senses any signs of danger in the area. He will scan the sky frequently, looking for aerial attack threats. While his harem of hens quietly eat grubs and grain, he will stand at attention nearby, always looking for a threat to enter the area. If he senses a problem, he will quickly signal the hens to run for cover. And often he will run for cover while he is calling to the hens!
The feet and spurs on a full-grown rooster are his lethal weapons. Hopefully, he doesn’t use them against you. They are quite dangerous if they want to be, and a rooster attack on your own property should not be accepted. Roosters that attack other chickens is also unacceptable. The behavior can be tamed. Aggressive roosters are dangerous to you and the other animals on the farm. A well-behaved rooster will have the talons and spurs ready to use to defend the flock if a chicken predator invades the area. Often a rooster will sacrifice himself as he defends the hens. It is sad to see, but that is the nature of it. We like having multiple roosters on our farm for this reason. They will step up and defend the flock if we are not around.
Adjusting the Ratio of Hens to Rooster
The optimal ratio, to avoid over mating the hens and wear from treading, is eight to 12 hens per rooster for regular and heavy breed chickens. If your rooster has to service a lot of hens, the fertility rate for the fertilized eggs may be low. If you have too many roosters in the flock, fertility might be low due to the infighting between the roosters.
Crowded conditions, stress, old age, weather, injuries, low nutrition, and age of the breeding hens and roosters all affect fertility of the eggs. Some farmers will rotate roosters or groups of hens among more than one rooster. Chickens often have pecking order disputes. Even the best backyard chickens will get into chicken fights and territory disputes. Broody hens can get particularly testy and ill-tempered. If you have more than one rooster, the boys may have territories and special hens that they consider theirs. When the rooster tries to mate with a hen that is not “his,” often a rooster fight will break out. This can be severe, or minor depending on many things. When one rooster tries to take over the flock, the fighting can become life threatening to one rooster. At this point, you may need to make arrangements to separate the flock into two groups or give one rooster to a new home.
The drawback when keeping a rooster in the flock, is rooster damage on the hens’ backs. This damage is from the treading the rooster does to remain on the hen’s back. The feathers on the hen’s back are slippery and to remain in position the rooster has to continually re-grasp the feathers. Often, this results in the hen losing feathers. If your flock ratio of hens per rooster is not optimum, the hens will show treading wear. The bare spots on their backs, head, and wings can become sore, red and even infected, if action is not taken. The toenails on the rooster can be trimmed and filed down to a round shape to keep the damage minimal.
One way to help a hen protect her back is to have her wear a hen saddle. Also called an apron, or jacket, the hen saddle is worn over the hen’s back, with elastic straps around the wings to hold it in place. In some patterns, a strap goes around the neck, also. Hen saddles are not intended to be worn year round. Use them as needed to protect the hens before the damage occurs or until the skin heals and feathers have regrown.
The following instructions are for making a very simple hen saddle. Often, the patterns for these saddles call for two layers of material sewn together. This double layer jacket is durable, but a little heavy. I also noticed that when the saddle or jacket flips up during activity or mating, it doesn’t always flip back down. I am testing out this easy-to-make one layer of fabric, hen saddle.
Here are the Instructions for Making a Simple Hen Saddle
Materials (This is for a full-size laying hen. This is a large pattern for a large hen. You can easily downsize the pattern by using an 8 x 8 square or smaller to start with. Adjust the other measurements slightly.)
9 x 9 inch piece of heavy cotton, or baby flannel. The baby flannel will not fray much and a lightweight fleece will work for this too.
Use pinking shears around the edge of any cotton fabric.
Sewing needle and thread or a sewing machine (There is very little sewing to this project so it is possible to make this without a sewing machine.)
1/4 inch elastic (12 inches per saddle)
Note: I made saddles this way after buying some saddles on the internet. They were well made and double layered. They were very nice. However, my chickens are not careful with their clothing! After replacing a few that were worn out I decided to come up with a method that could be made from scraps, and easy to stitch up in no time. If you don’t have scrap fabric you can probably acquire a few pieces from anyone who sews or check the bargain bin at a local fabric store for remnants.
If you love your roosters, take heart. The overly amorous roosters calm down after the first or second year. They settle and while they still pursue a pretty hen, they aren’t as aggressive about it. Have you used hen saddles to protect your hens?