Growth and Rooster Denial

Over the last few weeks, the chicks have continued to grow and their personalities have begun to wake up and show their faces. It’s safe to say that the whole family is in love with them. I never understood why people talked to their dogs, but now I find myself doing it to the chickens. I love the little puffballs and they seem to love…the way I give them food. I think they like to be held. Sometimes they don’t want to get off my hand when I try to let them down; their little dinosaur claws gripping onto my fingers.

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Funny little weirdo poofs

I’ve decided that chickens ARE intelligent creatures, despite what everyone says. I mean, I wouldn’t compare them to a dog or a dolphin, but they have intelligence and distinct personalities. They are constantly figuring how to escape out of their little fenced off area of the living room. They are quick to snatch up any bugs that happen to wander into their brooder. They have a clearly established pecking order. They change their peeps depending on what’s happening or what they want. You just know it’s not all hot air floating around in those little heads.

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George and Waffle playing outside for the first time. Apparently leaves are fun.

Oh, and all but one have names now. We’ve got Chipmunk, Turkey, George, and Waffle. Their names have been slowly coming as certain appearances or personality traits appear. Only our white chick is without a name so far. My mom keeps calling her “Stupid” to my great aggravation. She’s not stupid, she’s just docile and sweet. Maybe I’ll call her Hedwig.

Now to the hard part. We may just be the unluckiest family to have ever gotten backyard chickens, becauseI can only say with confidence that ONE out of FIVE of these chicks are female. Yeah. That means that I’ve potentially got four cocky roosters, that I’ve fallen madly in love with, on my hands. And guess what, all four with names, are the ones having their gender questioned. Trying not to read too much into what that says about the female gender in general.

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80% male? Hopefully not.

In the recent weeks, they’ve become old enough for several distinguishing male characteristics to show up.

  1. Aggression: Chickens have a pecking order, but it’s different when one of them is constantly picking fights, kicking, raising his hackles, and just being a general chicken jerk.
  2. Comb size and redness: According to what I’ve read online, the comb is a big indicator of a potential rooster. The size is one, but more importantly, is the redness. Although all adult chickens will end up with redness in their combs, usually only the male chicks will have red showing at just 4-6 weeks of age. Females, on the other hand, will still have a comb, but it will remain light pink or yellow.
  3. Feathering: Long pointed tail feathers, straight/pointy hackle (neck) feathers, a thin strip of feathering down the back, pointed feathers at the base of the back…these are all male characteristics.
  4. Leg size: As expected, males will tend to have thicker, stockier legs than females. In comparison, their legs will be delicate and thin.

Now, in the battle to figure out who’s a boy and who’s a girl, some contenders have strongly male characteristics, while others are so ambiguous that I just can’t tell. Maybe you all could help me out a bit! So here they are in order of male surety:

First up: Turkey, 90% sure

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Turkey, sadly, is most likely a boy. He’s the HBIC or, more appropriately, the HCIC. He’s the top of the pecking order and is constantly stating his dominance; sometimes for no reason at all. When he does so, he raises his hackles, poofs himself up, jumps, and sometimes kicks until the chicken he’s addressing runs away or dips their head in shame. He’s also got pointy tail feathers, stocky legs, a bright pink (though small) comb, and a single poorly developed ridge of feathers down his back. Lastly, Turkey had a few horribly loud screaming sounds. Not a “cockadoodle-doo” but a literal scream like a pterydactyl.

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Second: Chipmunk, 60%

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You’re not supposed to have favorites, but I’ve always had a sweet spot for little chipmunk. The smallest, handpicked, the first I fell in love with. He/she will develop into something beautiful and interesting I’m sure as he/she’s crossed as an Easter Egger and a Phoenix. It would be that the only two Easter Eggers in my flock would turn out to potentially be male. That leaves no green egg laying chickens. Chipmunk is a suspected rooster due to the size and redness of the comb as well as the appearance of some hackle feathers. They become raised occasionally when threatened by Turkey. His back and tail feathers make me questions if he’s actually a she though. It’s not a clearly defined single ridge, but more spread out like a female’s. The tail feathers are a bit long, but his Phoenix side has distinctly long tail feathers, even in females, so there’s that. His/her feet are also not as large and stocky as, say, Turkey’s.

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Chipmunk tolerating my handling.

Third: George, 50%

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We thought we had named George ironically, but maybe it was on point. George has always been the interesting one: most curious (that’s why he’s named George), standing tall and straight, first to run up when you have food, loudest chirper, etc. George has the largest comb of anyone, but it’s not very dark pink, which is a good sign. The Australorp breed has a large comb naturally so it’s not a tell tail. George does, however have stocky legs and a few longish tail feathers. The tail feathers, however, are starting to fill out into a more hen-like shape. The saddle and hackle feathers on George are more round than pointy, a female sign. And, the feathers on his back are wide and developed rather than in a thin ridge. I’m very uncertain about George but he’s a family favorite for sure and we’d hate to see him/her go.

