When the days get longer and brighter and the temperatures start to rise, the flock will start to feel the pull of the mating season.
But how do chickens mate?
Most of us do not think about how chickens mate, why would you?
But if you are in the business of breeding and raising birds you need to know a bit about the process. Even if you are raising a few backyard hens there are a few things that are helpful to know about.
In this article we will explain how chickens mate by following the mating process starting from the start to finish…
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Courting And Mating Behaviors
Courtship and mating behaviors are driven by hormones.
Hormone levels increase in the birds as more daylight becomes available during spring time.
It is during this time that hens will look for the chosen rooster.
What does the chosen one offer you may ask – how is he different from the others?
The head or alpha rooster will be the leader of the pack. He will likely be the largest, have the best feathers and his comb and wattles will be the reddest.
He is also the best provider and protector of the flock.
Surprisingly hens do consider all of this, after all, survival is the name of the game and the chicks will need the best genes for a cracking start at life. Younger males may compete for the top spot and the winner will become (or stay) leader until he is defeated.
When mating season starts the rooster will go into overdrive – mating will become his occupation and obsession.
In the wild survival can be a matter of numbers. So the more offspring a rooster produces the better chance the flock has of surviving.
He is at his most potent early in the morning and again in the evening (but he will mate all day long if he can). Roosters have been recorded as mating up to 30 times a day.
To try and impress females he will tidbit – this is where the rooster finds a tasty treat and calls the hens over to inspect it.
He will tuk tuk them and keep picking up the food and dropping it ready for her inspection. The head bobbing behavior is thought to be a ploy to attract attention to his wattles and comb. If the hen likes what he has found, she will eat.
While these behaviors may not directly lead to mating at that time, the hen will remember.
The roosters will start to get a bit more active and the hens will start to become more receptive to his advances.
Just like with our species, male chickens like to impress the ladies. Being a gentleman is remembered by the hens and the likelihood of her mating with him increases.
When he has selected his chosen female, he will do a little courtly dance around her to signal his interest. He may get rebuffed several times with some hens but once he is on a roll there is no stopping him.
Secondary roosters will also attempt to mate with hens in the flock. They will be chased away from the hens constantly and battles can happen. However research reveals that some of them do get to mate with the hens occasionally by using quiet and devious tactics.
Some roosters offer false promises – they tuk tuk over nothing and then try to woo the hen in question. Usually she will have none of it and false promises are remembered!
How Do Chickens Mate
Chicken mating is precarious at best and watching your chickens mate can lead to some seriously funny moments.
They will mate when they are good and ready – no amount of rooster dancing will make them do otherwise.
In fact some hens will never submit to the rooster.
When she is ready she will go into a squatting position to signal submissiveness to the rooster.
Her wings will be held slightly out to the sides and her head and body are lower to the ground. This position helps the rooster to maintain balance while he is treading her.
A rooster’s anatomy is a bit challenging for the poor boy. He does not have a penis to speak of, just a little bump called a papilla that is located inside his cloaca. There is no act of penetration, instead he will give her what is known as a cloacal kiss.
Once he hops aboard the hens back he must position himself carefully so that their cloacas can touch – she will lean forward while he is leaning slightly backward. Once the cloacas touch, his cloaca will deliver the sperm package to the hen whose cloaca has everted (turned out) to receive the package.
All this usually takes less than 30 seconds. He will walk away, maybe crow, she will shake herself and carry on with whatever she was doing at the time – ahh, romance!
To understand what happens next we will go into the hen’s anatomy so we can understand the journey of the sperm and fertilization.
This video gives a good overview of the parts of the hen’s reproductive tract and the functions of those various parts.
Once the rooster has delivered his sperm package, the sperm will continue their journey up the reproductive tract. A sperm package can contain up to 5 billion sperm (if the rooster is at his peak).
The sperm have a long way to go and will need to travel up to the infundibulum which is a distance of about 25 inches.
Not all sperm will travel up to the infundibulum at the same time.
Some will be stored in little tubules or pouches in the hen’s vagina (this is reserve sperm and is viable for 4-5 days). Hens can store sperm from multiple roosters and can also eject about 80% of a rooster’s sperm if she decides he is unworthy.
Problems With Mating
Non-dominant rooster: If the rooster is not dominant over the hen she may be very unwilling to mate with him and may refuse completely. You can see this when a young, new rooster is introduced to the flock. The older more dominant hens will stand up to him and may cause him injury. As your young rooster grows and matures this issue should take care of itself.
Feathers and fluff: Birds that have a lot of fluffy feathering at the rear can cause problems with insemination. Sometimes it is necessary to trim the feathers around the cloaca to allow better access for the rooster.
Obesity: This is a problem with some backyard flocks. We all love to spoil our chickens but obese hens can have some fertility and egg laying issues as a direct result.
Size: No matter how hard he tries, you are going to have problems mating a bantam male to a standard hen. It can be done but it requires patience and persistence on your rooster’s behalf.
Injuries: Sometimes an overexuberant rooster can tear up hens. In this case it is best to replace him.
Caring For Injured Hens
Hens can get injured because of:
- Over mating.
- Inexperienced roosters.
- Or roosters with long spurs.
Over mating can be solved easily. Remove the hen from the mating pens and let her recover for at least a few weeks.
Now onto inexperienced roosters, they can cause some hens a lot of damage. After they mate you should check your hen for any open wounds that need to be treated. If you have open wounds to treat, use plain Neosporin or a suitable balm on the wounds and keep her isolated until the wounds have healed. Large skin tears should be evaluated by a veterinarian as stronger antibiotics may be needed along with stitches.
If he keeps cutting her then using a hen saddle will help. The hens can wear them while the rooster is mating with them – it saves their feathers and skin a lot of wear and tear. Just make sure to check the saddle each day. The saddle makes the back warm and inviting to lice and mites, so check frequently!
Finally, roosters with long spurs. Make sure to trim them before mating season starts. This will prevent some of the commonly seen damage.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to make chickens and roosters mate?
Generally speaking roosters rarely need any encouragement to mate. If you have particular birds that you want to mate, put them into a pen together and give them time.
Do chickens need a rooster to lay eggs?
Chickens will lay eggs without a rooster.
How often do chickens mate?
In the mating season a rooster can mate numerous times each day (between 10-30 times a day). Hopefully this is not the same poor hen!
What is selective breeding?
Selective breeding is where only the best versions of the breed are breed. This is done to improve the egg laying, meat or appearance of the bird. Selective breeding in past times has given us all of our beloved breeds including Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds and Silkies.
When breeding your chickens your biggest concern should be for the welfare of your hens.
Make sure your hens do not get over-mated during the season.
If you are looking for actively broody breeds then breeds such as Silkies and Cochins are happy to sit on any bird’s eggs in order to hatch them.
We hope this has been helpful in explaining a few things about the mating process for you.
If you still have any questions then let us know in the comments section below… Will you be breeding your chickens this year?