Cockerels and eggs
Cockerels are very much absentee fathers, says Michelle Dunn
In my last article I discussed hens and eggs. This time it’s the turns of cockerels. Just how much involvement do they have in the production of eggs and the rearing of any young? Firstly, of course, the cockerel is necessary to fertilise the eggs. Hens will lay without a cockerel, but the eggs will only be fertile if the hen has mated. Cockerels can tell if a hen is laying or not, and a boss cockerel will rarely mate with a hen unless she is laying or about to lay (this doesn’t apply to juvenile or secondary cockerels who are desperate and will try to mate with just about anything).
Next comes laying. A good cockerel will often pick what he believes to be a suitable nest site. He will then lie down in it and roll about a bit to demonstrate the perfect comfort and dimensions of his chosen spot. He finishes this performance with an odd clucking noise, presumably a cockerel version of,’ now you just be a good girl and do as you’re told’. He is wasting his efforts, though, because the hen, after watching the performance with interest, invariably goes off and lays somewhere else.
If the flock is very small, or there is another cockerel around, the boss cockerel will often stand guard over his hen while she lays. He is not protecting her or her eggs, but his conjugal rights. A hen is sexually receptive immediately after laying, and the cockerel wants to be there to take advantage of this moment. If several hens are laying in different places at the same time, the cockerel will stand guard over his favourite.
When a hen has finished laying, she will announce the fact with a loud cackle. If the cockerel is anywhere near, he will rush over and mate with her. If he is some distance away, he will crow to her so she can come and find him and the flock.
When a hen is broody a cockerel takes little interest in her until she comes off the nest for food and water, at which point he will try his best to mate with her. After the eggs hatch the cockerel has nothing to do with his chicks, and the hen usually keeps her young brood away from the rest of the flock. Cockerels are very much absentee fathers.
Hens don’t want cockerels around their chicks in case they harm them.