Why do we need another chicken blog or forum?

Many chicken forums are moderated to sell commercial feed, chemicals and ideology.
I prefer to find my own balance between nature, welfare and cost in raising happy chickens.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

rooster aggression and heredity

The answer yes. It is highly hereditary. (Just in case you were googling to find out.)

There may be cases of sporadic aggression in placid strains, but if you breed from an aggressive rooster, you'll almost certainly see it in the offspring.

By 'aggressive' I don't mean normal rooster jauntiness, picking fights with other boys and keeping cockerels in line. Even game bird behaviour isn't the type of aggression I mean.

I'm talking about roosters that turn on the handler at every opportunity. You go in with a bucket of feed and these boys come charging with claws and beaks striking.

In some cases (if the hens are upset) this is normal and ordinary too. You can't expect to upset hens and not provoke the rooster to protect them. And in breeding season all roosters are a little more protective than usual.

But a rooster that comes at you regularly whether the hens are upset or not is in my view a waste of space. There are plenty of non aggressive roosters around, so why keep a nasty one?

So how do you know a rooster is going to be aggressive? In general you can't tell until the hormones kick in, and by then you'll probably have already culled out most of the non-keepers. Unfortunately temperament is among the latest things to fully show up. However here are some indicators I've noticed that can tend to go with later aggression:

1. overly tame. Cockerels that show no fear around people are often very aggressive as adults. (There are exceptions to this.)

2. aggressive parent hens. Milder hens are more likely to breed non aggressive cockerels; extremely cranky hens often produce savage roosters.

3. certain breeds are strongly infused with aggression. However within a breed determined breeders can remove aggression by culling against it. Light Sussex are often aggressive, and some leghorn strains are particularly bad for it.

Note that there's very little relation between aggression among the birds and aggression toward the owner. Thus ISA browns, while very mean to newcomers and each other, in my experience aren't often aggressive toward the owner.

Unfortunately my malay x leghorn cockerel has just started shaping up to me. He's 18 weeks and a very beautiful bird, but I know from experience that unless there are other stressors (like upset hens) a cockerel that shows the behaviour at 18 weeks will be a monster at 24. Unusually, he wasn't overly tame as a youngster, and in fact has always shown a fair degree of flightiness. But I can see from his half sisters (who are pure leghorn but aren't flighty and are very tame) that he probably has some aggression in his bloodline. Thus I probably won't want to breed from those particular leghorns either. There's simply no point in carrying on traits that make chicken keeping painful.

But a quick word about using rooster handling techniques against aggression. I've certainly tried in the past. With some roosters showing temporary aggression it can probably help. The methods are to never let him tread hens in your presence, never let him eat in front of you, 'peck' him when he tries to eat, and basically dominate him the way a top rooster would. Pick him up when he doesn't want to be picked up and carry him around (the ultimate indignity).

Frankly, these techniques don't work (in my experience) against hereditary aggression, or they only work for a week or two. The moment your guard is down a rooster like that will come slicing and striking. But I quote the methods here in case anyone else wants to try.

Meanwhile, in a few days there'll be a nice healthily raised cockerel in the refrigerator (very meaty he is too!), and I'll be searching for a new breeder, with the usual regrets (he really is a handsome bird).

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