At a first glance, this might seem like a strange question. But in reality, it’s actually quite understandable. Generally, our pets are mammals and as such, we are used to certain physical traits indicating male or female. With chickens not being mammals, nor as common as dogs or cats, it’s no wonder there is a little confusion.
However, it is important to note that, while chickens have a notable difference in their physiology, as compared to mammals, there is still both a male and female chicken.
Speaking in general terms, not only will the male and female chicken have different reproductive organs, but they will display unique differences in behavior. This is not to say that behavior can’t cross over sometimes, with a rooster acting motherly and a hen crowing, but in general, roosters and hens exhibit different behavior. You just have to know, what you’re looking for.
Can Male Chickens Lay Eggs?
With certain breeds of chicken, the comb (the red fleshy part on top of a chicken’s head) can be very large for both the male and the female. This is another source of confusion as, for most breeds of chicken, a hen’s comb is relatively small. Consequently, if you were to look in a nesting box and see a chicken with a really big comb, you could easily assume there was a male chicken trying to hatch a clutch of eggs.
For the record, a male chicken (rooster) does not have the associated reproductive organs for producing eggs. Only the female chicken (hen) can lay an egg.
I have read of roosters laying ‘on’ the eggs, just like a broody hen will, but this is a behavior and not a physical act.
### Important Note ###
Personally, I have never witnessed a rooster displaying such behavior. I’m told it’s possible, but rare. What you should expect to see, is a rooster spending his days either dominating his girls or doing battle with potential rivals.
Can A Hen Become A Rooster?
It’s not uncommon for the chickens in a backyard flock to be only female. This is generally because flock owners are after the eggs more than they are more baby chicks. In nature, certain species of amphibians can switch from female to male and vice versa when unbalanced quantities of each is present. With this in mind, it’s easy to wonder if chickens could do the same.
However, a hen will never have the reproductive capacity of a rooster, nor will the rooster ever produce eggs. The reproductive organs of a chicken are established early on and can not spontaneously switch. Consequently, they are what they are forever.
There are, however, plenty of examples of where a female chicken can take on the physical attributes of a male chicken. This generally happens as a hen gets older.
For example, a hen might start growing spurs – a toe-like appendage that resides on the back of the leg of a rooster. Roosters develop these early and use them to fight off threats to the flock or other potential suitors.
Hens can also crow, which is a behavior generally reserved for male chickens.
How Can I Tell If My Chicken Is A Rooster?
As mentioned above, a rooster will generally have a larger comb and wattle than that of a hen of the same breed. Also, roosters will have the notable spurs on the back of their legs, as well as being larger than their female counterparts. However, these attributes are not guaranteed to indicate a male chicken.
The only way to correctly identify a male chicken is to find the papilla, located inside the cloaca. This papilla is the ‘anatomical plumbing’ connected to the testes where the sperm is produced.
As both the male and female chicken have a cloaca, it can be challenging for even someone experienced to differentiate – especially on birds younger than 3 months old.
For most of us, we simply have to wait and see. As the chicks reach maturity, they will start to exhibit behavioral clues for us to cipher.
### Important Note ###
Roosters mature sooner than hens. This is something you should definitely keep in mind as a rooster will act on its instincts long before its sister hens are ready. In other words, a hen of the same age will be to young to understand what the rooster is doing and as a result will view the rooster’s actions as an attack. This is especially bad as the rooster will just keep trying – usually causing significant physical harm to the hen. For a better explanation of this read: How Do Chickens Mate?
Does A Rooster Taste Like Chicken?
An article by the Pew Research Center shows chicken as the most consumed meat in America. With so many people eating chicken, it’s easy to think of the meat you buy at the store as a consumable product – just as we do for apples, potatoes, and a whole other host of foods. But if we were to stop and consider the whole concept of meat production, we would eventually remember that meat is essentially muscle mass – with chickens in this case, being the animal the muscle came from.
For the record, there is no significant difference between the muscle mass – aka, the meat – of a hen and a rooster. Admittedly, there are those who would argue this. But then, we all know that there are people who would argue about anything!
But for sake of this argument, when was the last time you saw rooster and hen meat sold separately? Personally, I’ve got to imagine, that if there was any notable difference between the two, then the market would be certain to capitalize on it.
Just like fish, chicken is chicken, no matter if it’s male or female. However, older chicken can taste different than younger chicken. For example, it can be notably tougher to chew. It’s also possible to notice differences between select breeds of chicken, with flavoring having varying degrees of ‘fullness’.
Should Every Flock Have A Rooster?
This is another one of those questions that is guaranteed to get you kicked off the Christmas Card list if you have the ‘wrong’ opinion. There have been countless ‘debates’ on this, with people firmly entrenched on both sides of the question.
However, while every flock should absolutely have hens (assuming your goal is egg production), roosters are not necessary.
But, should your goal be meat for the freezer, then roosters are your desired purchase as males, with their bigger size, provide more meat than females.
### Important Note ###
If you are considering whether or not to include a rooster in your flock, there are a few behavioral issues of the male chicken that you should be aware of.
Roosters can be very aggressive towards anything they consider a threat to their females. Point of fact, more than a few experienced flock owners have been the target of a rooster’s wrath. Do a search on any chicken forum and you will find images of where someone’s arm or leg has been impaled – deeply!
And unfortunately, this assault can happen much too quickly for you to respond. Animal behavior can change in an instant and for this reason, a toddler should never be around a rooster! A toddler’s face is at the perfect height for a rooster’s attack. And that spur that he has on the back of his leg, will have no problem gouging out your child’s eye.
It’s worth stating that roosters are not inherently evil. They do, however, have an innate behavior that can be triggered by the strangest of things. Your long time ‘feathered friend’ could have years of sweet and gentle behavior… and then turn around and attack a child. Maybe it was because the child was a little too active or maybe it was simply because the child’s size is close to that of a predator. Regardless, your flock is your responsibility, so be very aware of what a rooster can do.