Hen eggs are usually not fertilized if they are laid in the absence of a rooster. For a hen to lay fertilized eggs, she needs a rooster. A rooster mating with a hen results in the production of fertilized eggs. If you are looking to expand or maintain the size of your flock, or if you are keen on selling fertilized eggs, you will need a rooster and you will need to ensure that your hens and rooster are mating.
In this article, we explain how to successfully get your hen’s eggs fertilized and the steps surrounding the process.
The Chicken Courtship Ritual
Though roosters are keen to mate at almost anytime, their reproductive drive peaks during springtime, as this lines up with the beginning of the laying season in hens. At this time, they may exhibit courtship patterns.
In some cases, there is no courtship or ritual, and mating between the rooster and a hen can be aggressive, leaving the female with injuries. Because roosters are more keen to reproduce than hens, it’s important to ensure there are more hens in your flock than there are roosters. This way, his attention is divided on many hens rather than just one hen. Most backyard flocks keep one rooster for 10 hens.
Chickens have a pecking order, and it is usually the fittest rooster that is on top of the pecking order. He will fend off interest from other roosters, and this may lead to aggression and fighting. The more submissive of the two roosters will usually run away and bide his time.
Dominant roosters do not allow other roosters in their territory to mate with the hens; however, roosters that are brought up together often form a coalition, don’t mind each other’s presence, and will not prevent each other from mating with the hens in their territory.
The hens assess roosters according to their ability to look after the flock, provide food, and stave off other roosters. Colorful and large combs and wattles are also considered highly attractive to females. If a hen does not like a rooster, she will not always mate with him, even if he is the only rooster in the coop.
Though roosters are usually heavier and stronger than hens, a hen may at times be overly aggressive and consider herself higher up in the pecking order. She may fight with the rooster and she may not allow him to mate with her.
Even with the ideal ratio of males to females, it is not unusual for a rooster to have one or two favorite hens—ones that he returns to in preference to others in the flock. These hens can become over-mated. They may have damaged skin and show a loss of feathers around the back and neck. Hen saddles can be placed on the favorites to prevent this damage from occurring.
How Do Chickens Mate?
The actual process of mating is relatively quick. Once any courtship has been completed, the rooster will hop on the hen’s back. If the female is compliant, she will squat and drop her head and body. By also spreading her wings, she is showing her willingness. The male will tread to help him get balance and will usually grab the neck of the female to further steady his balance.
The Cloacal Kiss
Once the rooster is in position, he drops his tail down and delivers a cloacal kiss. A rooster does not have a penis, but rather a bump inside the cloaca called the papilla. This delivers the sperm. The hen must extend her cloaca to receive the sperm. The sperm can be stored by the female’s body for up to 2 to 3 weeks. This means the eggs a female lays for this period will be fertilized. Interestingly, this is often the amount of time a hen needs to lay a clutch before she goes broody.
Once the mating process is complete, the rooster will usually walk away and the hen will collect herself and carry on.
What Age Do Roosters Start Mating?
Cockerels usually reach sexual maturity at the age of 4 to 5 months of age. At this age, they will usually produce sperm and start to act like roosters. The amount of sperm that they produce will diminish as they age, but a rooster will normally remain active for several years. Their reproductive fertility begins to decline after 50 weeks of age.
Why Do Chickens Run Before Mating?
Sometimes, when the hen does not want to mate, she will run away. The rooster may chase her, and this is why multiple hens are recommended for each rooster. Roosters are generally willing to mate more often than a hens deems necessary.
How Many Times Can a Rooster Mate in One Day?
Roosters are highly virile birds. They can produce between millions of sperm at a near constant rate once they are mature, and the production of new sperm is near-constant. A typical rooster can mate between 10 and 20 times each day.
How Do You Know if a Rooster Has Fertilized an Egg?
Candling an egg that’s been incubated for at least 4 to 5 days is the most common way to determine viability. Allow the egg to incubate for around 4 days, take it into a dark room, and shine a bright light under the large end of the egg. If it is fertile, you will be able to see a dark spot surrounded by veins. Otherwise, you will just see the round shape of the yolk.
Candling is done on days 4, 10, and 17 to check that the embryo is developing. The process is called candling because candles were the traditional method, though nowadays, chicken farmers tend to use a bright light or specialist light.
- Related Read: 15 Best Chicken Breeds for Eggs
Roosters are sexually active from several months after birth, and it is their job to ensure the survival of the flock by mating with hens and fertilizing eggs. They take this job seriously and may employ courtship rituals such as tidbitting and rooster dancing, although some forgo these rituals and try the more direct approach. The rooster will hop on the hen’s back and perform a cloacal kiss, delivering sperm into the oviduct. This will fertilize her eggs for a period of about 2 to 3 weeks. Now you know how chickens mate!
Looking for more information on roosters? Take a look at:
- 10 Proven Ways to Deal with Aggressive Roosters
- 8 Ways to Stop a Rooster From Crowing Excessively
- Why Do Roosters Make a Crowing Noise?
Featured Image Credit: lhor Berkyta, Shutterstock