Roosters – What to Expect with the Onset of Spring

Roosters – What to Expect with the Onset of Spring

Ahhh, spring!  Spring is usually a welcome sight for most of us.  It brings greener pastures, new birth, and awakened hormones!  Today, we are going to talk about some behavioral changes that may happen in your flock as spring arrives and your birds’ focus switches from the winter lull to peak mating season.  

Hormonal Changes Related to Light

Egg production is a reproductive function.  We all know that natural sex hormones play a vital part in any animal’s reproduction – even our chickens!  Light is one of the major factors that triggers this cascade of natural hormone production and is a primary factor that affects how well our hens lay eggs.  With the onset of spring, our daylength increases and this extra light stimulates our girls and boys to start focusing on reproduction and egg production. 

See Understanding the Change in a Pullet’s Body Before She Begins Laying for a more in-depth review of these hormonal changes.  

Rooster Behavior in the Spring

If you have a rooster in your flock, then you can usually expect some changes in his behavior in the spring.  Because spring is peak mating season, roosters will often become more aggressive during this season.  Even if you have a calm and kind rooster most of the year, don’t be surprised if you start to notice changes in his behavior.  

Rooster testosterone levels spike in the spring and they can become very territorial and protective of the hens in the flock.  Roosters may also start to chase hens and become aggressive and overzealous in their quest for mating.  Don’t get too excited and think you suddenly have a mean rooster.  His protective nature should settle as the peak season wanes and his hormones start to level.  While he may remain protective and more alert during the entire breeding season, spring is usually the worst of it.  

If you have multiple roosters in your flock, you can usually expect some fighting between the birds as they compete for mating dominance.  I currently have three roosters in my flock.  They get along beautifully during most of the year.  However, every spring, I expect some fighting as my dominant rooster competes to maintain his dominance and my less-dominant roosters compete for breeding time with the hens.  This is normal behavior, and I am starting to prepare now for the changes to come.

Ways to Prevent Rooster Aggression Toward Each Other

No one likes to see their animals fight.  Even though it is normal behavior during the spring, it can be very stressful for poultry keepers if their roosters start to become aggressive toward each other.  The best way to deal with this behavior is to make sure your birds have plenty of space.  True free-ranging allows your birds to spread out and less-dominant roosters have plenty of opportunity to get away from territorial dominant roosters.  Hens also have plenty of opportunity to get away from overzealous roosters that want to mate constantly.

Keeping the proper hen to rooster ratio is also very important in the spring.  Roosters are great additions to a flock, but you can have too many of them.  We usually recommend that you have no more than 1 rooster for every 10 hens in your flock.  If you have too many roosters, it can be very stressful for your hens because they are susceptible to overbreeding.  Overbreeding can damage feather quality and lead to injuries.  A stressed hen also does not lay well so make sure you have an outlet for your extra roosters if your hen to rooster ratio is too narrow.

If you don’t have extra space for your flock to roam, you may need to consider separating your birds into separate groups.  There are certainly pros and cons to this arrangement.  However, it may be necessary if there is excessive aggression from one or more roosters during this season. 

Ways to Prevent Rooster Aggression Toward You

Some roosters are aggressive no matter the season.  It’s not a good idea to keep these roosters in your flock.  Injuries from roosters hurt and they can become very serious if bacteria enter a wound.  If you have a particularly aggressive rooster, you may need to consider culling that rooster from your flock.

With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk about ways that we can foster good behavior in our roosters.  Aggression in roosters is usually linked to dominance or fear.  It is important to set behavioral expectations with your male birds while they are still young cockerels.  I find it easiest to start this training before my roosters have reached sexual maturity.  

Once my roosters reach about 3 to 4 months old, I will start interacting with them in a manner that asserts my gentle dominance.  When I’m out interacting with the flock, I will stand still and face my young roosters.  Once we are both standing still and facing each other, I will take one tiny step forward.  If he holds his ground, I will take another tiny step forward.  I continue taking tiny steps until the rooster either steps back or turns away from me.  In this manner, I have asserted a gentle dominance.  It usually only takes about 2-3 steps before he will turn and be on his way.  I continue interacting with him in this manner for a few weeks and that usually trains my male birds to know that I am not fearful, and I am going to stand my ground if they charge toward me.  It’s important to do this while your roosters are still young.  It’s not impossible, but it is definitely more difficult to train an older aggressive rooster.

Fear is also a major contributing factor for aggression in a rooster.  Talking calmly to your birds, handling your birds periodically, and moving with ease and intention are all ways to make your flock feel safe and reduce fear; thus, reducing aggression. 

Lastly, keep in mind that this behavior should be only temporary and the behavior is worse during the spring.  As peak mating season starts to fade, your rooster should start to calm down.  Additionally, as your birds age, they also become less susceptible to aggression.  Be prepared.  Wear long pants or tall boots in the coop during the spring just in case you do get pecked or flogged.  It’s also a good idea to make sure you are aware of your rooster’s whereabouts during spring.  Surprise charges can cause reactions that don’t assert gentle dominance and we always want to avoid those reactions.  We want to stay calm and composed – speak softly and carry a big (metaphorical) stick!

Keeping poultry is such a wonderful experience and the rewards are many!  At Kalmbach Feeds, we are always here to help.  If you have any questions about the nutrient needs of your birds, feed options, or general poultry keeping, please let us know.  We are so excited to continue writing about all of the topics that are important to you and can’t wait to continue learning about your flocks.  Stay tuned and thank you for choosing Kalmbach Feeds.


Nancy Jefferson, Ph.D.

Dr. Nancy Jefferson has been a member of the Nutrition and Technical Services team at Kalmbach Feeds since 2013. She received her Ph.D. from West Virginia University in 2008 and has worked in the feed industry for over 15 years. She lives on a farm in Crown City, OH with her husband, John, and their children. Dr. Jefferson is a passionate poultry enthusiast and loves her chickens! Together, she and her family raise beef cattle and she keeps an ever-growing flock of backyard chickens.