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

Table of Contents

Part OnePart TwoPart Three

Old-english-game-cock

Old English Game Cock

Aggression: Toward Each Other

Usually, respectful treatment of the cock in your flock will result in amicable relations. If you have multiple cocks in the flock, however, you must also learn to deal with issues of aggression among themselves.

Cocks have a natural urge to establish their dominance over other males in the flock. How do you respect the expression of that urge and at the same time avoid mayhem? The answer is—it all depends. On the total number of cocks, especially in relation to the size of the flock as a whole; the breed(s) of the cocks; how confined they are; and most especially, the point in the breeding season.

When cocks fight, the intensity of their aggression is strictly a function of how closely matched they are. Understand, however, that by “matched” I refer not only to size but to fighting spirit as well—the will to best the other guy at whatever cost. The outcome of a showdown can never be predicted, certainly not with reference to size alone. If the two cocks are not closely matched, their fighting will not become serious: After some vigorous sparring, one of them will conclude that he is no match for his opponent, and will submit. After that, if the dominant rooster “flares" at him, he will run away shamelessly, and that will be the end of the encounter—the top guy will usually not pursue. If the two are evenly matched, however, they will not back down until one of them is either dead, or beaten so near death he must accept defeat. We have seen such cocks, utterly humiliated, retreat to a corner, back to the flock and head down; and stay in that position for two days before returning to activity with the flock—the very picture of abject, broken-hearted shame. It is a wrenching sight.

Boxwood-broody-cock

Experimental Cross Cock

Early on, we tried to intervene—to separate the combatants to help them “get over it.” Forget it—if interrupted, they simply pick up the contest where it left off, however long they’ve been separated. They must follow the instinctual imperative either to dominate or submit. Our practice after that realization was to monitor fighting; and, when it became obvious we had a deadly serious fight on our hands, simply to pick the rooster we wanted to keep and slaughter the other—it was just too traumatic allowing the fight to go to its unforgiving conclusion.

We found that the easiest way to have two or three cocks in the flock without serious fighting was to add one cock per season. That is, in year two keep a younger cock from the previous year’s hatch, in addition to the original cock of the flock. The younger cock is almost certain to “grow into" a position of subordination to the older, without the necessity of a serious contest to settle the issue. A third can be added the next season, and generally by the next season it’s time to cull the oldest guy anyway—most likely before he has to meet a serious challenge as he ages.

Boxwood-broody-cock-2

Experimental Cross Cock

The more cocks you have in the flock, of course, the more likelihood that two or more will decide it’s a good idea to “duke it out.” Since I breed two breeds, and make some experimental crosses, I currently have nine cocks in the flock. Preventing serious fighting can be a challenge. I have found that the more space cocks have, the lower the level of aggression; and conversely, the more confined, the more likelihood of fighting. In the summer, there are usually no serious problems when several cocks are in the flock on large pasture plots (defined by electric net fencing). When I confine the flock to winter quarters, things get a bit more intense, and I monitor daily for serious aggression. One strategy I use is to provide “baffles” in the corners of the chicken house as a refuge for a subordinate cock who wants to retreat from the attack of a more aggressive one. Fair-sized pieces of scrap plywood, for example, make good baffles—just stand them in a corner, so that the corner itself becomes a hidden retreat with narrow access on either side. Once the retreating guy gets out of sight of the dominant one, the aggressor will usually not pursue.

But that is not always the case. I can’t stress enough the need to monitor constantly, and be prepared to take action when required. For instance, a few weeks after confining the flock to winter housing this year, I noticed one of the Old English Game cocks was a little “beat up.” I set up the baffles, assuming that would solve the problem. It didn’t. The next day the beaten cock was in much worse shape. I prepared the “Breeders Annex” (where I isolate my breeding pairs and groups) for moving all the cocks, but by the time I had it ready, the beaten cock was in such bad shape that, after a couple days isolation, he died. I should have been ready for fighting by having already prepared the Annex. Had I done so, I would not have lost one of my breeding cocks.

In any case, the move of “the boys” to the Annex stopped the fighting within the day—with “the ladies" out of the equation, what was there to fight about? For a couple of weeks, it was the Peaceable Kingdom. Then one day I found two cocks with bloodied combs. This time my response was more timely: I immediately isolated the cocks in separate pens. I prefer to avoid doing that until I’m ready to make up my breeding pairs and groups (to avoid the extra work of servicing individual pens), but in this case that was the only solution to serious fighting.

Cock-buddies

Buddies

An interesting thing to note about the separation, however: Because of limitations on the number of available pens, I had to place two of my Cuckoo Marans cocks in the same space. Fortunately, the two have gotten along quite amicably—they have never evidenced the slightest degree of aggression toward each other, and indeed seem to be great buddies! Clearly a cock’s breed has a great influence on his inclination to fight. My Old English Game and OEG cross cocks are—not surprisingly—a good deal more “feisty” than a typical “barnyard” breed such as the Marans.

My current strategy seeks both to include a wider genetic mix (by breeding multiple cocks), and avoid some of the problems of having many adult cocks in the flock year round. As said, I have nine breeding cocks at present—more than I want to keep through the pasture season. After the breeding season ends—say around mid-May—I plan to slaughter all but one cock (or at most two—from separate generations) for each breed, then turn the remaining few out with the general flock on pasture. The cockerels from this year’s hatch will not fight the older guys as they grow; and are not likely to start seriously challenging each other, either, until we approach the breeding season in late winter. Then I can again isolate all the males in the Breeders Annex and, when necessary, in their separate pens as I prepare for the breeding season. Such a plan should allow me as many young cockerels as I want, while minimizing serious conflict between older cocks.

As always, of course, I have to monitor constantly and, if there are problems, adjust. That’s the name of the game when dealing with the cocks in the flock.