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Working with the Cock(s) in the Flock
Part Two

Table of Contents

Part OnePart TwoPart Three

In most ways our management of the cock is no different from that for the hens—his needs for feed, water, opportunity to dust-bathe, etc. are the same. In one way, however, dealing with the males presents a unique challenge: the cock’s natural aggression. [Actually, hens can be seriously aggressive toward each other as well, but in most cases only when they are mothering a clutch of chicks.] Let us consider the problems of aggression—first toward people, then toward each other.

Aggression: Toward People

Make no mistake, an attack from a feisty cock can be a painful and stunning experience! He uses both shank and wing pinion to “flog" leg or torso with a force surprising for an animal so small, and shocking in the sheer violence of an attack that holds nothing back. When a sharp, well-aimed spur strikes home, the result can be a scar that lasts a lifetime, both physical and mental. A “playing for keeps" attack from a determined cock is no casual matter.

I have listened in amazement to far too many horror stories about “mean roosters” who terrorized the family for years! I can never believe such behavior was tolerated—at my place, any rooster who doesn’t understand that I am the top cock in the flock gets a short trip to the stewpot. However, it is my belief that examples of serious aggression toward people are almost always the result of mismanagement on the part of the humans involved. It is possible to avoid the development of aggression problems, foremost through respect for the bird, and by understanding the instinctual basis for his behavior.

We call unwelcome attacks by the cock “aggression,” but truly the behavior is defensive in nature: The cock is acting out of a deeply felt duty to defend the flock. Once he has concluded you are a threat, he will fight you without hesitation—and believe me, he doesn’t care that you are twenty times bigger than he is! The key to good relations, then, is to convince him you are not a threat to his flock.

When you are working with the flock, especially in close quarters, keep your movements quiet and gentle, allowing the cocks (and indeed all the birds) plenty of space so they don’t feel “pushed” or crowded by you. Avoid sudden movements. Don’t carry large flat objects (an empty feed bag, a piece of plywood)—apparently the birds see it as a flying predator. Avoid having to catch one of the hens in the cock’s care, especially in close quarters—perform such chores as examining or banding at night if at all possible.

Cock-friends

Making Friends

I like to offer my “boys” special treats by hand from time to time, just to encourage a more accepting bond between us. If they are with the hens, they will usually approach with the hens to get the offered treat. If isolated in the breeding pens, they may hang back, uncertain, at first, but eventually will come to get the tidbits from my hand. A crushed hard-boiled egg is a good choice, or a handful of sprouted grain. The more often I take the time to “be friendly" in this fashion, the more “mellow" my boys become.

It is especially important that children be taught how to behave around the cock of the flock. We once had visitors whose three-year-old son I allowed into the chicken pen. In his excitement, he began running back and forth among the chickens, when suddenly the cock—who had never shown the slightest aggression toward me—jumped up and attacked the boy from behind. I have a neighbor who suspects that his daughter teased one of his cocks by rattling a stick on the fence of the pen. The resulting tendency to go on the attack whenever a person entered the pen was resolved only when the cock was accorded the place of honor at dinner.

I once had a closed 10x12-ft mobile pasture pen. Though designed for broilers, I began using it for a laying flock of New Hampshire Reds with a cock. Since I had made no provision for collecting the eggs from outside, I got down into the confined space to collect. Naturally the poor cock felt his flock was threatened, and reacted accordingly. So intense were his attacks that I had to carry a trash can lid to ward him off as I frantically collected the eggs—an embattled gladiator just barely holding his own in the coliseum! By the time I returned that flock to the poultry house for the winter, the cock’s defensive behavior toward me was thoroughly set, and I regretfully took him to the chopping block—I am not going to be looking over my shoulder around my birds. Still, I felt terrible slaughtering the poor guy, fully aware that his behavior resulted solely from my mismanagement. Having never forgotten that lesson, I now try to anticipate and avoid potential showdowns.

For example, one of my Old English Game cocks attacked my hand while I was filling the feeder in his breeding pen. My first inclination was to jerk him up by the neck and “teach him who’s boss!” Instead, I closed the door to the pen and thought about what had happened. The cock had been no problem whatever as I serviced the pen for a couple of weeks. But I had just moved a couple of breeding hens in with him the day before. Now he had a different sense of what was at stake when I entered that space. I changed the way I serviced the pen—it was as simple as removing the feeder from the pen before filling it—and had no more conflicts with the cock.

Please be on guard against an intensely emotional reaction when challenged by one of your cocks. True, if it comes to a showdown, you will doubtless “win.” I have even heard people claim that they actually did beat a cock into submission. To me, that is more admission of defeat than wise management.

Remember, you have more options than he does. Act like it.