Why Do Roosters Fight to the Death?

Imagine coming back after a weekend break to find your prize rooster bloodied and bruised, his one eye swollen like a boxer’s, and his head drooping sadly to one side.

This is the unfortunate scene that greeted me a few years ago. At the time, we had two flocks of hens, each housed separately and each with its rooster. We never let the two flocks mingle for fear of the roosters fighting.

Sadly, while we were away and unbeknownst to our farm sitters, a gap appeared in the fence and the two flocks gathered together in the same pasture.

It wasn’t long before the feathers started to fly! The two roosters went for each other like a pair of mixed martial arts fighters – pecking, clawing, and lunging at each other with their razor-sharp spurs. This was a fight to the death. No one would surrender, no one would back down.

“What made these two guys fly at each other like that?” I wondered and proceeded to find out why do roosters fight to death and what makes them so willing to put their lives on the line.

Rooster Aggression and the Right to Reproduce

In the wild, life is all about survival and procreation, and wild birds and animals will do everything in their power to protect their territory, resources, and mates.

In a flock, the rooster’s role is to protect his hens against potential predators, defend his territory against possible rivals, and protect his resources (i.e. food and water) so his hens are healthy enough to reproduce.

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A rooster without a flock will only survive a few years, whereas one who that access to a large flock of hens can keep his genes alive for many generations.

That right is worth dying for and so roosters engage in violent confrontations to protect their hens and their right to mate with them.

If you spend some time online, you’ll soon discover a whole host of happy chicken owners proudly sharing stories of how they keep 10 or even 50 roosters together without any unpleasant incidents or conflict. The secret to their success is generally that they have no hens in the mix.

Roosters can get along quite harmoniously if there’s nothing to fight about, but the moment they encounter a hen or experience a shortage of food or water, the games begin!

Is it Natural for Roosters to Fight to the Death?

According to The Humane Society of the United States, roosters rarely fight to the death, and in natural circumstances, the conflicts that do arise “seldom result in serious injury.” Anyone who’s witnessed a fight between two roosters will tell you that isn’t always the case.

In many instances, the dominant rooster isn’t satisfied with just establishing his dominance and will pursue his rival even if he submits and runs away.

This makes sense in the wild as it ensures that the victorious rooster can maintain his flock in peace, without having to exert himself or put his life in danger fighting the same opponent over again.

How Do Roosters Fight To The Death?

Roosters may not have access to guns or knives, but they do have several weapons at their disposal.

Before they unleash these, roosters will usually circle one another like martial arts fighters in a cage – staring each other down and puffing out their chests to make themselves look bigger and more intimidating.

If that doesn’t work, the two roosters will engage in conflict, flying at one another in an explosion of claws and feathers. In these conflicts, the roosters will use various moves to gain the upper hand, including:

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Flogging

At the start of a fight, roosters will often charge at each other and leap into the air while attempting to beat each other with their flapping wings. Known as flogging, this maneuver rarely causes serious injury and is intended to intimidate rather than harm.

Spurring

Roosters have long claw-like growths on their lower legs just above their back claws. Known as spurs, these sickle-shaped protrusions are made of bone covered with a thick layer of keratin. Hard and sharp, these spurs can inflict deep and potentially fatal puncture wounds.

To use their spurs, roosters fly into the air and then swipe at their opponents, usually aiming for the head, face, and comb, where injuries will prove most debilitating.

When our two roosters fought, the younger, but stronger one, managed to spur the older rooster in the eye, rendering him half-blind and reducing his ability to fight back.

Pecking

A rooster’s beak doesn’t look half as intimidating as his spurs and yet can cause much more painful and damaging injuries.

A few years ago, an Australian chicken owner died after her rooster pecked her on the leg and punctured a varicose vein, proving that “even relatively small domestic animals may be able to inflict lethal injuries.”

Roosters usually only resort to pecking once their opponent is already injured, weakening, or trying to submit, but once they get started, will continue hammering away with their beaks until their rival breathes its last breath.

How to Stop Roosters From Fighting to the Death

Conflicts between roosters are violent and blood-thirsty, which is why most chicken owners will go to any lengths to avoid them. Fortunately, this can be done fairly easily by sticking to the following rules:

Keep Your Roosters Happy with Lots of Hens

If you want to be a happy chicken owner, the general rule of thumb is that you should only have one rooster for every 10 or so hens. If your flock is bigger than that, you might be tempted to introduce another rooster to share the responsibilities but doing so could upset more than just the applecart.

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Separate Your Flocks for a Quiet Life

Those of you who want to expand your chicken operation should consider keeping several distinct flocks rather than one big one, that way you can maintain a ratio of one rooster per 10 hens without encouraging rivalry or conflict.

Roosters Need Plenty of Space

Multiple roosters can live together peacefully if they have enough space and access to enough resources. If each rooster has a territory and group of hens that he can guard without imposing on the territory of another, there’s less chance of a testosterone-fueled conflict getting out of hand.

Establish a Pecking Order Early On

Roosters who have been together since the day they hatched are less likely to engage in fatal battles later on in life. They will generally sort out the pecking order when they’re still youngsters and before they have the strength or spurs to inflict serious injury. This isn’t always the case, however, and you should watch out for any aggressive tendencies as your roosters mature.

Avoid Chicken Breeds With A Reputation For Aggression

While you can get an aggressive individual in almost any breed, certain breeds of chicken have a reputation for aggression and are more likely to engage in fatal conflicts. For instance, Old English Game chickens were widely bred for cockfighting because of their high level of aggression, while Silkies and brahmas tend to have a more docile nature.

tips to Stop Roosters From Fighting to the Death

FAQs

Can Roosters Live Together Without Fighting?

It is possible to have multiple roosters living together without conflict, provided they have enough hens, resources, and space.

Do Roosters Naturally Fight to the Death?

Although many fights between roosters may end when the less dominant individual submits or runs away, in many instances, the winning rooster will pursue his rival and continue pecking him to death. In a staged cockfight, where the roosters wear sharp metal spurs, death is inevitable.

Why Do Roosters Fight?

Roosters engage in violent battles with their rivals to maintain a position of dominance and protect their hens and territory.   

Parting Thoughts

Roosters are naturally aggressive and will fight to the death if they feel a rival is challenging their position of dominance or threatening to take away their hens and mating rights.

Despite that, it is possible to keep multiple roosters together if you follow a few simple rules. Provided each rooster has enough space, access to food and water, and a large gaggle of hens to call his own, they can live together quite harmoniously.

If you’re thinking of getting a second, or even third rooster, proceed with caution, bearing in mind that the smallest scuffle could quickly escalate into a fatal conflict.

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