I belong to several Facebook chicken groups and routinely see posts related to rooster-caused mating injuries. Some are relatively minor, but others are quite severe, requiring medical treatment.
If you know about rooster sexual anatomy you’re aware they don’t have a penis, so I’m not talking about that kind of injury.
You might see your rooster dancing around, dragging his wings on the ground in front of a hen. She will squat, preparing herself for him hopping on board. To keep his balance he will often grab a hold of a beakful of feathers on her neck or the back of her head. If your hen is missing those feathers now you know why.
He then tries to balance himself by stepping up and down, called ‘treading’.
Once the rooster is in place sperm is transferred quickly without penetration: the cloaca of both partners touch and sperm is exchanged in what is coyly termed ‘a cloacal kiss’.
My rooster, Simon, is just over three years old and I have to concede he’s lost a bit of his mojo. I don’t think he’s ever been highly motivated to mate and my hens are happier for it.
When I see photos of hens missing swathes of feathers with raw patches or worse, lacerations caused by spurs I’m glad my hens have never had to endure that treatment. I’ve never see so much as a feather out of place.
Simon only started developing spurs last year – they are several inches long, but not particularly sharp. If you’ve got a rooster with problematic spurs you might want to trim them down with a dremel or file.
If your hens are missing feathers from their lower backs it is often a sign of over-mating. Either a particular hen is a rooster’s favourite or your ratio of hens to roosters is off.
I have one rooster and about twenty hens. If you want to ensure your eggs are fertilized a ratio of one rooster to ten hens is suggested. Most of us don’t care if all our eggs are fertilized. If that’s the case I suggest fewer roosters: there is less competition between the males, less crowing and the hens are less likely to be over-mated. Applying a cloth saddle can protect that area from injury and feather loss.
Simon went through a very short, but aggressive-towards-the-hens phase. Virtually overnight puberty hit and he grabbed the hens by their feathers and even tried mating with one on the roost bars. I posted in a chicken group for advice and most folks suggested I cull him with the belief that ‘once aggressive, always aggressive’.
I’m glad I was patient because soon after he went back to normal. Simon has turned out to be gentle with people as well as the hens – not all roosters are. If you have a persistently aggressive rooster (and not just a teenager going through puberty) I’d suggest you find a more compatible match in order to protect your hens.
Some breeds are more aggressive than others, including meat or broiler birds (i.e. Cornish x).
Signs Of Mating Injuries
- Missing feathers from a hen’s lower back or back of the neck and head.
- Abrasions, lacerations.
- Hen avoids or runs away from the rooster.
- Treat wounds with Chlorohexidine, betadine, iodine, Vetericyn spray, unpasteurized honey, polysporin triple antibiotic or bacitracin ointment.
- Separate hen until her injuries have healed.
- Apply a chicken saddle to protect her back.
- Give Hen Healer or Feather Fixer and feed high protein foods to encourage the regrowth of feathers.
- Make sure there isn’t a considerable size or weight difference between your rooster and hens. I had a bantam rooster for four years in a flock of standard hens. He mated with them and was able to fertilize some of their eggs, and of course, never caused them any damage. A large rooster in a flock of smaller hens can be problematic.
- Trim (rather than remove) rooster spurs.
- Make sure your ratio of roosters to hens is at least 1:10+. Less than that is likely to contribute to over mating of your hens.
- If your rooster is aggressive towards the hens then re-home or cull him. There are loads of gentle roosters looking for good homes and your hens deserve better.
A Note About Drakes
If you keep ducks you might have noticed that your drakes do have a penis and a funky one at that. Their penis is tucked neatly in an internal sack and during sex ejects outside the body. An erect penis can reach 20 cm, or a whopping 42cm, in the case of the Argentine Lake Duck. If that wasn’t interesting enough, a duck penis is corkscrew-shaped, with ridges and backward pointing fleshy spines.
I’ve never had ducks, but from what I’ve heard males are not particularly picky about who they mate with, including other species. As you can imagine, if a drake tries to mate with a hen it can, and often does, result in considerable damage.
This hen had to be euthanized due to irreparable injuries caused by a drake trying to mate with her.
Featured Photo: Holistic Hen