It's been long overdue for this blog to wander around in some of the farm happenings here. Especially with the big news.. One of the original four hens, an old lady, has transitioned into a rooster.
It's actually the only Old Lady left of the four that came to live here as chicks, nearly ten years ago. It is the chicken formally and at times still known as Alice, the leader and ruler of the flock all these years. She's been a good layer, producing 4-5 eggs a week with a brief rest and molt from a little before Thanksgiving til about Winter Solstice. She did get pulled into some palmettos several years ago by some unknown predator and was immediately rescued but has since had a limp in her left leg. The last few years her body cavity has collected fluid at times and she became heat stressed easily. With the hot climate here it became regular practice to put her up in a cage in an air conditioned shop when the weather was above 95F. She continued to lay eggs.
Most of her hen life she didn't care much for the roosters that happened to grow up and move on from here. She was not at all bisexual like Vanilla, but was choosy about roos. There was one she liked, Dandelion.. Of this love affair at least one chick was hatched, a rooster named Oregano. He grew up, was sent to the coop at Wickham Park where he sired several chicks and then went on to another farm to sire others. Alice has several great-grand chicks out there.
Year nine was a hard year for the remaining Old Ladies as they became to be known. As molt came on, old age hit hard. Both Acorn and Angel passed from old age issues a few weeks apart. Alice looked soon to follow as she suffered through the yearly replacing of her feathers. But she persisted and we let her keep her now nightly spot in the shop cage. Everyone was surprised as her feathers grew in more vibrant than ever. Her comb turned red and anticipation grew that she would soon begin to go inside to her cage on days that she would lay an egg as she had in the last year. She has become unable to fly or climb a ramp to a nest from the limp and cumbersome fluid in her body cavity. Weeks went by and still no eggs.
Then tragedy struck. The chicken house door wasn't closed one night recently. A racoon or possum got in there. It used the ramps to climb up to the nest where it grabbed some eggs and scattered them in and outside of the coop. It also managed to use a ramp to get a young Coca Moran down from a roost. The ramp looked to have fallen in the processes so it was the only one slaughtered in the mishap. The next morning the news was spreading around as Alice was being collected up and put outside with the others. She was extra chatty, especially once with the others. As the funeral hole was being dug the hen we knew all these years began to crow. She crowed four times.
Usually when there is a bad chicken day, it goes wrong in more ways then one but never had we had one turn like this. As soon as the funeral was over we look a hard look at Alice. Her comb wasn't just red, it was larger than it ever had been. Her feathers in front of her tail were longer and more saddle like than any year before and her tail feathers were also beginning to get a curve to them. She doesn't have much for black feathers but what she does is an iridescent green now. Her toes have needed trimmed since she acquired the limp but now she was acquiring spurs too. She looked like she was becoming a rooster.
Research was in order. Sex reversal in chickens wasn't unheard of but the reasons are varied. As a hen develops her right ovary and oviduct normally regresses while she develops in her egg before hatching. Hens pretty much operate from their left ovary producing the estrogen and progesterone to be hens and produce eggs. If the left ovary get removed, injured or develops tumors, the regressed right ovary may turn into a ovotestis. Between the lack of estrogen coming from the left ovary and the increase of testosterone from the right ovotestis the hen transitions to a rooster. Once testosterone levels become high enough they begin to produce sperm, court hens and mount them. There is a few online claims and lore where chicks were sired from former hens but no official studies to confirm.
There was a study done in Bangladesh where it was confirmed that nearby pesticide use was turning ~1% of the younger hens (around 32 weeks old) into roosters by damaging their left ovary. Research shows that really any harm or removal of the left ovary in a chicken can cause them to change from a hen to a rooster. In Alice's case the fluid or failing organ from old age could be her most likely cause for transitioning. He seems to feel better now as a rooster. Alice is getting out to the front yard most days, walking around more. Takes an Old Roo's approach to things. He seems to go through one crowing cycle most days and has started courting and mounting hens. Nutmeg is game. Athena is not. The flock accepts Alice for what he has become and still respects him as the leader of the flock. Nutmeg says don't judge and is hoping for fertile eggs.