Monday, January 12, 2015

Cockerels or Hens?

September was chicken incubating time. I had been after some fertilized Light Sussex eggs and managed to get some from a local farmer. Nine eggs fit into our device which turns the eggs and maintains the right temperature and humidity. There are few interventions needed except to decrease the temperature once and increase the water when there are a few days to go. Three weeks of waiting and they started to hatch. Six successful chicks. Into the brooder box for a few more weeks with plenty of intervention - feeding, watering and cleaning out the box. I began to fantasize that they were six hens and no roosters. I even lined up someone's spare rooster for eventually fertilizing their eggs for more incubating. Since mid-October these six beautiful chicks have been out in the yard. But how many hens and how many roosters?
Firstly I noticed that four had grey legs and two had yellow legs but otherwise they were identical. What did that mean? Trawling the net gave the answer. Pure-bred Sussex have grey legs - add a bit of mongrel chicken and the legs are yellow. They grew a bit more and some started to develop combs. I still hoped for hens.
One suggestion for telling the difference was their response when you throw a hat above them. Males will instinctively look up to meet the danger and females will crouch down. They all crouched down. Maybe I was lucky.
Then three started to get taller, have bigger combs and more upright tails. Could these be roosters?
More research proved inconclusive. While these characteristics are more often male ones, in Sussex chooks it does not mean anything. So how many are hens?
Then I found a more definitive answer. If you look at their 'saddle' feathers - those below their 'hackle' feathers the males have pointed ones and the females more rounded.

Rooster with Pointed Saddle Feathers

Hen with Rounded Saddle Feathers

The final answer - three rooster and three hens.

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