Confusion in the Chook Yard
I never said I was an expert. I only claim to be a chook lover. So how was I to know that my prize hen, Ella (as in, Fitzgerald) is a rooster? She has always been the biggest, most aggressive (read: bossy) of the hens. I could see she was going to be the first to produce an egg (not counting the much older bantam hen Blossom, dearie, who was already laying when I got them). The fellow who sold them to me alleged that there were five hens and one rooster (not counting Blossom, dearie), and he said he had banded the hens. (I have a witness.) So I was entitled to think that Ella, who was banded, was a hen
. . . the fact that she seemed rather precocious notwithstanding.
I’ve been watching her very closely of late–hoping to get my first googie. About a week ago I heard my little rooster, Satchmo (who was/is unbanded) issue his first crow. At least it was the first cockadoodle-doo I heard from him–he may have been practicing when I wasn’t around. That was pretty exciting, I can tell you. The timing seemed right–that he would start crowing about the same time Ella looked ready to lay her first egg.
Well. You can imagine my astonishment–and confusion–when I saw Ella crowing! Repeatedly. There could be no mistake. So I’m left wondering–is Ella actually a rooster? or is she a hen who thinks she’s a rooster? If she’s a hen, who’s the rooster? And why is she crowing?
Naturally I googled (as opposed to googied) ‘Australorp roosters’ to try to find out how to tell the hens from the roosters (at this stage of development). I’m sorry to have to report that the information was somewhat contradictory. Downright confusing, in fact.
Here’s an example of what I found:
On this site there are some photos of chooks that look just like mine, including Ella. All the observers agree that they are all hens! On another site there are instructions for how to tell hens from roosters:Instructions
- Examine the blade of the comb which is the lobe-like area at the rear of the comb. Roosters have rounded blades nearly half the length of the comb. Female Australorp chickens have combs that only cover two-thirds of the head and end in a sharp point.
- Check the red waddle of the bird. The Australorp rooster has a waddle that is longer than it is wide. The Australorp hen has a waddle that is wider, or as wide as, it is long.
- Examine the neck plumage of the chicken. Males Australorps have pointy neck plumage that cascades over the shoulder and down to the beginning of the wing. Female neck plumage reaches the shoulder and is rounded.
- Observe the tail of the chicken. The tail feathers of male Australorp chickens cascade in a soft rounded waterfall effect. Australorp hens have blunt, short tail feathers.
One expert seemed to think that a hen might crow–until she starts to lay. The rest of the reporters all said hens do not crow. So I guess I have to look really closely at their feathers, feet (roosters have a spur), and the comb. It sounds easier than it is, I can assure you. I shall let you know what I discover.
Meanwhile, Ella is pretty vocal, and very blues-y, with a gravelly low note to finish off with. I just hope they know what/who they all are!
What a cock-up. MM
Trust a chook to be gender-fluid!