Your Flock Partner!
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Having a rooster in your flock (or several) will be the best choice you ever made. Yup.
A rooster is genetically mapped to focus and care for his flock. We have all heard the story of the valiant bird that beat off the hawk or lost his life to a fox. Get his CARING instinct to work for you. It is incredibly easy to do, and if you have ever joined the gaze of a rooster you will drift into his soul. They just brim with dark pools of affection.
I have some pointers on crowing issues as well. Crowing doesn’t have to be a nuisance – it is a beautiful song, a warble sounding of country lanes and fresh cut hay. Maybe you just want the volume turned down? I have reformed misunderstood roosters and all of my roosters are gentleman. By their nature, roosters are hardwired to be affectionate. They will dance for you, feed you (called tidbitting), follow you and think you are the best thing in the world. Dogs ain’t got nothing on a good rooster. Once you hear your rooster cooing and sighing with love, you will never see these beautiful birds the same way again.
There is a rule above and beyond all the other rules. If you break it, I can’t help you. Violence, anger, intimidation and aggression have NO PLACE around animals (or humans). This is animal abuse (I rescue abused chickens). Animals will avoid anyone who exhibits this anti-social behavior. If you work with your animals with an aggressive or angry tone you will be met with aggression or avoidance.
You earned it.
Don’t own anything beyond a lawn mower or a rake. And the lawn mower is iffy as they also show avoidance behavior.
Show the rooster that you work with him to care for the flock
- Feed treats to the hens. Give him treats to hand over to the hens. You are demonstrating to him that you are “helping.”
- Be a decisive and clear intentioned poultry keeper. I call this the “noble leader,” as animals do not understand human status rules. Your chickens do not care if you are a doctor, physicist, trash collector or a mailman with a brand new BMW. They judge you on WHO you are. Animals hate narcissists because this tells them you are not out for their safety or needs. A rooster wants a “leader” who shares his duties in caring for the flock. There is no human ego stroking in the coop – you have to earn your status and their respect.
- Animals read body language. Do not sneak around, move like a stalking predator or flutter about with jerky movements (this is why chickens are often wary around kids). Act directly and with confidence. Be clear. Practice before a mirror – and be honest – the chickens will not hold back. If you are moving “creepy” the chickens will tell you. Creepy is creepy. The meek may inherit the earth but not the coop.
- Avoid eye contact. Chickens make fleeting eye contact to acknowledge others. Holding eye contact is scary, intimidating and may be viewed as a challenge.
- Pick up your roo and cuddle him. They loooove it. Keep him away from your eyes at first and tuck his head firmly under your chin (triggers a squeeze shoot calming effect). Stroke from his head down to his shoulders with the lay of the feathers. Be diligent. If he worries and struggles, hold onto him until he stops wriggling (this is key. Do not put him down WHEN he is struggling as then you are teaching him to wriggle. Put him down when he does the RIGHT thing, and that is sitting still). Praise him and then put him down. He will learn two things: you aren’t hurting him and petting feels pretty good.
- Remember: Animals learn from the RELEASE of pressure not FROM pressure. This technique is called negative reinforcement (see notes on behavior below). Most people continue holding the pressure. Think of the individual always hanging on the dog leash and letting the dog pull them around. The dog has become desensitized to the pressure - the pressure is a thing to ignore, because it is a constant with no apparent meaning.
- Praise the rooster when he does his job. Did he alert the flock to a danger? Praise him. Show him that you see the danger and have his back. Chase away the danger. This simple act gives you a giant status raise in the coop and the rooster will kiss you – maybe. Did he discipline a hen or another rooster. Praise him again (see note on chicken culture below).
- Be a flock member. Once again, the flock is the rooster’s purpose and priority. Spend as much time as you can with the birds. If you are never “there for them” they will not care about you.
"Who the heck is that?”
“It’s the dude/lady who moves the buckets around and saves the poop.”
“Oh yeah, that’s gross and weird.”
How to be flock member: Chickens LOVE yard work and gardening (bugs, JACK!), always invite them to work with you. Sit with them. Hang out with them as they forage. Get down and forage too. Find them bugs and dig for worms with them. Curiosity killed the chicken, not the cat. Trust me. Don’t force your birds. They will want to know what you are doing. Patience. Animals learn from rational experience. They go towards what is interesting and intriguing. Force and impatience will DRIVE them from you. Animals move AWAY from irritation and towards interest and comfort.
