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What is a Cockerel?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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A cockerel is a young rooster, a male chicken which has not been castrated. The point when a chicken transitions from being a cockerel to a rooster is a bit ambiguous, but in general, a rooster is a chicken which has fully matured, and mated with hens, while a cockerel is either still growing, or inexperienced with hens. When a cockerel is castrated, it becomes a capon. Capons do not develop in the same way as uncastrated birds, and they tend to be calmer and easier to handle as well as physically different from roosters and cockerels.

The term comes from the Old English cokerel, which is a diminutive form of cok, or “rooster.” At one time, adult male chickens were referred to as cocks, but when this term acquired a new definition in slang, the word “rooster” came into being. “Rooster” dates to around the mid-1800s, and it is particularly popular in the United States, a nation where double-entendres about cocks abound around the barnyard.

Cockerels have several traits which distinguish them from hens, often at a very early age. When chicks are first born, it is usually difficult to distinguish between males and females, but within weeks, cockerels have markedly pronounced combs on their heads, and they may appear bulkier, with longer and more decorative tail feathers. As they develop, these traits will become more and more notable.

Roosters tend to be larger and heavier than hens, with muscular bodies and spurred feet used in fighting. They also have long, decorative tail feathers, and heavy wattles and combs. A cockerel often looks particularly sleek and graceful, since the bird has not yet bulked out or begun fighting to defend territory with other birds, although cockerels can and will squabble if left alone with each other. It is common for a cockerel to seem especially proud and self assured, which explains why “cockerel” is sometimes used as a slang term to describe someone with an inflated ego.

Once a cockerel matures into a rooster, he will be happiest with a flock of hens to look after. Roosters generally rely on patrolling their territory to keep their hens loyal, and they will fight viciously with roosters who attempt to steal hens from the flock. The fighting instinct of roosters is world famous, and in some regions, roosters are actually bred specifically for fighting as a blood sport.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is a cockerel?

A cockerel is a young male chicken, typically less than a year old. The term is often used interchangeably with 'rooster,' but technically, a rooster is an adult male chicken. Cockerels are known for their developing plumage, crowing, and territorial behavior as they mature into roosters.

How do you differentiate a cockerel from a hen?

Cockerels can be distinguished from hens by their more vibrant plumage, larger combs and wattles, and the presence of spurs on their legs. Their feathers often have pointed tips, unlike the rounded ones of hens. Additionally, cockerels will begin to crow and exhibit more assertive behavior as they grow.

At what age does a cockerel become a rooster?

A cockerel typically becomes a rooster at around one year of age. This transition is marked by the cockerel reaching sexual maturity, fully developing its distinctive plumage, and taking on the full behavioral characteristics of an adult male chicken, including territoriality and a well-established crow.

Why do cockerels crow, and at what age do they start?

Cockerels crow as a natural instinct to assert territory and communicate with other chickens. They typically start crowing between 4 to 5 months of age. Crowing serves multiple purposes, including signaling their presence to potential mates and deterring other males from entering their territory.

Can you keep multiple cockerels together?

Keeping multiple cockerels together can lead to aggressive behavior as they vie for dominance and territory. It's generally recommended to have a lower ratio of cockerels to hens to minimize conflict. In larger flocks with ample space, it's possible to keep more than one cockerel if they establish a clear pecking order.

What is the role of a cockerel in a flock of chickens?

The role of a cockerel in a flock is multifaceted. As they mature into roosters, they protect the flock from predators, find and share food, and mate with the hens to ensure the continuation of the flock. Their presence can also help maintain social order within the group.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon961057 — On Jul 14, 2014

Coq au vin is often made with roosters. Rooster broth is said to be the tastiest. I cannot attest to this, but a French restaurant that serves coq au vin, which is stewed slowly, could very well state that the meat is from a rooster.

Getting to the other question, half of the broilers sold in grocery stores are cockerels. Broilers mature so young, gender does not matter. They are usually processed at about 10-16 weeks.

By bfree — On May 18, 2011

@angelBraids – Certainly you can eat cockerels. They are cooked just like any other kind of chicken. Of course its tenderness depends a lot on the breed and age of the bird. Generally they are ready for cooking at 12 – 16 months old. Braising or poaching them helps tenderize the meat and roasting them is the most common cooking method.

Restaurants even serve cockerel or rooster on their menus even though it’s referenced under a chicken dish. I’ve eaten several times at my favorite French restaurant and it’s been delicious every time. When it’s prepared well you really can’t tell the difference.

By MissMuffet — On May 18, 2011

To me a cockerel is a noise machine! I spent a painful year living next door to someone who thought he needed a male bird around for his hens to lay eggs!

It was pretty close to torture being woken up at dawn every morning, seven days a week. I wouldn't have minded if it was a rural area, but this was the suburbs.

Lots of people tried to make him deal with it, offering sensible suggestions like covering the windows of the cockerel's coop to block the light in the early morning. Nothing changed though so I had to move.

By Windchime — On May 18, 2011

@angelBraids - I grew up on a farm and we sometimes ate cockerel meat. Male birds are better eaten young, before they get very muscular. They are more likely to be stewed than roasted.

I don't know for sure if a restaurant would advertise their chicken dish as rooster based, but if cooked properly it really doesn't make a difference.

By angelBraids — On May 18, 2011

Are cockerels ever killed for their meat? I know that chickens may be kept alive to lay eggs, and some cocks allowed to mature to be used for mating. I just can't imagine that castrated birds are kept alive for no purpose at all.

Having said that, I've never seen rooster on the menu anyplace I've eaten.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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