How Do Chickens Actually Mate?

If you know anybody who owns chickens, and particularly a mixed flock consisting of hens and roosters, you’ve probably heard them talk about the pairings that happen in the warmer season with mixed tones of amusement and dread.

hen and rooster sharing a tomato
hen and rooster sharing a tomato

Of course, chickens mate to reproduce just like every other animal, but depending on who you ask it is either a horror show or a comedy of errors. What’s the deal with that? Is it really that bad? How do they actually mate?

The mating process of chickens is initiated when the rooster climbs on top of the hen to press his papilla to her vent, done in order to deliver his sperm. Though the process is often rough, even violent, it usually occurs after a period of courtship.

Most folks who are passingly familiar with the mating habits of chickens know that it tends to be rough. Sometimes feathers fly and hens can come out the other side looking very much like a battered spouse.

What these people don’t know is that mating usually follows an intricate effort to attract and court a lady by the rooster, and not all couplings result in roughed-up hens.

Whether mating is incidental in your flock or you have a plan for expanding their numbers naturally, you’ll need to know all about chicken mating and breeding. I’ll tell you more below…

Chickens Have Courtship Rituals

I want to clear up a common misconception before we go further. The fact is that chickens do indeed have courtship rituals for mating.

Roosters get a bad rap as hardcore rapists, and while sometimes roosters won’t ask permission, most of the time they’re actually trying to entice a hen to act accordingly.

When mating season approaches, usually in the warmer months, a rooster will start to show affection for a hen by gathering or locating tasty morsels of food around the run or on your property.

He will indicate and call to his hen by clucking and bobbing his head. With a little luck, she will accept and start to grow fond of him.

Later on, a rooster might engage in a mating dance, typically consisting of strutting, dipping of the wings, and turning to the left and right, combining all of those moves into a performance that is sure to woo.

Assuming this works the hen will become receptive to the rooster, but will assess him against his peers for mating fitness: typically on the appearance of his feathers, comb, and wattles, his ability to consistently find food, and also his overall care for the flock as a whole.

Showing her readiness to mate by lowering herself to the ground, dipping her head and slightly spreading her wings, she accepts his advances.

At this point, the rooster will climb aboard and get down to business. We’ll talk more about that in a minute…

Courting Does Not Always Occur, Though

To address some folks who are certainly about to take me to task down in the comment section: courtship rituals between chickens don’t always happen.

Particularly in the case of an aggressive individual rooster, sometimes he will simply try to force himself on his chosen hen or hens.

Now, the hen gets a vote in the proceedings and might try to retreat or fight off the rooster but sometimes roosters can insist pretty hard, if you take my meaning.

As a rule, this is undesirable behavior and will start to cause serious problems throughout the flock in time. That means more problems for you, too. An occasionally rowdy mating does not mean that chaos is going to erupt, but it’s better if things go down nice and easy.

Roosters Try to Establish Dominance Over Competitors

Another factor to consider in the mating of chickens is the presence of multiple roosters. As a rule of thumb, the roosters themselves will figure out the dominance hierarchy of the flock.

You’ll have an alpha rooster, and one or more subordinate roosters. The subordinates will likewise bicker among themselves to find out who’s higher on the totem pole.

But even once dominance is established, each rooster needs a certain amount of hens for himself, or else he’s going to become sexually frustrated. This will result in fights and violence between roosters and against the hens.

Generally, you’ll want anywhere from 8 to 10 hens per rooster, though some breeds are known for being calm and compliant with fewer hens.

Any interloper rooster that makes a pass on the alpha’s girls will be attacked and driven off, and though submission is usually adequate for stopping the fight, this doesn’t always happen and every now and then the roosters will fight to the death.

Keep these metrics in mind before you add additional roosters to your flock: Much of the time, surplus roosters must be exiled to a rooster colony, a coop and run that is far from the hens.

The Actual Mechanics of Chicken Mating

So, time to get down to the nitty-gritty. The rooster and the hen have gone through the courting rituals. The rooster is persistent and the hen is receptive; time for mating to begin. What happens next?

