Will too many cockerels lead to anarchy in the hen house, asks Michelle Dunn
With Michelle Dunn
HOW MANY cockerels is too many? If you live in a row of terraced houses with a small garden, the answer might well be one. But if you have a smallholding of several acres with many hens then the answer could be very different.
Cockerels bring many advantages to flocks of hens, but one cockerel too many can lead to spectacular fights and hens reluctant to go inside at night when the cockerels are waiting to molest them.
Introducing a new cockerel where there is already an established gentleman is just asking for fights. But what about when a clutch of young cockerels mature? Young cockerels are often tolerated by the boss cockerel — as long as they run away when challenged. Sooner or later, however, the young cockerel will stand his ground and that’s when fights occur.
There are two types of fights between cockerels — a dominance fight and a fight to the death. A dominance fight is more of a scuffle. At the end, both participants will have minor wounds (which can look spectacular as combs tend to bleed freely) and one or both participants will be exhausted, but no lasting damage will have been done (apart from to male pride). Fights to the death are much rarer, but will happen if space is limited, or the individual cockerels are particularly belligerent.
We have an eight-acre holding and once had two mature cockerels and five juveniles running with a flock of 15 hens, with only the occasional scuffle to mar the peace. We currently have two evenly matched mature cockerels and five hens. The younger cockerel remained respectful of the boss cockerel for almost 18 months, until one day he refused to run away and a dominance fight occurred. It was short and intense and at the end the boss was beaten and sat miserably under a tree while his triumphant rival collected the hens together. In an unexpected twist, the two oldest hens rejected their new man and returned to the old one — which cheered him up no end. The older hens had known the older cockerel for three years and evidently preferred the husband they knew.
Now each cockerel proudly struts around with his loyal hens and fights are a thing of the past. Given the alternative, cockerels, it seems, can learn to share.
It is possible for several cockerels to live together relatively peacefully