### WARNING ###
This article discusses the reproductive process of chickens.
I think it’s fair to say that kids that grow up on a farm are going to know all about ‘the birds and the bees’ long before their city friends do. Let’s be honest, when it comes to animals, discreet isn’t always a factor. Yet despite this, even for us who are experienced and have offspring of our own, it can be a bit of a mystery as to how chickens are getting the job done. This is largely because on a chicken, some of the parts are different.
Chickens mate by performing the cloaca kiss, an act where the cloaca on both the rooster and the hen briefly touch, thereby allowing sperm transfer from the rooster to the hen.
To really understand this process, you have to let go what you know of mating for mammals and step into the world of a chicken. Chickens don’t have the exact same ‘plumbing’ as mammals and the very best example of this is the cloaca.
Cloaca: Hens Vs Roosters
The cloaca really is a remarkable part of a chicken’s biology. Both the hen and the rooster have one, yet they use them a little differently.
For hens, the cloaca is the exit for waste (pee/poo) while also being the exit for eggs and the entrance for sperm.
For roosters, the cloaca is also the exit for waste, but, it is also the place where sperm exits.
It might be easier to think of it like this. If you were to connect two sinks to the same drain – that drain would essentially be the cloaca. Whether you empty one sink of dirty dishwater or the opposing sink of clean rinse water, it doesn’t matter as they will both empty through the same drain pipe (the cloaca).
There are a few nuisances between rooster and hen in regard to what is hooked up to the cloaca, but the cloaca itself is essentially the same for both sexes.
Do Roosters Have Testicles?
As mentioned before, it can be hard for mammals to understand the ‘process’ for chickens. Generally, we’ve all been exposed to some sort of biology in school – whether it’s animal or plant – so we know that there are some universal basics. However, chickens don’t have the external ‘commodities’ that we are accustomed to seeing. This can lead to some understandable confusion.
To set the record straight, a male chicken – aka, the rooster – does have testicles; the part of a male’s body that generates the sperm necessary for fertilizing eggs. These testicles are carried internally and are not visible from the outside.
Do Roosters Have A Penis?
The act of mating for chickens is significantly different than what occurs for mammals. There are a number of videos available (Youtube) that can show you the process. However, there is one notable difference in the act of breeding. You will not see the ‘humping like rabbits’ routine. You will only see careful maneuvering, before the hen raises her tail to meet the rooster’s lowering tail for the cloaca kiss.
With this significant difference in the act of mating, it’s easy to understand why a rooster does not have a penis. A rooster does have an organ called the papilla that is inside of the cloaca. However, while this papilla can be used to identify a male chicken, it does not function in the exact same manner as the penis for male mammals.
To recap, for chickens, there is no penis/no insertion, only a kiss. So the next time some young adolescent asks you if a girl can get pregnant from kissing, and you wish to discourage such behavior, be sure to tell them, ‘that is EXACTLY how chickens have babies!’ Hopefully, you will have kicked that can down the road… for at least a little bit.
Gestation Of A Chicken
In order to really establish the concept that chickens are not mammals, please consider how their young develop.
In mammals, offspring are carried internally – with the female – where the mother’s body temperature regulates the developing young. A chicken, however, does not carry its offspring internally.
For a chicken, the fertilized egg is ‘laid’ in a nest – completely exposed, with only a very thin shell to protect it. Also, in order for the young to obtain the heat that is so crucial for them, a mother hen must sit on the nest for long periods of time without moving.
Another notable difference between mammals and chickens, is that a mother hen will periodically roll the egg – prompting the young to move around inside of the shell. Mammals, with their young being carried internally, don’t need this prompting as ‘mom’ is generally on the move (either to find some bizarre sort of snack to consume…or to vomit it back up, depending on her luck!)
Speaking of food, a female mammal will supply her young with nourishment. A mother hen can not do this, as the young are no longer a part of her body.
A Chickens Mating Behavior
Mating behavior varies from species to species, with some of the more intelligent species having the more in-depth courtships. Roosters, however, really only fall into one of two categories when it comes to courtship; Good Behavior or Bad Behavior.
The reasoning for this is in their instincts. As a rooster reaches maturity, it’s drive to dominate all of the other members of the flock approaches critical mass. A rooster has to be the ‘alpha’ of the flock and they will stop at nothing in order to achieve/maintain this. This is why, roosters kept together, will quite often fight and kill each other – even if they were raised together as siblings.
- Good Behavior – While every rooster needs constant confirmation of its position as top bird, a good rooster will romance his girls with a dance. And a good dance, goes a long ways towards a happy coupling.
- Bad Behavior – It’s worth restating that a rooster is driven by its instincts. And seeing that roosters are generally much larger than the hens, this means that there is nothing that can hinder his behavior. A rooster will force a hen, and if the hen is not receptive, there is a very good chance she will be injured as a rooster will not stop until he feels that he has dominated.
At What Age Should A Hen Be Ready?
A hen’s maturity will vary from breed to breed. Some will be ready earlier than others. But regardless of the breed, roosters tend to exhibit dominating traits long before the hens are ready.
As a rule of thumb, a hen should not be introduced to a rooster before she is at least 6 months old. Personally, I would recommend waiting until she is 8 months old, as chickens continue to grow till around 12 months.
If a hen is not mature, she will not understand what the rooster is trying to do, and she will try to escape. And seeing that a rooster will NEVER stop trying, he will most certainly injure her… if not kill her.
Chickens are remarkable animals…but they’re not mammals. Consequently, they do things differently.
If you are looking to have a rooster mate with the hens in your flock in order to raise chicks, understand that this rooster could act in a ways that you don’t agree with. Some roosters will be nice, while others not so much. And the ones that aren’t nice, could quickly become a problem.
You are responsible for the well being of your flock. So keep a careful watch on your rooster. If you see hens that are limping or have bloody necks, you should immediately consider an over aggressive rooster as suspect.
Remember, roosters aren’t inherently evil, they’re just acting on their instincts. However, their instincts could kill your hen.
### Important Note ###
One alternative, that is actually quite common, to employing a full time rooster is to simply buy fertilized eggs. If you have a hen that goes broody (in other words, she want’s to be a mama), providing her with fertilized eggs will allow her the chance to raise the baby chicks that she so desperately wants.