Cock of the Walk: When a Rooster Isn’t a Rooster September 12, 2018

My son recently bridged from Cub to Boy Scouts. In Cub Scouts, boys are organized into dens. In Boy Scouts, they are organized into patrols. My son was placed into the Rooster Patrol Group. Now, not only were we in possession of outlaw chickens, now we had a rooster, a most egregious sin.

While backyard chicken ordinances vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, the one constant seems to be the exclusion of roosters.  Contrary to popular belief, roosters crow at all hours of the day. Not needing a rooster for egg production, but needing a good night’s sleep, most backyard chicken farmers are just fine living in a roosterless world. But what about the hen’s? How do they “feel”?

Seven years ago, as a newbie to the world of backyard chickens, something quite unusual happened.

“The sound of crowing began emanating from the flock. When it first happened, I frankly couldn’t believe my ears. Then it came again and again. There was no mistaking it. It was a cock-eyed version of cock-a-doodle-do. It didn’t take long to find the source. There she was – Todd – standing at attention, craning her neck upwards, beak wide open crowing, not cluc

king. Shakespeare pondered what’s in a name? I pondered the same thing.

Todd was the only one of the girls given a boy’s name. Had this innocent gesture caused major psychological damage? The answer, according to science, was no.

Apparently, there is some gender fluidity within chickens. It is not common, but it is also not rare. In all flocks, a normal pecking order is established early on. In all fem

ale flocks, the top bird may begin to exhibit male characteristics in order to become protector. Sometimes, it is just a weird crow, like Todd. But sometimes the hens may cease laying eggs, develop rooster-like plumage, spurs, and begin mounting the other hens. 

In some hens, the change is not prompted by the lack of a rooster, but by damage done to the left ovary. Birds are born with two ovaries but utilize only the left one to produce eggs. The right one lays dormant. However, when the right ovary is damaged, it causes the left ovary to begin producing testosterone, resulting in the development of male physiological and behavioral characteristics. Even with the scientific explanation, it is an unusual phenomenon especially when it is happening to one of your hens.

When this happened in the 1400’s, before known scientific explanation, it was considered witchcraft. In the famous case of the “Rooster of Basel” in 1474, a hen, that most probably had a damaged left ovary, developed from the very start looking like a rooster. It had the plumage, the spur, and the signature crow. Unfortunately, at some point in time, the left ovary must have recovered and the rooster began to lay eggs. Outraged, the clergy took the bird to court where he/she was found guilty and was burned as a witch then cut open to reveal three more eggs lying in wait.

By the 1920’s, the climate had become more tolerant of these transgendered chickens. There was a case of a buff Orrington in Britain and the “Rooster of Madison” here in the United States. Both were spared the fate of their sister, the “Rooster of Basel” and lived pretty idyllic chicken lives being regarded simply as curiosities.

 

Todd wasn’t a curiosity. She was part of a modern family, progressive in their thoughts and  beliefs. If Todd needed to express herself as a male, that was perfectly fine with me and Chris.

 

Whether or not she tired of the exercise, or Nicole, Ellen and Glynn Ann put the kibosh on Todd’s antics, Todd’s crowing soon ceased and the “natural” order of the flock with four hens and two human roosters was restored.”

Like many suburban backyard chicken farmers, I got into it on a whim. It was a dreary, cold, February morning, and my partner and I began looking at chicken keeping blogs which was a portal down the rabbit hole to chicken farming. It didn’t take too long to find mypetchicken.com. We used the online tool to select the right chickens for our climate and personalities – added them to our cart, and we were on our way. Throughout the journey, especially in those first months and even years, the advice and guidance received from the mypetchicken community helped to keep our chickens healthy and us reasonable sane. And that journey has culminated into a book where you can find this yarn and many others – Roost: Confess

ions of a First-Time Chicken Farmer, published by Apprentice House, and due to be released on October 1.

Advanced copies may be ordered at Barnes and Noble dot com. https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/roost-bronwyn-mitchell-strong/1128579332?ean=9781627201834

Check out the Book Trailer: https://vimeo.com/280567251

Join the Roost Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/bstrongwritenow/

Advanced Praise

“Roost is nothing less than a handbook for successful chicken keeping nested within Ms. Mitchell-Strong’s entertaining and revealing personal narrative. Readers with chickens will immediately recognize themselves in its pages, nodding their heads knowingly as she experiences both the heartbreak and joy that are the chicken keeper’s rights of passage.”

— Robert Litt, author of A Chicken in Every Yard: The Urban Farm Store’s Guide to Chicken Keeping

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[…] detailed in my last post, Cock of the Walk: When a Rooster isn’t a Rooster, many local chicken ordinances outlaw roosters, and most chickeneers are happy to comply. It is a […]

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