Last: Waffle, 25%

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Last up on the podium here is Waffle. Waffle is hen-like in most ways except for the bright and deep pink of her small comb. Waffle is the latest to be named and second to last in the pecking order. She loves when her coop is cleaned and fluffs up and takes little pine shaving baths whenever we change the bedding. She even tries to roll over. The only other suspicion I have of Waffle at the moment are her thin and pointy neck feathers. As an adult, her breed (Wyandotte), does have long pointy neck feathers, so I’m trying not to be too concerned about that.

So there are our potential boys, and here is White Poofy Fluffball (not her actual name).

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She is so clearly a hen that I have no doubts about her at all. Her comb is small and pink, she’s fluffed up and feathered out nice and poofy like a hen should be, she’s rock bottom of the pecking order, quite and sweet and timid and docile, and her legs are thin and dainty. She’s everything a lady chicken should be and I’m happy that we’ve at least got one on our hands.

 

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be deciding what to do with out potential roosters as, hopefully, more male and female characteristics come out of them. One of the farms where we got the chicks from has already told me that they will take any roosters and have assured me that they will be allowed to run about with the laying females and live out the rest of their rooster life on their happy farm. I hope that it’s the truth. It’s hard to get attached to something, only to find out that it will have to go.

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Shake a Tail Feather

It’s already been one week since the I brought the chicks home. Watching them grow is like someone’s pressed fast forward on life.

Feathers and things appear overnight. Their size grows las though someone’s put them on steroids. Everyone’s got a few tiny tail feathers now. I didn’t know something could grow so fast until I watched it happen. Now I know what all aunts and uncles mean when they say “you’re so big now!”, except now I say it daily.

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Look at those new tail feathers and wings!

The morning after I brought the chicks home, I greeted them with a “Morning chickies!” as soon as I approached their cage. After all the cuddles the night before, I expected them to come running or at least chirp happily at my arrival. Nope. Wings flapped, pine shavings flew, and the chicks scratched and scrambled their way into their apartment, safe from my evil grasp.

Determined to turn them into the friendliest chicks this side of the 405, I promised to hold each of them once a day for as long as I could. I set off for work, and once I returned, I stuck to my promise. I got a towel from the cupboard, filled a small cup with some chick food, grabbed my first victim, and made my way to the couch. The black chick and I sat for an uncomfortable ten minutes, until her restless chirping told me someone was getting more distressed by the minute.

As the days passed this week, I slowly made progress. It was pretty cool to watch the fear melt away. After two or three days, they no longer ran whenever I appeared or spoke. Now, they aren’t fazed at all by my loud call of “morning chickies!”. I found adorable success when I realized that they love to play in my hair and curl up to the warmth of my neck. It’s a nice cool down after work to come home, grab a chick or two, retreat to the couch, and get my daily dose of cuddles. When I place them on my belly and recline on the couch, they usually make their way up to my hair, toss and ruffle up the strands till they are safely covered, then fall asleep against my neck.

They’ve also begun to get playful and curious, especially the black chick, who will potentially be named George (you know, Curious George), and Chipmunk. I experimented the other night by coming up to the cage and holding some corn flakes in my hand. George didn’t even hesitate and was immediately at my hand, inspecting my gift. She pecked and grabbed at a corn flake and excitedly ran away. Chipmunk suddenly appeared and started chasing George all around the cage, trying to steal the cornflake. The other chicks were mildly interested but seemed much happier sleeping in the corner than running about after breakfast cereal.

 

Now, rather than instantly running when I open the cage door, George and Chipmunk run to the front and hop out (probably looking for more cornflake footballs to play with).

Our only hiccup so far has been when Chipmunk and Lavender figured out that they were small enough to squeeze through the spaces in the cage. We woke up one morning to hear loud chirping/screaming. Chipmunk had successfully made it out of the cage but got stuck trying to get back in. Don’t worry, she’s all safe and was hardly shaken up by the experience it seems since she still tries to escape whenever she can. We’ve since taped a bit of paper around the base so that nothing happens to her when no one is able to come to the rescue.

Other than that, they’ve been wonderful, puffy, poopie joys. Seriously, they poop so much. It’s amazing. The bigger they get, the bigger they poop. The bigger they poop, the more often we have to clean the cage. They’ve also begun shaking, scratching, and tossing all their food onto the floor. That might be my fault…I think they are searching for cornflakes…..

Anyway, here they all are, just one week, but already so much closer to chickens.

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Chipmunk

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Black Chick (George)

 

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Lavender

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Easter Egger

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Wyandotte

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Last week’s photo for comparison