Cast and Crew

Friday, May 21, 2010

Gender Identity Issues

Alright, I'll admit it. We have been in denial. The concept has flickered across our brains since the end of our first week with the babies, but neither of us wanted to say it. So, instead, we went with what sounded "reasonable" in the moment.

"She's such a big girl!"

"She must be a week or two older than the other two Sussex."

"Look at that healthy comb and those wattles! She's gonna start laying before they get out of their brooder!"

You can sense what's coming, because your judgement isn't clouded by adoration or affection. In all honesty, we really liked Milla. She was sweet and curious, didn't mind being held any more than the others, and her feathering was second to none. I was really looking forward to having her around for a long time.

Last Friday, I came home from work to a disturbing sound in the backyard. It was coming from the brooder box. I stopped and listened, certain that one of the babies was in distress or dying. "Booor-kle!" I stepped closer. "Booor-kle!" It sounded like an accordion being run over by a car. I peeked into the brooder and watched Milla puff out her chest, open her beak, and borkle. I went from 10% convinced she was a rooster to 98% convinced. Aimee didn't believe me until she heard it on Sunday morning. "Booor-kle!" New roosters don't really get their voice for a while. Think of it like puberty in human boys. Milla was just learning how to crow. It will get worse.

"What do we call her.... er.... him, now?" Aimee asked. I shrugged and began suggesting similar names: Milo, Milton, Milos, Malcolm. We are still calling her Milla. Her. Milla. It hasn't sunk in completely. What to do with a rooster in the city? Everett municipal code, like so many urban chicken codes in other cities, prohibits keeping roosters, and it's for good reason. Contrary to city logic, roosters do not crow exclusively at sunrise. They'll wake you up any time they feel like crowing, especially if you're tired, it's late, or you have an important college paper due the next day. In addition to those lovely aspects, roosters defend their flocks from enemies. You might be one. Google "rooster" and you'll be inundated with tales of rooster attacks and wounds that are physical and emotional. Adult males grow a spur on their legs. It's a little like a long toenail, but it's sharp like a scythe. They will defend themselves and their hens to the death. (I am inwardly denying that these characteristics could ever be demonstrated by sweet, shy Milla. Of course she would grow up to be a nice rooster!) If you can't keep him, what will you do with him? Some folks hand their unwanted roos off to unsuspecting caretakers, others post ads on Craigslist and don't ask questions about what will happen to the little boy after the exchange takes place. By the way, eating roosters is common in lots of countries. We just don't realize it happens in the US, because we're really out of touch with the source of our food. Aimee and I have already discussed raising meat birds in a year or two. It looks like we get our chance early. Yes, that's right. Milla is going to be a barbecued bird sooner than later.

Stay tuned for more on the dilemmas of raising and roasting pets.


  1. Oh the reality of urban farming. Yes, find a home for him soon if you don't have it in you to keep your chickens for meat. Sounds like you already have it figured out. Good luck

  2. Hee hee, the same thing happened with one of our Americauna's last year. Wow, she's so much bigger and bossier. Wow, she seems to be in control of the flock. Hmm, her feathering is fantastic! And then came that night, that 3am wakeup call when I realized Fluffycheeks was a boy, not a girl. And this boy preferred to crow right about 3am every day. Fluffycheeks has gone to the big coop in the sky - and he tasted pretty good too. =)

    Oh, and the crowing? That was the weirdest thing I'd ever heard. It was like he had laryngitis. I was lucky to get it on video:

  3. I can't wait to hear how it goes! My partner and I have similar conversations about our girls... we are off/on convinced our ameraucana ("thirsty boots") is actually a rooster. Today when I was playing around with them I noticed that I thought one of the buff orpington's seemed a tad bigger than the other. And that maybe one of the white crested polish had bigger wattles than the other.
    Time will tell! We started with 8 thinking that realistically 1 would die and 1 would be a rooster. We had a buff die the 2nd I guess we are waiting to see which one is a rooster.
    The polish are all a bit scrappier, but I think that is their general disposition.
    Keep us posted!

  4. Ahhh yes, the famous hen turns into a rooster! I`ve been there myself many a time. Always seems to be the one you really wanted to be a girl too!

  5. We too ended up with a rooster in this years batch. Our first. Someone pointed it out early in the season when I commented on the tall comb. We were bummed but he is pretty calm so far. The crow of a young rooster sure is funny though.


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