Friday, September 9, 2011

Hens and Sex - Who's Your Daddy?

There are so many different breeds of chickens to choose from that it can be really daunting for someone new to decide which breed to keep. They have different personalities, characteristics, sizes, temperaments and looks. You can choose between aggressive, small, big, curly feathered (frizzles), fluffy, smooth, bald (I'm not kidding), mean, docile and just plain dumb. Backyard Chickens has a great web page that outlines traits people look for in hens such as broodiness, temperament and have the breeds all listed alphabetically right here for you to look at. One thing not mentioned is what some of the traits are good for. Broodiness is important to know if you want to have an egg laying hens keep laying and not always quitting so she can be broody. On the other hand maybe you want to hatch out your own chicks and then that's important. larger birds with feathered feet don't do well in wet muddy conditions but are good int he snow and cold, and those with pea combs are better in cold areas where they are less prone to frostbite as opposed to long red combs that are a target for pecking and frostbite. If you have anyquestions about chickens or don't understand something please just send me an e-mail or leave a comment and I'll get it.

For me, I love Dark Brahmas and Silkies/Frizzles. We love the large size of the Brahmas and also their gentleness. Steve would often walk around the farm with Ben, our Rooster, tucked under his arm getting petted. I'm not sure it did much for his reputation with the other chickens but Steve sure loved him. And 80% of the chicks we hatched were his offspring, so he can't have been doing too badly. He was the #1 rooster in our flock. I also love the look of frizzles and Silkies make great mothers because they go broody and are good setters, meaning they will sit a clutch of eggs and hatch them, even if they are someone else's eggs. On that note...we will not let a hen hatch out ducklings anymore. Having your hen go mad with anxiety on your dock and then pass out because her 'chicks' have just gone swimming for the first time was funny to watch but upsetting for the hen. Who eventually got used to the idea. Here's a gorgeous pic I found on the internet, I thought he'd be a great chick to name Spike, or Elvis, or something Japanese. I think he's a Golden laced frizzle but not 100%. I'll have to do some more research. He looks like a rockstar don't you think?

The picture is of a Dark Brahma Rooster and Americana Hen's offspring. All of our roosters featured different colours and were shiny and beautiful, sorry boys...handsome. When we took them in to be butchered they actually gave us a credit on our bill of $10 and told us they'd kept one because he was so gorgeous. See...sometimes being handsome can save your life!

Here's a copy of a story features on the BBC world news online for Sept 6th. I've been debating about posting it so up till now I didn't. Instead, I've decided in the interest of general interest and education to post his with a disclaimer:

This research is not my own, but the work of the BBC. While I have verified that the information is certainly plausible and was what I already knew about chicken reproduction, it is still not backed up by any sources that I can conclusively verify or any research data.

It is of a technical nature and may be unsuitable for children under 12, unless they already live on a farm and are comfortable and familiar with the general process of reproduction. In which case they won't care about this anyways because it's something they see all the time and could care less about.

I just thought that it was interesting because given our experience with chickens running free with multiple roosters, there were always a huge number of chicks with Ben, our big Dark Brahma as their father and not many belonging to the other roosters. Now I know why...

Hens evolve secret sex strategy

By Matt McGrath Science reporter, BBC World Service

Chicken Chickens have evolved the ability to eject the sperm of unsuitable mates

Scientists have discovered that female chickens have a remarkable ability to choose the father of their eggs.

Wily hens have evolved the ability to eject the sperm of unsuitable mates say researchers working with Swedish birds.

Promiscuous roosters try to ensure that their genes are passed on by mating with as many females as possible.

But by removing the genetic material of males they consider socially inferior, the hens have managed to retain control of paternity.

Many species ranging from zebras to insects use the strategy of sperm ejection - but the evolutionary ideas behind it are often uncertain.

Among birds, male Dunnocks force females to eject the sperm of other suitors in order to protect their own genes.

But this research indicates that among chickens the battle of the sexes seems to be all about female empowerment.

Working with feral fowl in Sweden, the scientists found that many matings were forced, as the roosters are twice the size of the hens.

To cope with the unwanted attention, females have evolved the ability to remove the ejaculate of those males they consider undesirable.

Dr Rebecca Dean from Oxford University carried out the study. She said: "It's really important for females to have the best male sperm to fertilise her eggs so if she can't choose before copulation then having a mechanism to choose after copulation could really increase her evolutionary fitness."

Even when unforced, the females still exercised their right to choose by opting to eject the sperm of males they considered to be at the bottom of the pecking order.

With the reproductive odds stacked against them these low status roosters have fought back by developing larger ejaculates in the hope of increasing their chances of passing on their genes.
Chickens Hens eject more sperm from socially subordinate males

But according to Dr Dean, the shrewd females have worked out a way of dealing with this tactic as well.

"We found that hens will eject a greater proportion of the ejaculate from socially subordinate males, so she is in this way favouring the dominant males both before and after ejaculation," she said.

The scientists explain that domestic fowl would certainly use a similar tactic, but normally they have fewer mating choices than their wild Swedish cousins.

The research has been published in the journal American Naturalist.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, interestingread!

    Side note, seems i can comment from my tablet, but not from my laptop. Weird

    when raising chicks, did you ever use a incubator? Or just broody hens? Also, can you give some info on sticking the duck eggs under the hen?