The Birds and the Bees and the Chickens

If you’ve Googled your way to this blog looking for poultry porn, you’ve come to the wrong place.  Sorry to disappoint you, Foghorn, but this is simply an informational and scientific discussion of chicken mating.
If, however, you are offended by the concept of animals having nonchalant sex in public, this may be the wrong place for you, as well.  I grew up on a farm so animals having sex everywhereall the time was simply part of my childhood, for goodness sake!  So it’s hard for me to appreciate why anyone would make a fuss about it.  If you’re going to make a fuss, though, just leave now and remember that this is the warped and twisted blog where they talk about vile animals having disgusting relations.
Emile the Rooster - Normal and Mundane
Still there? Good. Here are two pertinent facts before we get to the heart of the discussion:

Fact number one: Hens do NOT need to have sex in order to lay eggs.  I recently mentioned this to an acquaintance and it blew him away.  It’s like I had ripped away an important truth that he had held his entire life.  Over the next several days he kept bringing it up, “My God!  Hens don’t need a rooster to lay eggs!”  But no.  No, they don’t.  As with every other animal, sex is not required for chickens to ovulate.  Of course, without a rooster, those eggs are all sterile and will never become baby chicks – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Fact number two:  Roosters do not have penises.  Now you are blown away, right?  This is so ironic considering the other English word for rooster.  And it’s not like male birds of all species are missing that particular appendage.  Ducks, for instance, have corkscrew-shaped penises that can be nearly ten inches long – nearly half their body length.  If for the sake of scientific knowledge, you would like more fascinating information on duck penises, you can go to Dutch ornithologist Kees Moeliker’s TED talk on homosexual necrophilia in ducks.  Go there now!  But don’t expect anything further on that subject on this blog post, because I promised there would be no poultry porn!

Whew!  OK, we need to back up a little and approach this subject more rationally, linearly, and calmly.  So, let’s imagine an encounter between Englebert, a handsome, virile Appenzeller Spitzhauben rooster, and Felice, a demure and beautiful Faverolles hen – these are not their real names.  As a matter of fact, their names are Emile and Arlene.  He’s a bantam rooster and she’s a regular old Barred Rock hen and they live a normal, mundane existence in my coop.  I was just trying to spice it up a little like they do in the movies, but I suppose we need to keep this real.

So Emile saunters up to Arlene and does this cute little courtship dance that I call the “Emile Shuffle.”  Arlene responds by thinking, “Oh no!  Emile wants sex again!” and tries to run away.  But Emile has cleverly planned his choreography so he’s shuffling around Arlene’s backside just as she starts to run.  So he agilely hops on her back and then quickly digs in with his spurs to stay on – the term poultry people use for this is “treading”, and it is a good descriptive term.  He also grabs feathers at the back of her neck with his beak to maintain his balance.  She goes into a position that poultry people call “the squat”, which is also a good descriptive term.  Then they do the deed for a few seconds and then he hops off and struts off while Arlene ruffles her feathers and shakes and then wanders away mumbling about how she’s lost even more neck feathers thanks to Emile and his urges.  And that’s it – no post-encounter pillow talk or lying around in each other’s wings.
“OK,” you ask while averting your eyes, “But how does ‘the deed’ even work?  You just said that roosters don’t have penises.”  “Oh!”  I reply, “You mean the cloacal kiss!”  “Noooo!” you protest, “You said there wouldn’t be any poultry porn!”  But, no.  Really. The rooster rubs his cloacal opening against the hen’s and sperm passes from his cloaca to hers.  Poultry people refer to that process as the cloacal kiss – again, a good descriptive term.  The sperm travel up the hen’s oviduct where they remain viable for at least a week and can fertilize the eggs that pass through – usually about one egg a day. 
Meanwhile, the rooster struts around the chicken run where he can mate over fifty more times in any given day.  And the hen, if she is broody and if she is allowed to keep her eggs, will lay a clutch of eggs, sit on them for twenty-one days, and then they’ll hatch and she’ll have a little peeping family!
If you eat eggs from a flock of hens that live with a rooster, you more than likely are eating fertilized eggs.  How can you tell the difference?  If you look closely at the yolk of an unfertilized egg you can see a small speck on it – that’s the blastoderm.  If you look at a fertilized egg you’ll see a slightly larger speck – that’s the fertilized blastoderm, and that’s the only difference.  There is no likelihood of cracking open and egg and finding a baby chick – chicks don’t form unless the egg is incubated either in a mechanical incubator or under a broody hen, and farmers routinely collect eggs at least daily and usually several times a day.  Eggs kept at room temperature or refrigerator temperature will not develop. So stop worrying about that! 

Is there any way to tell the difference between fertilized and unfertilized eggs without cracking them open?  Once an egg has incubated for a few days, you can candle it.  Candling is simply a process of holding the eggs up to a light.  Fertile, developing eggs will become more opaque.  Can hens tell the difference between fertilized and unfertilized eggs?  Well, my broody hens are more than happy to sit on golf balls.  So I think the answer to that question is a definitive “no”.
And that’s it.  Any questions?  I thought not.

1 comment:

  1. Love your chicken writings, as would have Mark! You are just as dry as I remember, but I didn't know that you were such a great storyteller!! Keep it coming!!