After the hen crouches down and lowers her head, the rooster will hop aboard her back, facing the same direction she is.

He’ll usually spend a few seconds kneading or treading, positioning his feet to maintain his balance and also holding the hen down, further securing his position by gripping her neck, head, or comb with his beak.

At this point, he will dip his hips and press his cloaca to the hen’s, using his papilla, a tiny bud of flesh that is his internal reproductive organ, to deliver his sperm inside the hen.

A receptive hen will help in this endeavor by everting her own cloaca so that the rooster’s sperm can reach her oviduct and be collected.

Once this is done, the rooster will hop off and both birds will shake themselves off and then go about their business.

A hen is then capable of retaining enough viable sperm to successively fertilize each of her eggs for about 5 days, at which point mating must occur again if eggs are to remain fertilized and viable.

Does Mating Hurt the Hen?

Not always, but it is hardly uncommon. The mating procedure in chickens is typically rough, and hens will often suffer pain if not outright injuries.

Aggressive Roosters, Repeated Mating, or a Size Mismatch Can Injure Hens

Something else to keep in mind is that a particularly aggressive rooster, or a large rooster trying to mate with a much smaller hen, has a much higher probability of inflicting injuries, and sometimes serious injuries, on the poor girl.

As a rule, you should try to prevent such pairings in the case of a size mismatch, and if you’re going to rely on an aggressive rooster, you’ll need to take steps to minimize harm to the hen.

How Often Will Chickens and Roosters Mate?

As far as raw reproductive output is concerned, a rooster can mate anywhere from 10 to 30 times a day, depending on his age and vitality. A hen, or multiple hens, will be subjected to this mating based on their ability to get away from the rooster and their willingness.

However, once a hen has laid a clutch of eggs and decided to go broody, meaning she intends to hatch them and raise her chicks, she’ll no longer tolerate a rooster’s sexual advances.

Are Hens Loyal to Roosters?

Yes, generally. Once a hen has bonded to a rooster and is receptive to his mating advances, they tend to be pretty loyal, though of course, other roosters won’t care about this bond and will still try to mate her if they can.

A bonded hen may likewise desert a rooster if his reproductive fitness falls too low or he stops taking care of her or the rest of the flock.

What are the Pros and Cons of Mating Your Chickens?

There are pros and cons to mating chickens, and as a flock owner, you need to be aware of them…

The advantages are that this is the way that chickens naturally reproduce, and it is still an entirely viable way to grow your flock without any intervention or extra effort from yourself.

Allowing a rooster to mate, and mate with the required number of females, tends to keep him calm and focused on his role in the flock. Basically, it helps prevent neurosis in roosters!

The downside, of course, is that eggs can and will be fertilized, and if you aren’t very diligent about collecting and storing eggs properly, they’ll eventually result in chicks which you may or may not want.

Another pressing concern for most owners is that mating is often hard on hens. This means that your time and effort must now be spent caring for and healing the poor girls when it could otherwise be used for other chores.

And, not to be underestimated, allowing chickens to mate means you must necessarily have a rooster, and not everybody wants to put up with a rooster’s antics- or the noise!

What Should You Do to Help a Roughed-Up Hen?

You should watch out for injuries on hens when mating is underway. Keep an eye out for missing and broken feathers, raw, red spots of skin, and potentially even lacerations or puncture wounds from a rooster’s beak, talons, and spurs.

Minor injuries can be treated with antibiotic ointment or medicinal salves and bandages, but serious wounds should be examined by a vet.

If veterinary care is out of the question or unreachable, you might need to resort to cleaning and stitching wounds yourself or using liquid bandages for the purpose.

You can protect vulnerable hens or all hens from the forceful mating of an overeager rooster by equipping them with a hen saddle, a protective garment that straps on and physically shields them from injury, at least by the rooster’s feet and legs.

However, these saddles can cause other problems when left on, namely inflammation, parasite infestation, and feather maladies.

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