What is a Male Chicken Called?
Authored by Gail Damerow
Authored by Gail Damerow
A chicken is a domesticated bird of the species Gallus domesticus typically raised for eggs and meat. On chicken breeding farms and in poultry exhibition circles, a male chicken is called a cock. The word derives from the Old French coc (or coq), meaning male bird. Most people, however, call the male chicken a rooster. We can thank the Puritans for that.
As language evolved, the word cock came to refer to a young man who struts around like a cock in the chicken yard. You’ve probably heard the term ‘cock of the walk’, meaning a vain and boastful fellow.
Eventually the word cock became slang for a lecher, and soon took on a more direct sexual connotation. Meanwhile, the male chicken had become known as a roost cock, in the sense of a roosting bird.
But the slang sexual references disturbed the puritans. So, even though all chickens roost, they changed the designation for a male chicken from roost cock to rooster.
Nevertheless, a young rooster is still called a cockerel. “Young” generally means less than 1 year of age, although sometimes the word cockerel refers to a male chicken that hatched during the current calendar year.
In case you’re wondering, female chicken is a hen, from the Old English word henn. A young hen is a pullet, derived from the Old French word poulette, which is a diminutive form of poule, or hen.
Most roosters aren’t mean. But aggressive roosters can occur in nearly any breed. Typically, a rooster doesn’t start out mean but becomes aggressive due to some trigger event that makes him feel that he, or his hens, are under threat.
Sometimes you can tame a mean rooster, especially when he first shows signs of aggression. What you don’t want to do is chase, kick, swat at, or throw things at the rooster. That would only make matters worse. You definitely don’t want to give him the idea that you’re just a meaner rooster for him to conquer.
Instead, you need to convince the rooster you’re not a threat. Pick him up and cradle him in your arms. If necessary, do so at night after he’s calmly on the roost.
Relax the rooster by gently stroking his throat and wattles while making sweet talk. When he seems fully relaxed, set him down and gradually let go. If he remains calm, you’ve likely succeeded. If he continues to attack, repeat the treatment as many times as it takes. Or at least until you decide that he is incorrigible.
Some aggressive roosters simply don’t respond to kindness. In that case, consider getting rid of him before he seriously injures you or anyone else.
Sorry, but so far no one has found a 100 percent way to completely prevent a rooster from crowing. You can minimize the sound of crowing by confining the rooster to the coop until well past dawn. Insulating the coop walls and landscaping the yard with dense shrubs will help muffle his morning crows. By mid-morning he should have done the majority of his noise making for the day.
A rooster stretches his neck to crow. Putting him overnight in a low-overhead pet carrier, cage, or ventilated box will prevent him from stretching and thus discourage crowing. What crowing the rooster does manage will be less audible if you place the carrier indoors, in an interior room or a basement.
Of course, a rooster that’s out and about during the day will occasionally crow whenever the mood strikes. But it’s not much louder than a cackling hen.
Roosters eat basically the same things all chickens eat. A general layer ration has 16 to 18 percent protein. For good hatchability of the eggs, breeders should be fed a higher protein ration, in the 18 to 20 percent range. Outside of breeding season, if you were to keep one or more roosters separately from hens, they would need only about 9 percent protein.
As much fun as it is to temp your rooster with treats, keep treats to a minimum. Too many treats can upset the nutritional balance of his regular ration. And being overweight can shorten the life of a rooster, or any chicken.
Some roosters grow long spurs and toenails that require periodic trimming. Like a human’s fingernails and toenails, a chicken’s toenails constantly grow. But chickens may keep their own toenails trimmed by scratching the ground.
When a chicken doesn’t have hard surfaces to scratch, its nails keep growing. If the nails grow long enough to curl, the chicken can’t walk properly. So, nails that aren’t worn naturally must be periodically trimmed.
At the center of each claw on a rooster’s foot is a quick, or soft tissue, nourished by a blood supply. Washing the feet makes the quick easier to see. Warm water also softens the nails so they’re easier to clip without splitting.
Use a pair of pet toenail clippers or human nail trimmers to snip the nail ends, then file any sharp corners. To avoid snipping into the quick, trim no more than about one-eighth inch at a time.
After every snip, inspect the cut end of the nail. If it changes color, you’re getting close to the quick. If the nail is still too long, wait a few days before trimming more, giving the quick time to recede. Trim a rooster’s toenails as often as necessary to keep each nail even with the bottom of the toe.
Like the rooster’s toenails, his spurs continue to grow throughout his life. A spur is basically soft tissue covered with a protective sheath made of the same tough keratinous material that makes up the rooster’s claws.
A cockerel’s spurs start as little bony bumps. As the bird matures, the spurs grow longer, curve, harden, and develop a sharp pointed tip.
Long spurs are dangerous to other chickens and to humans. They can also affect a rooster’s ability to walk and to breed. A spur that curls back into the rooster’s leg will cause lameness.
Spurs therefore need to be trimmed as often as necessary to keep them short and blunt. Exactly how often depends on how fast the spurs grow, which varies with the individual rooster.
Removing a spur’s sharp tip is easy and doesn’t hurt the bird. However, removing too much of a spur will damage the quick, or live tissue underneath, causing pain and bleeding. For the average mature rooster with regularly trimmed spurs, the quick ends a little more than half an inch from the shank.
You can blunt the spur tip using pet toenail clippers or wire cutters. Since clipping can crack the spur sheath, many chicken keepers instead use a Dremel cutting wheel to remove the sharp tip.
Not incidentally, hens, too, need their toenails clipped, and some also require spur trims. So, a rooster isn’t necessarily more difficult to keep than a hen. He is, after all, just another chicken in the flock.
Gail Damerow has written many books about chickens. Those available at Tractor Supply include Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks, The Chicken Health Handbook, and more. Visit Gail’s blog at gaildamerow.com.