For those who are planning to start a small chicken farm in their home (or are just curious to know how it works and stumbled upon this article), it’s necessary to understand how chickens reproduce. After all, you could supply your own eggs with just a handful of hens, but if you want to think about selling chicken for their meat and feathers, you’ll have to know how the mating process between hens and roosters work.
While there’s a lot of factors you need to consider for starting a chicken farm business such as having enough space, understanding agriculture, and having a feasible business plan, this article focuses on answering the question of how do chickens reproduce. While the concept of one male and one female to produce an offspring applies to both humans and chickens, how roosters impregnate hens is a slightly different process. Here’s how it works.
Why Hens Lay Eggs
Like many types of birds, chickens lay eggs to produce their offspring. However, if you buy a dozen eggs from your local supermarket and crack all of them open, you’re highly unlikely to find a chick hiding in there and will only find a yellow or yellow-orange yolk and a transparent egg white. This is because a fully-matured hen will continue to lay eggs regardless of whether or not she mates with a rooster.
A hen will naturally lay at least one egg every 24 to 27 hours, regardless of whether or not the egg is fertilized. So, you can have a coop filled with hens with no rooster in sight and still get eggs after a day because these hens will start laying eggs once their bodies are matured enough.
This may sound disgusting especially for those who love to eat eggs for breakfast, but eggs to hens are basically what menstruation is to women. Chicken eggs that are sold for consumption are basically unfertilized ova from a chicken’s ovaries that are discarded for newer ova to wait for fertilization. It’s a lot less bloody than what women experience and is edible when coated since it’s covered in a hard shell before release.
A Rooster in the Coop
If you’re going to start a small chicken farm dedicated solely on eggs as the product, you don’t really need a rooster and might find it better to just invest in a few young and healthy hens. Roosters are generally noisy (while hens cluck, roosters crow loudly, which can be bothersome for you if your farm is in your home) and can be very aggressive against other roosters.
So, if you’re really considering a chicken farm and want to reproduce your own chicken for eggs, meat, and feathers, you need at least one rooster in your farm.
How Chickens Reproduce
To produce a baby chick, you’ll need both one rooster and one hen. But the process of chickens mating is different from the way humans mate. For one, roosters do not have penises nor do chickens have vaginas. Instead, both have what is known as a “cloaca.” This is the part in a bird, reptile, fish, and some mammals used for excreting feces and urine and for reproduction. Humans do not have these because we have different holes for these purposes. Hens and roosters have cloacae under their tails for these purposes.
And two, hens do not get pregnant and carry their chicks to term in their womb. Regardless of whether or not a hen mates with a rooster, she will release at least one egg a day. The only difference is whether or not the egg has been fertilized by a rooster’s sperm cell.
When a rooster wants to mate with a hen (and they will mate with several hens many times a day), he will perform certain behaviors to signal his intent to a hen. In most cases, the rooster will drop a wing and proceed to dance circles around the hen. However, this may not be necessary as roosters who are familiar with their hens or are surrounded with many hens will simply mate with any hen.
If the hen is receptive, she will lower her back. The rooster will then mount her and steady himself by using his beak to grab the back of her neck. They will then perform the “cloacal kiss,” a move where the hen lifts her tail and allows their cloacae to connect. From there, the rooster’s sperm passes from his cloacal to inside the hen’s.
Unlike human reproduction and reproduction of other mammals, reproduction for chickens only takes seconds. The sperm travels into the hen’s oviducts where it waits for a yolk (also known as an egg cell or an ova) to enter the oviduct to be fertilized. The egg then develops its hard shell before coming out.
To develop the fertilized egg, certain conditions must be met, especially temperature. Freshly laid eggs are warm, and the egg must continue to be at slightly above body temperature to develop. That’s why hens sit on their eggs to incubate them. However, hens don’t start incubating until she collects a fairly large amount of eggs. Eggs take about 21 days or so to hatch into chicks.
Can Fertilized Eggs Be Eaten?
Fertilized eggs need to meet certain conditions for the fertilized yolk to develop into a chick. However, let’s say that one of your hens mated with a rooster, and the eggs you took for personal consumption were actually fertilized. If you took those eggs before the incubation process could begin and place them inside your fridge, the conditions would be too cold for development to occur and the egg could never develop into a chick.
Getting the Right Rooster for Your Flock
Small chicken farms only have a handful of hens and one or two roosters, so it’s important to find the right rooster to mate with your hens. Just because a rooster is the only male in the coop does not mean that all hens will want to copulate with that rooster.
Hens and roosters can also have favorites and prefer to mate with a specific partner more often than others. If you have one rooster in your farm, you can tell who its favorite hen is based on the feather loss and feather damage on the neck, back, and tail, since the way a rooster climbs onto its mate can cause visible damage if the hen doesn’t have time to recuperate.
A 1990 study found that hens are attracted to roosters based on their secondary sex characteristics like the length of their comb, the color of their eyes, and the color of their plumage. This is similar to the science behind how humans are attracted to certain characteristics in their partner: a hen’s attraction may be due to the genetic features they want to see in their offspring.
While it may be natural for some roosters to skip the courtship dance and mount a familiar hen, more aggressive roosters will disregard the performance altogether, which may make a hen dislike and refuse the advances of the rooster. An aggressive rooster isn’t worth the trouble, even if they have a chance of fertilizing your hens’ eggs.
How to Raise a Chicken Farm the Humane Way
Plenty of farmers avoid treating their chickens inhumanely as mass corporations do when they care more about producing eggs than they do about their chickens’ well-being. These farmers allow their chickens to roam free, live in natural conditions, eat organic food, and provide them with clean and humane nesting material in their coops instead of keeping them caged.
In terms of whether or not the chicken feels pain when they lay eggs, think of it this way: a human woman on her average period will experience some amount of pain, but there’s very little she can do to stop it because her body is conditioned to bleed every 28 days.
This may seem like an expensive way of raising chickens, compared to the low-cost but inhumane ways other corporations treat their animals. However, some people find that eggs that come from “free-range” (chickens who aren’t kept in cages and are allowed to roam free naturally) and organic chickens taste better and provide better nutritional value. This means that some consumers are willing to pay more for eggs from chickens raised in humane conditions rather than cheaper eggs with chickens in a controlled and restricting environment.
Chickens have a certain way of reproducing very different from our own way. You don’t need a rooster for your hens to produce eggs, but if you want fertilized eggs that can grow the number of chickens you have in your farm, you need at least one rooster. When buying a rooster, make sure it is not too aggressive and has the physical features that can attract hens. Otherwise, you’ll just have a loud, ugly, and violent rooster none of your hens will want to mate with and with a much lower chance of increasing your farm’s population.