Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I Don't Have a Rooster -- An Open Letter to My Neighbors

Dear Neighbors,

I promise you; I don’t have a rooster. 

I know that you must hear what you believe to be a crowing male in my chicken yard.  In the early morning hours, I suspect you may be slightly irritated by the occasional cock-a-doodle-do, despite that my property is zoned agricultural and it’s OK for me to have livestock.  But I assure you, there is no rooster on my property, nor is there likely ever to be one.  

The culprit is actually a hen, who carries the distinctive name, Princess Mindy Bird Brain – Mindy for short. When she began to crow one day, I was dumbfounded.  I didn’t know hens were capable of vocalizing in such ways, but there she was – educating me in the quirky ways of certain chicken girls.

Of course, at first, being hearing impaired, I didn’t trust my ears.  I must’ve imagined it, much like I sometimes twist the lyrics of a song and end up singing it wrong for years. (That’s happened…) Then Mindy did it again – an unlikely, un-dainty, rusty croak emanating from my princess, who at the time was an only hen.  It could be no other.

The crowing doesn’t happen all of the time, but often enough for me to finally Google “gender confusion in backyard hens.”  What did the world do without Google, right?  Apparently, there is an uncommon but not unheard of phenomenon in hens known as Spontaneous Sex Reversal, and Mindy’s odd crowing behavior does seem to fit a bit of the profile. 

Except… while abnormal hens who experience this reversal trend tend to take on physical rooster traits, such as increased size, elongated necks, increased spur size and distinctive combs, Mindy hasn’t developed any of those signs.  Sex reversed hens usually stop laying, due to ovary damage.  Mindy, however, still proudly presents me with an egg every day.

So, what gives?  She doesn’t display the usual signs of Spontaneous Sex Reversal, so what do I have on my hands -- an abnormally abnormal hen?  That would be just like me to have such a thing, wouldn’t it?

Now Neighbors, I know you’re already aware that I’m a sarong-wearing, barefooted hippie who hugs horses and herds cats – and you tolerate me quite nicely, thanks -- but would you be shocked to learn that I had a conversation with my hen about her non-mainstream behavior?  Well… I did.

In my quest to understand rather than judge, I questioned her about why she felt compelled to crow.  Of course, she didn’t answer in words, but in behavior, which I observe very closely. 

Here's what I know.  Mindy has a story.  She and her sister were rescue chicks, but Maggie died in their first year, leaving Mindy alone.  Even with plenty of handling and love from her humans, she lived on her own for almost four years before welcoming two newcomers this past spring. 

I wondered out loud, “What do we do when we’re alone?”  Answer:  We adapt.  She had no rooster to protect her and no other hens to keep her company, so she developed a new coping mechanism for those times when she felt threatened:  crowing.  Sort of a warrior chicken battle cry.  And I think that living alone, she kept herself company with the sound of her own quirky songs.  I get that, because I sing to myself all the time when I'm alone.  

My conclusion is that she's evolved into a strong, capable Bantam/Rhode Island Red mixed Bird of Power.  How awesome is that?

Mindy found her voice, and damn it!  She’s speaking up.  OK.  It’s not a dainty voice.  It’s not particularly feminine where chickens are concerned, but it’s hers and she owns it.  When she has something to say, she’s going to say it. 

So, Neighbors, I’m going to encourage you to embrace Mindy’s crowing, if you can.  It’s not intended as an insult to your pre-dawn, pre-caffeine experience.  It’s the croaky song of an empowered Sunshine Chicken Girl, proclaiming to the world that it’s a new day.

Rock on, little red hen!!


Your Hippie Chick Neighbor

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