Whether you want to sell some chicks or simply have a sustainable flock, you need to know how to mate chickens. Helping with the process can not only be rewarding to you; it can be highly interesting and educational to your kids too! They’ll quickly go from seeing chickens mate to seeing cute little chicks following their momma. So how do chickens mate? When should you mate them? Let’s find out.
Getting started to mate chickens
The best time to breed your chickens is during spring, which makes winter a great time to start gathering everything! Chickens breed all year long, however it’s in spring when the hen’s hormones are at their prime. This is related to better breeding behavior, such as nest making, sitting on eggs and taking good care of baby chicks.
First thing you need is obviously a rooster. We talked before about all the benefits of owning a rooster before, you’ll have to get one if you don’t have one already. Roosters don’t need to be from the same breed than the hen. They do however need to be healthy and in prime condition. Check that his eye color is even, his comb healthy and that he has no imperfections. You should have one rooster per 7-10 hens. If you have less hens, the rooster may tire them trying to fertilize them.
Now more than ever is very important to ensure that your chickens are all in perfect health, with no infections or illnesses. If you’re breeding a second or third generation of chicks, you must be very careful to avoid inbreeding.
You also need to prepare in advance for the incubation stage. If you’re gonna incubate the eggs yourself you’ll need an incubator like these. If on the other hand you want to let the hen sit on the eggs you might need an area for her where she won’t be disturbed by other chickens.
The mating dance
Now that you have everything you need the mating can start. Once introduced to the flock, a cock can mate with his hens several times a day. This may be tiresome for your hens so you may want to keep an eye on them. You’ll see that, specially during the spring, the rooster will become more attentive to his hens and you’ll see more of his courtship behavior.
When most roosters want to mate, they’ll start a mating dance around the hen. The cock may circle around the hen he intends to fertilize, dragging his wings on the floor to mark his territory. He may also scratch the ground and throw some small things to the hen to catch her attention. Once the hen notices him she’ll squat to allow the rooster to mount her.
Chicken reproduction is a fascinating subject that we explore in depth in this article.
Whether you’re planning on incubating the eggs yourself or letting a hen sit on them, you need to collect the eggs regularly (two or three times a day) so you can choose the best ones to incubate or for a hen to brood. You also want to collect them regularly to avoid them getting dirty. Remember: washing eggs will remove the protective coating around them, leaving them more vulnerable. Since you can’t wash them, collecting eggs regularly is key to avoid them getting dirt on them, which can filter through the shell and damage the fertilized egg.
When collecting the eggs keep your hands clean and be extra careful with them. Avoid damaging them by collecting your eggs in a soft basket. Be very careful when manipulating the eggs, not only so you don’t break them but to avoid disturbing the fragile membrane inside it.
Clean the bedding extra often to make sure the eggs have a better chance by decreasing bacteria that may infect the egg.
Once you have your fertilized eggs, store them with the pointing egg down. Store them for at least 24 hours and for up to seven days. To store them, you need to keep them at 55 °F in an environment with high humidity. Turn the eggs daily to ensure that the membrane doesn’t get stuck to one side.
What you should keep in mind
Roosters mate not only to reproduce, but as a way to establish dominance. If you have more than one rooster, they’ll often compete to mate with the same hen. Hens are usually compliant so, if you leave them to their own devices, the roosters can quickly wear a hen down just to establish dominance. They may also attack each other to get to mate with a hen.
Before starting to mate your chickens, keep in mind you’ll get male chicks half of the time. Roosters eat more food, lay no eggs and may be territorial with each other. Have a plan on how to handle them.
If you want to increase the chances of getting fertilized eggs, you should feed your roosters with a diet rich in vitamin E, with either supplements or food rich in vitamin E.
Roosters can become aggressive, not only towards you but towards your hens also. This doesn’t mean that they’ll attack the hens, however they may hurt them deeply when mating, even if they don’t mate excessively. Check your hen’s sides and head. Keep an eye for missing or broken feathers.
If your rooster is hurting your hens while mating or you have several roosters constantly competing, you may want to consider separating them from the flock. You can also look into chickens saddles, which you can make yourself.
As long as you prepare and take care of your flock, mating chickens will be rewarding and even a lot of fun! Do you have any tips we’ve missed? Share them in the comments below!