Ask the Expert: Roosters

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Handsome Rooster Troubles

I am a subscriber to your delightful Backyard Poultry magazine for some years now. We have a wonderful rooster — unfortunately, its former bright and upright comb has, during the past two years, developed spots of serious-looking discoloration, almost fungus-like, and is drooping to one side. The bird does not seem to be troubled, it is lively and eating well. The chicken house is kept clean, well ventilated and, during the cold season, we install an oil-filled radiator — on thermostat. The cold weather cannot be a reason since the chickens are kept inside the house should the thermometer reach 30 degrees F. They still can move onto a small, hay-covered terrace, enclosed by storm-windows. The chickens enjoy a large fenced-in yard around their house with overhead netting against birds of prey … in other words, our birds are well-cared for. I am attaching 4 photos … can you shed some light on the rooster’s malady? Kindly respond, many thanks!


Ilse Dickerhof, New York


Hi Ilse,

At first glance, I would have said this is frostbite. Since that doesn’t seem to be possible, it must be something else. Pecking damage could also be a possibility, but I don’t think it looks like that.

There are reports of fungal infections, specifically candidiasis, on combs, and some of the pictures I’ve seen look fairly similar. Since it’s on the comb like this, I think you might try a topical antifungal ointment (for humans), and spread it right on the affected areas. These aren’t labeled for use in chickens, so they’re not meant to be used on food animals. I’m guessing this is a pet, so that may not be an issue.

I’m not a veterinarian, so this is not a firm diagnosis, and certainly not a prescription. It might be something for you to try on your own. I imagine there could be bacterial infections that might cause similar symptoms, too.

Good luck with him!

Ron Kean


Aggressive Roosters

Hi! We have chickens at our barn where we also board horses. Two of our chickens are aggressive roosters and while our family has trained them not to be aggressive to us, our public boarders are being attacked and we cannot train every new barn visitor to establish their dominance. Our roosters can’t keep attacking our boarders and we DO NOT want to get rid of them. Please help!

Aviana McDaniel


Hi Aviana,

I think one solution would be to keep the roosters in an enclosed pen, at least during times of the day when you are open to the public. Aggressive roosters could be a real safety and liability problem, especially if there are children around. Other than that, I’m not sure.

Good luck with them!

Ron Kean


Rooster Spurs

I would like to know: how do we trim a rooster’s spurs?  Are they like finger- or toenails, or hooves? Or is there a blood source that runs down through the center of them? I don’t want to injure my Barred Plymouth Rock rooster, Emmett, but his spurs are getting so big that he has injured a couple of the girls! Thank you for any information, or sources, that you can provide me with!

Ardella Hanes


Hi Ardella,

If you clip the spurs too closely, there is a chance you could hit the bone and cause bleeding. So it’s good to have a styptic pencil on hand when you trim. In a pinch, cornstarch works great. 

Clipping, filing, and uncapping are three ways to deal with spurs. Filing involves wearing down that keratin sheath with a metal file or a Dremel tool. Uncapping simply removes that hard, sharp portion to expose the bony core inside. The downsides of uncapping are that it can cause pain/bleeding. And, with all methods, the spurs will grow back so you will need to do it again in the future. 

We have a great writeup on spurs on our website. It’s very comprehensive and details all three trimming methods very well.

Good luck!

Marissa Ames


Rooster Tail Feathers

My polish rooster lost his tail feathers at the same time my hens molted. The hens look great but the rooster (RodStuart) has not grown his tail feathers… What’s up? Will RodStuart grow them back?

Lisa Nyquist


Hi Lisa,

By chance, does your rooster have nubs of feathers on his rump, or maybe bloody spots? If so, you have a problem with feather picking. New feathers are very rich in blood, and chickens tend to peck them before they can grow into full, protective plumage. It gets especially bad at the tail and it often happens even when their diet is perfect because blood is tasty to them. I’ve found two ways to avoid this: First, you can isolate your rooster until he grows his tail back, but that could cause problems with loneliness and re-establishing pecking order when he is introduced back into the flock. Two, you can coat his rump with something that camouflages the red. Many poultry owners swear by Blue Kote and Pick-No-More. But I’ve found that simple, clean cornstarch works to clot the blood and hide color. I used it often when the other chicks in a brooder wouldn’t let my white Leghorns grow in their tails.

I hope RodStuart has his tail again soon!

Marissa Ames


Hens and Roosters

How many hens should you have for every one rooster?

Katherine Lusz, Wisconsin


Hi Katherine,

While it can depend somewhat on a few things, about one rooster for eight-10 hens is usually good. With small flocks, if you want to ensure good fertility, it’s usually best to have at least two roosters, in case one isn’t effective. If you aren’t concerned about fertility of the eggs, then it isn’t a big issue. Having multiple roosters can be tricky, if they don’t get along, of course!

Things such as age, size, walking ability, aggressiveness, etc. can all affect this ratio.

Also, having too many roosters can be a problem. They can fight, as I mentioned. They can sometimes interfere with each other during the mating process. They also can cause quite a bit of feather damage (and possibly wounds) to the hens, if they are mounting them too often.