Start The Baby Right
- Bonding with your rooster is easiest if he is still a chick. If that is your situation, congratulations. Don’t mess it up!!!! Handle him and treat him like the king of the coop. Never give him a reason to fear you. Nearly all aggressive rooster problems stem from the rooster fearing you or thinking you are out to harm his flock.
- Young cockerels get, well…cocky. This is play behavior (Stay tuned for “Raising Boys”). CRUCIAL REACTION: You can make or break the future here. They are still babies and are testing ideas. The cockerel will play with you and he will not understand how hard he bites. Enjoy this playtime. Animals use PLAY to learn about interacting with others. He will practice sparring and mating behaviors with you. Usually the cockerel is mock mating when he “grabs” hold of you with his beak. He may break skin – so what – wear gloves. DO NOT discipline him. If you need to do something – stop playing. This says “you are too rough” to the bird. This phase will pass – trust me – deal with it – he will grow out of it. We call those picks "rooster kisses." If you must calm things down, or sparring between boys gets too much, a squirt with a water-loaded spray bottle makes your point. If you hit him he will intensify his pressure. If you continue to hit him (refer to abuse in the second paragraph), he will register fear and you are on the road to a bad relationship. When a 160 pound human uses force on a 7 pound bird...this does not need an explanation.
- Don’t be a wimp (remember the meek story). Do not let cockerels breed a hen in front of you (see “Chicken behavior” below). Gently brush him from the back of the hen (mounting behavior). Very few hens will let a cockerel breed them – their punishment will be enough.
Crowing: All roosters crow. There are many different crows and meanings to crows. Roosters can and do crow all day. Crowing is never random.
Alarm clock crows: If you are a farmer that sleeps late, keep your birds in the coop. You can still hear the roosters? Roosters must extend their neck to release the air for volume. If the roo cannot extend his neck = no volume. Simply put a “ceiling” over where the rooster catches his zzzz’s. He will not be able to raise his head to crow.
Bad neighbors: Collars. Thank God. The “NO-CROW Collar” will prevent your mean neighbors from grumbling (a rooster crow is no louder than a barking dog, street traffic or playing children but some people are just…haters). Many a roo’s life has been saved by this invention. It works. Can you imagine demanding your neighbor’s dog be killed because it barked? Unbelievable. Life is cheep. Find these at your favorite chicken store, or get a special no crow rooster collar.
Notes On Behavior
What is negative reinforcement? Not what it sounds like and it has everything to do with how your TV remote works. When you are watching TV and a show that you hate comes on (negative stimulus), you groan and reach for the remote. You change the channel to your favorite show (aaah, nice. Reward). You have the power to change what you don’t like from happening. In training you want to give the animals the remote control.
Example: You want to pick up your chicken but he squirms. If you put him down WHILE he squirms you have taught him that squirming gets the release. If you keep a hold of him while he is kicking and ONLY release when the wriggling STOPS – bingo – he learns that being still gets the release. Some birds never enjoy cuddling( I have yet to meet a rooster that doesn't like hugs, but some hens do not) but at least they will be calm when handled using this basic training method.
Chicken Culture: Animals do not subscribe to ideas of equality or whatever other notions humans create (some human behaviors are relative and are haphazardly invented and ascribed to eras and regions - hence, some practices are not reflected in nature due to this creative randomness). Chickens have a pecking order. Indeed. Animals only care about knowing “where” they stand in their society. They don’t aspire, “one day I will be hen number 2.” No. What happens is, a flock will establish their hierarchy through social signals and communication. They test each other. It is cut and dried and incredibly analytical. Animals are pure reason if there is such a thing. If Priscilla is able to move Henrietta off the roost – huh – she just rose in status. Roosters have one “leader” bird. The other boys defer to him. Every time. Period. Every time. You must obey these rules. Roosters work out this status and unless it gets too violent (you may have to separate an old or sick roo), and it can, watch them as they work the hierarchy out. A leader rooster NEVER, EVER allows any other roosters to cover a hen in front of him. In chicken society mating is linked to politics and only the lead rooster mates. A rooster will mate a hen in front of you or visitors to show you he is the leader.
Bribes/trickery: “But I feed and pay the bills, those chickens ooowwwe me!” Ummmm. No. Chickens, and animals and children, do not understand this. This is a figment of indebtedness invented by human society. Chickens bond through actions and behaviors and have no concept of money or “indebtedness.” Be good to your birds (literally) and they will be good to you.
Please shoot me an email if you have any bird behavior problems or issues! All birds are individuals and all circumstances unique. Stay tuned for: “Raising Baby Boys,” and “Dealing With Rooster Fear-Aggression.”