If you want eggs from you hens, no rooster's needed. But if you want to raise chicks in your backyard, you generally need a rooster to copulate with the hen in order for eggs to hatch. However, copulation's not the only way to do it -- though you still need a rooster. Artificial insemination isn't that difficult. You can artificially inseminate hens yourself.
The Natural Way
Chicken sex is pretty short and workmanlike. A rooster might mate up to 30 times a day, depending on the number of hens in his flock. He leaves millions of sperm cells inside the hen's oviduct with each mating. She stores the sperm in special glands so that, as each ovum comes out of her ovary, the glands release sperm cells to fertilize it. Sperm remains viable for up to two weeks inside the hen. If your hen goes broody, she will lay a clutch and set on them herself for three weeks until they hatch.
Commercial hatcheries often use artificial insemination for chicken production, as do many breed fanciers. Once you learn the technique, it might be something to consider for your backyard flock, especially if raising more exotic fowl. It's an option if your best hens fail to go broody, or if you aren't permitted to keep a rooster because of zoning laws or the desire not to upset your neighbors. You'll need a plastic syringe, a medicine dropper, a glass rod and a cup. Stands that simplify hen insemination are available from poultry suppliers.
According to the The Merck Veterinary Manual, you collect semen from a rooster by "stimulating the copulatory organ to protrude by massaging the abdomen and the back over the testes." Once it's protruding, quickly push his tail forward with one hand. Using your thumb and forefinger, milk the semen from the rooster's organ. You can collect it in a cup or similar container.
For best results, you need two people for hen insemination. Inseminate only hens that are currently laying. There's no point in using this method for hens that are spent, pullets not yet laying and hens that rarely produce eggs. Hold each one the same way you did the rooster, gently stimulating them in the same manner. You'll see her vent opening, with a little orifice appearing. That's the opening to the oviduct. The semen should be in a syringe or eye dropper. While you're holding the hen, your helper should place the syringe or dropper about 1 inch deep into the orifice and release the semen.
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.