I might add that a hen only needs to mate about once a week to have good fertility. So, if the rooster is causing damage to the hens, you could limit his time with them and still keep good fertility in the flock.

Ron Kean


Rooster Yawning

One of our two-year-old Leghorn hens occasionally just bursts into these fits of yawning. They just come at random times like when she is eating and just throws back her head and opens her mouth but no sound comes out. They are about 20 seconds apart for about 10 minutes. She has had them bef0re but not for a few weeks. We treat for worms two times a year with Ivermectin. Any advice would be appreciated, she is a pet so culling is not an option.

P.S. Do you know if I can keep guinea keets with the chickens in their 25 x 15-foot yard and can I get only one keet and raise it with ducklings?

My Rhode Island Red is doing it now too and it looks like it hurts a bit. Please help


Calvin Boss, Illinois


Hi Calvin,

This behavior could be caused by a few different things.

Gapeworm is a parasite that lives in the trachea of birds. They tend to be more common in game birds (pheasants, etc.) than in chickens. They can cause “gaping” where the bird holds its beak open and gapes, trying to expel the worms. Your ivermectin treatments should treat this.

Infectious laryngotracheitis (ILT) is a fairly common viral disease of chickens. This also damages the trachea and can cause bleeding (and blood clots) in the trachea. Again, the birds often gape and cough in an effort to clear the blockage. In some cases, you may see clots of blood on the walls of the coop, where the birds have coughed them out. Since this is a virus, there’s not a lot you can do, other than to keep the chickens warm and well-fed, in hopes that they can fight off the virus. You may be able to vaccinate your flock to prevent future outbreaks.

It could just be dry feed getting “stuck” in their throats. Chickens do exhibit this behavior occasionally when they are eating. Your picture seems a bit extreme for this, however.

For a firm diagnosis, you’d need to contact an avian veterinarian or your state veterinary diagnostic lab.

Regarding the guinea keet, it’s not a good idea to raise it with ducklings. Guineas come from fairly dry areas, and the young keets can chill very easily if they get wet. They will almost certainly get wet if they are with ducklings! They also likely need a higher protein diet than the ducklings need.

You can raise them with chickens. Some people have had problems with roosters and male guineas not getting along. If you have a rooster, you might want to consider a backup plan, in case they don’t get along.

Good luck with your birds!


Spur Trimming 101

My rooster’s spurs are so long. I don’t know the safest and humane way to clip them, please any suggestions would be appreciated! Thank you!

Beth Gorsline


Hi Beth,

Rooster spurs can be daunting when they get long and can cause damage to the hens during mating. Luckily, this is easily remedied.

There are a few options depending on the temperament of your rooster. Even if your rooster is docile, make sure he is safely secured before you start.

The easiest method is to clip the spurs just like you would clip a pet cat or dog’s claws. Since a rooster’s spurs are large and won’t fit into a standard clipper, you’ll need something a little bigger. You’ll also need to make sure it’s sharp so the spur doesn’t split as you’re clipping. (That can be painful!) Clip small amounts at a time making sure not to hit the inner soft bone.

You can also file a spur if it’s not too long and your rooster is patient and easily handled since this can take a bit of time. Filing can also be done after clipping to remove any sharp edges.

There is also a hot potato method where you warm up a potato in the microwave and then fit the potato over the spur making sure not to touch the leg. Leave the potato on the spur until the potato cools and then gently twist the spur so that it pops off. This will leave behind the exposed inner soft bone. The spur will grow around that over time, but in the short term, that area can be tender and painful.

Whatever method you choose, there is the risk of bleeding, so make sure to have some styptic powder or cornstarch on hand to stop any blood flow. And be prepared to treat the wound if an accident should happen.

Hope this helps!


Evil Rooster

I have written before, and I want to compliment you and your magazine because it is so helpful.

Our problem is Tophat, our rooster. He is very aggressive. When we go to get eggs or feed him, he attacks us. All of the websites and books say we need to get rid of him. But my mom loves him, and he is the prettiest rooster we have ever seen. Do we have to get rid of him? Can we tame him?

Mia Patel, Texas


Hi Mia, Thank you for your compliments on our magazine and our advice! Concerning Tophat, your aggressive rooster, the decision to keep him or not is really a personal one. Many people successfully learn to work with their aggressive roosters and do indeed keep them. Some choose to keep them because they are beautiful. Others find their aggressive rooster, while aggressive with humans, is a great flock protector. Some are able to tame their rooster’s aggressive behavior. Others choose the stewpot option. We have some great articles online that explore how to tame an aggressive rooster, set up a rooster bachelor pad and how to deal with rooster spurs. They’re certainly worth a read before making your decision. Good luck with Tophat!


Spreading on the Comb

Have you seen this before? I noticed a penny-sized spot two weeks ago. Since we are in Alaska and I let the crew out for one hour if the temps are above zero, I thought it was frostbite.

