This Father’s Day, we’d like to introduce you to some of the male animals whose relations are commonly farmed to find out more about their lives and preferences. Some choose solitude, some fight for their social position, while others form supportive bands of brothers and roam together quite contentedly. But who will get our Father’s Day Award?
In the chicken world, there is an ever-changing pecking order and in a mixed flock, a rooster would normally take the top spot. There is a lot of responsibility in holding this position, requiring the alpha to remain vigilant, protect the flock from outside attack, and sort out squabbles within it. But with responsibility comes perks and privileges, notably with food and females.
One rooster can watch over, care for and mate with a flock up to 15 hens. If the flock is larger and contains several roosters, the males will naturally create their own mini flocks within the flock and will generally leave the other males alone.
But when the highest-ranking male tires of the responsibility, or when he ages and his reign is overthrown, he descends the pecking order again. Maybe it’s a relief after the high-pressure service he has given.
Like chickens, wild turkeys are social beings, but their friendship groups look very different to those of chickens. At about six months old, males from the same brood break away and form a sibling bachelor group that can last for life. This band of brothers is incredibly loyal to one another, and fiercely protective, and are predictably hostile to incomers.
While the females and their offspring live together in one large flock, the males keep to their own smaller flocks, and roam the forests together. They chat amongst themselves almost constantly, to reassure, to let others know their location, to express their feelings, and to warn of danger.
Within the male flocks, there is a hierarchy, and fights do break out at times, but life is generally pretty peaceful. They often follow the same route and routines every day, going to the same feeding grounds, all the while at least one will keep a lookout. At night, when they need to sleep, the boys roost in trees to avoid predators, and sleep soundly until the morning when they start a new day, following their usual paths, and watching each other’s backs.
Boars do things a little differently. While several sows may form a matriarch-led social group and take care of their offspring communally, most boars prefer their own company.
They generally live a solitary life except for the during the mating season and are not shy of a full-on fight with another male when competing for females. Females and piglets vocalise more than the males – with a whole range of grunts, barks, growls and squeals. The males are more often the strong silent type who reportedly get grumpier with age.
Not all are loners, though. Some young males form a bachelor group, and studies have shown that these friendship groups can survive even into adulthood.
Research has found that all modern cows could be descended from as few as 80 animals that were domesticated from now-extinct aurochs (wild oxen) more than 10,000 years ago.
It’s hard to know how wild bulls behave given the modern cow is a world away from the aurochs, but there can be clues in the behaviour of the “Chillingham Cattle” – a herd that has remained genetically isolated for hundreds of years and who live wild on an estate in Northumberland. There, the females have a complex social system while the males have a simple pecking order when they are in the same area.
For most bovids, it’s the mothers who care for the young but the males of one distant relation of the modern cow, the musk ox, also protect them, forming a defensive circle around them when threatened. Our Father’s Day Award therefore goes to the Musk Ox.