The Mysterious Courtship Dance of Chickens

20161105_140426Most birds perform some kind of courtship dance as a prelude to actual mating. There are many magnificent displays in the avian world. Think about what peacocks do in their foreplay to get the lady bird in the mood with their beautiful tails.

Roosters will try to lure and entice their mates by displaying their beauty as well.  They attempt to attract their mates as they fan their wings in a romantic manner.   This is called a wing drag or wing flicking.  He will begin to make some croaking sounds as he gets closer to the hen.

The rooster performs a dance, circling the hen with his wing dropped stiffly towards the ground and quivering.  As he circles around her making his croaking noise, she will either encourage him or try to come up with an escape plan. In a perfect situation the hen will daintily squat down and raise her shoulders to flatten out, welcoming him in every way.

The rooster then leaps onto her back and balances precariously with one foot on either side of her shoulders.  This is called Threading.  He grabs the female’s neck with his beak and pulls back her head. He then lowers his vent opening (cloaca) by sliding his tail under the hen and she pushes her vent opening to meet with his.  There is no penetration.  The sperm released from the male is taken into the vent by the female.  From there the sperm travels up the oviduct where it awaits the release of an ovum.  The sperm can be actively alive in the hen for more than two weeks. This whole sexual act takes about two seconds.  When mating is done, the hen will rise, shake her feathers and go on with whatever she was doing beforehand.

The female chicken does not have a separate vaginal structure.  The vent or cloaca is used for both defecation and reproduction.  The males also have a vent or cloaca but they do not have a penis to actually penetrate the hen.  The rooster’s sexual organ is called the papilla. It is located inside of the bird, just inside of the vent.  It looks like a small bump.  Semen exits through it.  Ducks have a penis but chickens do not.

A hen lays an egg every day or so regardless if there is a rooster around or not.  In order for it to be a fertile egg, you will need the rooster to do his part.  Each time a yolk ripens, the sperm will fertilize it provided it is in the hen’s oviduct.   The white is created and then lastly the shell will form around the egg.  A fertilized egg will have a dot surrounded by a ring around it which looks like a bullseye on the yolk. In an infertile egg there will only be a white dot.  You can check this out by cracking open an egg and looking at it.

Chickens also engage in a little dance called “tid-bitting.”  If a rooster finds a choice bit of food that looks really tasty, he bobs his head up and down and makes his “tid-bitting” call.  He picks up the food and drops it repeatedly in order to attract the hen.  He may even offer the morsel in his beak.  It all looks very romantic and sweet but he is also establishing his role among the hens as a provider and leader.

There are many different recommendations as to how many hens per rooster to give you adequate fertility in your eggs.  Most say eight to twelve hens per rooster. If you have a heavier breed, the ratio would be lower. If you have a smaller breed the ratio would be higher.  If you would like more information on how to improve fertility in roosters check out this article.

You may want to isolate breeders to make sure that you know who the father is. Wait at least two weeks if your hen has been exposed to other roosters to make sure that all of the sperm inside the hen is no longer active.  If you are interested in showing poultry or are just interested in improving your flock you can set up breeding pens where you can isolate certain pairings in order to get certain types of chicks.

As winter ends and spring begins the testosterone in the roosters starts to rise.  Roosters will begin to mount challenges to each other as they fight for the rights to the hens.  You may want to separate the roosters, but remember, once you separate them it will be very hard to put them back together again.

Crowing is both an invitation to hens and a warning to other roosters in the area.  Serious fights can happen between roosters. They can use their sharp spurs as weapons.  Aggression when establishing dominance is normal behavior in the chicken world.  If you give them plenty of space, they will usually work the dominance hierarchy out themselves.  Chickens have strict pecking orders. The alpha rooster is at the top, then the hens and lastly the younger pullets and cockerels.

A rooster can mate up to thirty times a day depending on how many hens are available to him.  Not all roosters are interested in mating or are built for it.  You should have a similar sized rooster matched with a similar sized hen for best chance of fertilization. If you want to try and improve the virility of your rooster, you may want to add some vitamins and electrolytes to his water or some Rooster Booster Poultry Cell. A little B-12 would perk him up a little too.

Most roosters are very interested in mating with the hens. They will chase hens causing them to lose feathers. Constant harassment on the part of the rooster can cause bald spots on the hen’s back. The roosters do have favorite hens which they will mate repeatedly.  You may want to invest in hen saddles.  They protect the hen’s back and sides.  They can also be worn to prevent self-picking or feather picking from other hens.  Pick no more and Blu-Kote are also products that can help prevent the picking and aid in treatment . Vetericyn Spray will help to treat wounded birds as well.

If you want to aid in feather grow back, Feather Fixer  feed can help increase protein in their diet. You may also want to trim the spurs and toenails on your rooster using a diagonal wire cutter.   Information on how to do this is Here.  This can help to prevent any wounds occurring on your hens.

A well mannered rooster who dances for his ladies and waits for them to accept him is a joy to behold. Your pens will be much calmer if you keep and breed roosters with this special ability.

For more tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our weekly blog at VJP Poultry.  VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria Peterson

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