Now it is increasing and starting on the other side as well. At first it is wet then crusting over. I think it is bacterial.

Spot On Chicken Comb

Do you have any idea? The girls don’t show any sign of the same problem. I appreciate your suggestion.

Rita Butteri


Hi Rita,

Thank you for the excellent pictures. It really helps us see the problem, rather than guessing from a description. That said, we’re not exactly sure what might be causing this.

We don’t believe that it is frostbite. The tips of the comb would be the first to freeze, rather than the base. We guess the only way we think it could be frostbite is if he got water splashed on that area, which could be a possibility.

We think you might be right that it might be a bacterial infection. You might try getting a human antibacterial ointment and applying that.

Ron Kean discussed this with a colleague, and he wondered if he might be scratching the area. Check the rooster for mites on the possibility that he is scratching at those. It isn’t unusual for a rooster to have mites even if the hens don’t.

We also wondered about pecking. Are the other chickens pecking at his comb? It isn’t a common pecking wound that we’d expect, as usually the points get pecked rather than the bottom of the comb, but it is possible.

As we said, we’d probably try the antibiotic ointment and see how it goes.


Sex-Reversal Reversal?

I’m so glad I read your article on “Spontaneous Sex Reversal” (December 2014-January 2015, Backyard Poultry). Otherwise, I never would have known what was going on with BeyoncО, my favorite Jersey Giant Hen, then 2-and-a-half years old.

After reading the article, we both thought, “That must be freaky,” never expecting to ever see such a thing. About six months after re-homing our rooster (he was too small for our Giant girls to breed effectively, and a Giant rooster was way too big for our smaller girls), Beyonce started mounting other hens and making ungodly sounding attempts at crowing. As winter set, the very embarrassing behavior slowed down. She even sat occasionally in the nesting boxes, for nothing of course, but at least she remembered. So I thought she had changed back.

Fast forward to spring 2016. Just the other morning, I heard that ungodly attempt at crowing again. And she’s also back to mountain again. She must be so confused inside. I know the other girls are confused, period!

I’m wondering, will she ever change back? I only have one full Jersey, a daughter of hers, and two full Jersey nieces. If I got another rooster, would that help? Or would he try to drive her off or kill her? This may sound too farfetched, but my other rooster did just that. I caught him literally trying to tear her apart. I don’t want that again. Or should I rehome her?

Doreen Juliano


Hi Doreen,

It sounds like you’ve experienced exactly what we wrote about in that issue. When a hen’s left ovary fails and sufficient testosterone levels are reached in her body, the hen’s dormant right-side gonad becomes activated. When the dormant, right-side gonad is switched on, it develops into a sex organ called an ovotestis, which has both testicular and ovarian aspects. Scientists have found that an ovotestis can produce sperm. A sexually reversed hen with a “turned-on” ovotestis will actually try to mate with the other hens in the flock. There is conflicting information as to whether a hen that has undergone a spontaneous sex reversal and developed an ovotestis can sire offspring, but hey, anything’s possible in nature, right?

Roosters can also go through gender reversals as well, so it’s possible that your hen-turned-rooster could turn back into a hen again. But again, it’s pretty rare and takes some biological changes to happen. Keep us informed. We’re interested in hearing more about Beyonce.

Thanks for writing, and best of luck with your flock.


Is My Rooster Ready?

How old does a rooster have to be to fertilize eggs? My daughter has a rooster now, and I’m thinking it might be wise to put two or three of her fertilized eggs under my always broody Transylvanian Naked Neck.

The rooster is quite large now and crowing all and every day. Her hens are the same age as the rooster, but their eggs are still very small even though the hens are not small like bantams.

This might make my little grey Naked Neck happy. Please advise.

Sylvia White


Hi Sylvia,

Roosters become sexually mature around five to six months or so of age. You can definitely put fertile eggs under a broody hen. We would mark the shell with the date the eggs were laid. That way you know when to expect chicks and which eggs should not be under her.

It takes 21 days for eggs to hatch, but don’t get discouraged if the eggs don’t hatch on the 21st day. That’s just a generality and not a hard and fast rule. Do remember that you don’t know the sex of chicks from hatching eggs and there’s a more than 50% chance they will be roosters.

We hope this is helpful!


A Beak Problem

I have a barely one-year-old Ameraucana rooster who free ranges in the backyard and out of the yard once a day under supervision. Yesterday evening,  after I was gone all day, I noticed his top beak seems to be separating where it joins his head and he is having difficulty eating. It looks like a cat’s claw does when they sometimes shed them. I cannot see if there is new beak underneath, and he’s not very cooperative. What do I need to do? I have three hens as well; they are all together.

Cherry Shiflet


Hi Cherry,

My guess would be that he caught the beak on something and nearly tore it off. I’m not aware of any disease in chickens that causes something like that. If he can still eat and drink, it will likely heal. That may be difficult from your description. I would make sure his feed is fairly deep in a pan so he can eat easily.

Chickens generally heal fairly quickly, so if you can nurse him along for a week or so, things may go well.

Good luck!


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Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.

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