Just like humans, chickens are all the same when they are babies. Boy or girl, they squeak and chirp, and cling to their mom. But chickens grow up quickly.
The definitive sign of a rooster is its ‘co-co-co-rico!’ when it reaches maturity at about 4 months. We’ve been there before. Subtler signs are present earlier than maturity. At 2-3 months, a roo’s feathers start to distinguish themselves from those of the hens with pointy hackle feathers and downturned saddle feathers. But without a lot of experience, you don’t quite believe it. You’re still hoping for a girl, so you wait for that first crow. After a few roosters, the signs are obvious earlier and earlier. Besides the feathers, squeaking becomes honking as a roo’s voice changes in ‘adolescence’ (2 mo). And if you have more than one rooster, and you’re paying attention, you might see them dance the rooster dance.
The rooster dance starts at about 2 weeks old when baby roos start to play fight. They face off, then fly up at each other, pretending to tear out each others faces with their little clawed feet. I know that sounds awful, but as with any baby animal, it’s actually quite cute. And they are just playing. A little later on, the rooster dance is more serious – a real fight for dominance, and can result in serious injury.
I mid-August, I took our four roos from April and May back to The Bradley Farm where I got the eggs. Rooster dances followed by honking, and – in the case of the blue orpington – monstrous growth, allowed us to separate the roos from the pullet. I ended up exchanging the roos for two day-old chicks. I wasn’t planning on getting more chicks, but Calamity Jane was broody again and I thought – what the heck. It’s fun to have babies around.
It was the first time I stuck day-old chicks under a broody hen instead of letting her hatch her own (surrogate) clutch. And it worked! Calamity Jane took to the babies and left the nest. There is an adorable blue orpington and a lovely little lavender trailing about after her clucking motheringness. It has been a pleasure to watch them with the ridiculous hope that these would be girls. Having not yet seen the dance, I was beginning to assume that of roosters we had one or none.
Today I saw them dance the dance, and my heart sank. Among my two broody hens, we have raised 8 baby chickens this year. In the lot, there was ONE girl. ONE out of EIGHT. That is statistically very far from 50%. Including the previous two years, we have raised 12 straight run chicks. Ten of them have been roos. What is up with that?
I am not sure what we’ll do if (and I mean when) the girls go broody again next spring. Including the one pullet from Calamity Jane’s April brood, we now have 5 hens. That is a fine number for an urban flock. I suppose that raising roosters is an easy way to get the girls off the nest without increasing the size of our flock, so maybe I will just keep this baby rooster wheel spinning.