Backyard Chickens and a Sex Problem

Update–July 26, 2013:  The fox is in the henhouse, but this time it’s apparently a corporate fox with a misleading message, and the infuriated chickens are in a mood to do some serious pecking. Panera Bread Company’s ad campaign insinuates things about poultry farmers and antibiotic use, and some real farmers answer the call. Click here to get blog entries from Dairy Carrie and others.

Gender Bending–Poultry Style

Backyard farming has caused a stir, and when it comes to chickens, some say it has been tainted by fad followers. They accuse so-called hipsters of buying into the trend until they get disillusioned, often dumping the chickens when fresh eggs don’t magically appear. A recent article analyzes the situation, and sure enough—the problem boils down to a matter of sex.

When urban farmers order hens for their new Green Acres pursuit, they sometimes receive a certain amount of roosters with the shipment. As you might expect, the males generally make a lot of noise and bother the productive females. They don’t even taste very good. Apparently, sexual misidentification is hurting this backyard chicken movement.
Even Mike Rowe had trouble sexing chicks.
I can sympathize. Some years ago I was teaching at an international school in Tokyo, and I became the resident “sexer” for the place. The school had an animal refuge, a room for abandoned pets and other assorted animals. Judith, a teacher from California, ran the operation because of her compassion and her desire to give city kids exposure to animals.
Although I taught in a different section of the school, Judith knew I was an Iowa farm boy, so anytime she had trouble identifying the sex of an animal, she sent it my way. I’d be in my office, prepping a lesson about the symbolism of the green light in Gatsby, and a pair of ten-year-old kids would troop in with a box containing three new-born hamsters. “Judith wants you to sex these.” This line could come out in varied ways as the students there came from twenty or so different countries, but the basic concept attracted the attention of my office colleagues. So I would hold the rodent by the tail, turn it over, knit my brow, try to look sage, and then say “male” or “female.” I never received any complaints about my scientific work, although the animals didn’t seem impressed with my techniques.
During a subsequent summer, my family and I took a six-week trip back to the States, leaving our two male pet gerbils in the care of a neighbor. When we returned to Tokyo, the neighbor used broken English and expressive Japanese to explain that we now had nine gerbils. I didn’t tell Judith. I didn’t want to lose my sexing cred.
Back to the chicken hipster thing. Farming takes planning, perseverance, and a certain amount of knowledge. As I mentioned in this blog two weeks ago, my sister and her husband have twenty fast-growing chicks in the coop on their farm. They bought them for the right reasons, and they’ve put in the hard work, but it’s still no guarantee. My brother-in-law reports that hawks have been roosting in the tree just above the coop. They’re looking for a hole in the woven wire fence or a feathered escapee. And when it comes to mealtime, these hawks don’t do any sexing. Their menu has room for either gender.   

by dan gogerty (photo from, Dirty Jobs)

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