Friday, 3 March 2017

Attacked by the rooster

I love having the chickens and ducks, I really do, but there are some aspects to chicken keeping that I'd happily do without. This is the first spring that we have kept poultry and so I am learning daily about their behaviour and it's fascinating. It seems that as the days get longer and lighter, the boys get more, well, everything. They are growing again, into tall, broad fine cockerels, they are 'paying attention' more and more to the girls and they are getting decidedly feisty, actually it's more like aggressive, with each other.

The boys that only a fortnight ago would come up to me for a cuddle are now unrecognisable, gone are the sweet natured youngsters, they have been replaced by proud, strutting adults with one thing on their mind - and nothing nor nobody had better get in their way!

Today I learnt to give the boys a little more respect and a wider berth. The Australorp boy that lives with the two girls and Dieselette (also a girl but not an Australorp) has been getting increasingly feisty over the last week and I have sensibly taken to using a poultry panel as a guard to put a little distance between me and him whenever I go into their enclosure. The poultry panel is a wooden frame about 3 feet by 2 feet and is covered with chicken wire. It means that he can see me and I him, but by holding it between us, we have a polite distance in which we can manoeuvre.

Well this evening, he caught me off guard. I had the poultry panel with me and had been using it to give us our own space and then just as I turned away to leave their enclosure he tackled me. 

Actually what he did was to peck the back of my leg. Hard. Hard enough to make me yelp! He really went for me.

But he hadn't finished with his assault, two more hard pecks on my calves and as I moved the panel between us, just for good measure he threw a couple more pecks at my hand.

Cockerel 5, Liz 0.

What's a girl to do? I am not going to have a go back at him, he is just defending his territory and protecting his girls, which is what I want him to do. Just not against me. I don't know if he finds the poultry panel threatening, but I am still going to use it when I have to go into that enclosure. Naturally I am now a little wary of going into the Australorp field, but I will still have to enter it at least twice a day, to open and close their house, but also to collect any eggs. Perhaps this is what made him so cross today, I have been into that part of the field several times today, to see if the girls had laid as I wanted to add a couple of Australorp eggs into the incubator.

Hey ho, whatever the reason for his aggressive behaviour, I have learnt my lesson and I won't be turning my back on him again any time soon. When I came back into the house and washed the five little bleeding wounds and felt thoroughly sorry for myself. I also felt somewhat foolish for having let my attention slip at just the wrong time.

I will monitor how he behaves over the next couple of months. I can't keep a bird that is going to have a go at me whenever I am nearby and I certainly don't want to breed from a bird that has a bad temperament. However, I suspect that today's grumpiness is due to a surge in hormones and being disturbed several times and that over the next couple of months his hormones will level out and die down and he will once again become a pleasant member of the flock.

Sadly if he doesn't settle down again by mid summer, he will have a date with a pot. There is no room on this smallholding for birds that aren't safe to be around us.

It's all change tomorrow in the chicken field. Squeaky, the Cream Legbar cockerel is going to a new home (in Aberdeenshire) where he will have lots of girls around him to woo. 

Big Red will be dispatched, we have two of his offspring and I have just set several eggs into the incubator that may well be his offspring too. It will be a sad day and I have mixed emotions about dispatching Big Red, but the bottom line is that we have more cockerels than we need and I would rather keep a rare breed boy than a mixed breed one and we only have so many spaces in which we can keep 'spare' cockerels.

So the mixed flock will be attended to by another Australorp boy and I can only hope that he doesn't get feisty with me too. This other boy has been living in the chicken palace with the Jersey Giants, but Big White (formerly known as Little White) has made it clear that he doesn't want another chap in his space and to prevent any fighting between the boys I have separated them and the Australorp boy will go into the mixed flock field tomorrow.

The other change that has happened is that this evening, after the birds had gone to sleep we moved the two young Jersey Giants into the chicken palace so that they can live with the rest of the Jersey Giant flock. They should have been moved weeks ago, but the lockdown messed up our plans and only now are they going to the space where they should be. I will keep a close watch over them tomorrow that they aren't being picked on too much by the other Jersey Giants and no doubt in a few weeks they will be fully integrated into the flock.

Thinking ahead, I am not sure how Big White is going to like his flock being increased by quite such a large number when we move the youngest chicks into his care in seven weeks time. There are ten little Jersey Giants in the nursery pen and assuming we haven't sold many of them by then, he will certainly have a boost to his flock.

I will be glad when the hormonal rush of spring subsides and the chicken fields can once again settle down into a gentle rhythm.
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  1. Think you have the right approach re the cockerel. Received wisdom is not to be aggressive back but to pick up and walk around holding and stroking. Dominating in a passive way. We had a really nasty Rhode Island where we tried this and it worked for a couple of weeks then he would revert to old behaviour. He eventually, after a few months, had to go as no one could go in the pen without armour on and it took all the pleasure out of keeping chickens. Thankfully our home raised birds have been fine, but I have a strict two strikes and you're freezer bound rule now. We started with Australorps last year and I found the cocks to be pretty docile, particularly compared to our Legbars.

  2. Oh thanks for the tip about picking up and walking around, I may try that with the others if they get feisty. This one however, is giving me the evil eye today, so there will remain a healthy distance between us. It's irritating as I really want to put some Australorp eggs in the incubator. Our Legbar chaps have all been very docile, actually all the cockerels have until now. These are all home raised birds, so I was even more surprised that he decided to have a go at me!

  3. Sounds odd but we had this with a Cockerel. We took to walking with a stick and placed it between us if he started to think about charging at us. It made me feel secure and worked with the geese but didn't stop the issue. We also chased him once or twice flapping our arms. It seems to have convinced him that we are above him in the pecking order which is what we need. He still has a go at the geese through the fence so it hasn't made him less protective of the flock.

    If you find yourself without the panel and an aggressive bird raise your wellie. Sometimes the sight puts them off but if not a bird pecking or clawing your wellie hurts a lot less than your calf.

    Also keep an eye on his spurs. If he gets you with them he can do real damage.


  4. Thanks for the words of encouragement Dans, luckily his spurs are only little stumpy bits as yet. He seems a bit calmer today, so fingers crossed it was just the weather/disturbing him too much/a bad day. A walking stick sounds like a less confrontational barrier than the poultry panel, so I'm going to give that a try.



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