A cockerel can provide a valuable service for his flock of ladies, strutting around, bringing them food, showing them the safest places to roost and watching them lay, often crowing with joy when they do. The scene can be idyllic with the hens showing obvious affection for their feathered protector. However at times this scene can be far from peaceful as all too often a cockerel may turn, not on his hens, but on you! Anyone who has been attacked, even by a tiny bantam cockerel, will tell you how ferocious they can be; in fact the larger breeds can inflict serious damage.
In my time working in animal rescue I was unlucky enough to come into contact with many aggressive cockerels, one Rhode Island Red Cross, affectionately named ‘Attila the Hen’ would patrol up and down the wire fencing waiting for me to arrive, at which point he would attack, on many occasions cutting my legs through my jeans. Eventually I resorted to tying towels round my legs like huge, soft shin pads!
Such aggression behaviour must be viewed in context; it isn’t fair to blame the cockerel for doing what comes naturally. If it was a fox or cat that the cockerel chose to attack we would be full of praise for it courage yet we condemn them, often to an early grave, for getting their wires crossed as to who is a threat and who isn’t. It is untrue to think of an aggressive cockerel as being cocky or bullish, this simply isn’t the case. The vast majority of aggression comes from fear, rather than confidence. A cockerel generally feels the need to attack people through a perceived fear that they may prove a threat to him, his hens or territory. In order to change these misconceptions we must teach the cockerel that people are in fact nothing to worry about.
Most of the aggressive behaviours shown by cockerels are instinctive, the bird having no real choice over the behaviour shown. Generally animals have a set pf behaviours they may use in stressful situations: fight, flight and freeze (there are a few others but these generally aren’t applicable to chickens) On seeing a person the chicken instantly goes into one of these three modes, it is beyond it’s conscious control. In the wild this would have served it well, as to think about something is to risk being eaten!
In the rehabilitation of aggressive cockerels I use the Tellington TTouch Method. The Tellington TTouch was developed by internationally renowned animal expert Linda Tellington-Jones. It is a method of working with animals, without fear of force. The use of non-habitual movements releases tension using gentle bodywork helping to bring balance to the body and mind. The TTouch works on the nervous system, helping to improve mental, physical and emotional balance, bringing an enhanced ability to learn and co-operate by opening new channels of communication.
The TTouch (often called Tellington touch) is a non habitual movement, with a stimulating or calming effect on the central nervous system of the body, when the work is applied the bird is brought into an aware or thinking state of mind. Once out of the instinctive flight, fight or freeze state the animal is then aware of its surroundings and as such is able to learn that people are nonthreatening.
Here we see a cockerel being worked on using two white riding crops known in the TTouch trade as ‘wands’. By approaching the cockerel with these wands the bird is asked to change it’s perception of people. By gently stroking the bird with the wands, it is able to experience a pleasurable experience without having to become stressed by direct human contact. It is amazing how quickly they accept this unusual approach, often without any attempt at attacking the wands. This shows just how little thought goes into the attack on the cockerel’s part. By changing the situation you allow contact and communication on the bird’s level. It is then possible to perform gentle TTouch circles using the end of the wand. By gently moving the bird’s feathers in a one and a quarter circle, in a clockwise direction the bird soon learns to accept you as a nonthreatening being (though tasty treats given at this time will also help!) Slowly the distance between yourself and the birds can be decreased as the cockerel becomes more accepting. It is not necessary to have a wand yourself as you can easily improvise with two long lengths of dowel. It is however important to use two at a time, one to perform the stroking and the other to contain the bird (simply by its presence NEVER by using it to threaten the bird)
In no time at all the cockerel learns to accept people as nonthreatening and thus learns to inhibit its need to attack as its self confidence grows.
All in all, the choice as to weather or not to keep a cockerel with your hens is a personal one. I adore them and find their antics entertaining and endearing and am saddened at the number that don’t get to show their full potential due to their misunderstood behaviour. With patience and understanding I am confident that most cockerels can learn to live in harmony with those around them.