Today marks the beginning of Chinese New Year, and this year, it’s the Year of the Rooster. Of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals, this is one we can definitely get behind. Whilst we might not have any amazing Lion dances and parades, it does seem like an opportune moment to talk about our most vocal member of the farm!
Whilst the Chinese term is a bit more generic, and refers to any kind of farmyard fowl, male or female, in English, rooster (or cockerel) is used exclusively for male chickens. We have three permanent cockerel residents, one of each of the different kinds of breed we keep, living with their respective hens.
The large, orangey brown chickens are the Buff Orpingtons, the small dainty black and white chickens are Silver Spangled Hamburgs and the brown, faintly barred chickens with the majestic looking cockerel are the Cream Legbars.
Unlike some of the other animals, when it comes to chickens the males and females are easy to tell apart – the technical term for it is sexual dimorphism. Next time you’re down at the farm, have a look in each enclosure and see if you can tell which one’s which. Cockerels are often identifiable by looking at;
- Their size – they’re usually bigger and bulkier then the hens.
- Their comb & wattle – one of the first things you might notice is the bigger red bits on their heads. The combs sit on top and the wattle hangs below their beaks.
- Tail feathers – though not always the case, the cockerels will often have bigger, longer, fancier looking tail feathers.
- Spurs – with older, well established cockerels, have a look at their feet. You might notice a big, extra claw on each leg – this is a spur, they’ll use them for fighting!
- Different colour feathers – as with the tail feathers, sometimes, but not always, the males might have slightly different colours, patterns or even look completely different!
- Listen – the cockerels will crow, they can be very loud when they want too!
There’s only one cockerel in each pen, the reason being that they can be very territorial and strict with their flock hierarchy or pecking-order! If there’s more than one cockerel they’ll often fight to find out who’s the boss – not particularly enjoyable when you’re in an enclosed space with nowhere to hide, so to keep it simple and safe, we have one cockerel to multiple hens.
If you’re keeping hens yourself and just want to be able to collect eggs, you don’t even need to keep a cockerel. Hens will lay eggs regardless of the presence of a cockerel at all, however they won’t be fertile, meaning that you’ll never be able to incubate them to hatch chicks. If you’re just after laying hens for eggs though, that’s no problem at all! At Deen City Farm we use our own eggs for our Incubator Schemes, so it’s important for us to have fertile eggs (otherwise we’d have a lot of very disappointed school children!).
Sadly every year, without fail, we have people asking if we’ll re-home their unwanted hens or cockerels, or even worse, illegally dumped on our site. We are not a re-homing or rescue centre, we’re a working farm with – first and foremost – our own poultry and animals to care for.
If you are thinking about rearing chicks or hatching your own chickens, please do consider the (very likely) eventuality that you will wind up with cockerels, and that they will fight with each other and will crow from dawn until dusk! If in doubt, it’s much safer to buy point-of-lay hens from a respectable keeper.
Chickens can make a wonderful addition to any garden and can be fun animals to have around; as with any animal you take on, you have a duty of care towards it, so it’s important to think long and hard about it before you make any decisions!