Waiting to discover Little Jerry’s gender

ERIN McINTYRE/Special to the Sentinel Will Little Jerry, right, turn out to be a rooster or a hen? Only time will tell if the chicken sexing experts got this chicken’s gender correct.



I   think I might understand the whole “is it a boy or a girl?” hype now.

For the past eight weeks, the suspense over whether our chickens are male or female has led to wild speculation. I never thought we would spend so much time pondering the sexual orientation of our urban livestock, but since June 27, we’ve anxiously wondered if Little Jerry is a rooster.

Technically, the five chicks destined to become hens should be called “pullets” now, but since I’m not quite sure if they are all female, we’re in a weird chicken-gender limbo. They’re emerging from the oh-so-awkward adolescent chicken stage right now, so we should know soon.

If you think about it, the male or female question is a big one. It’s the first thing anyone asks if you’re adding to your family, whether it be human baby or otherwise. Blue is for boys and pink is for girls, and if you have a particularly beautiful little baby boy dressed in yellow it is confusing for some people.

Well, Little Jerry’s been dressed in yellow for a while. And while we’ll love him/her no matter what, I’m not sure if the neighbors will agree.

Perhaps we should have gone for a more gender-ambiguous name for Little Jerry. Like Pat. We could have even written a theme song for Pat the chicken. “Is it a rooster or a hen? It’s time for androgyny, here comes ... Pat!”

Our suspicions that Little Jerry is actually a rooster started early on. As in, the day I brought the chicks home. They all looked the same, except for Little Jerry, who had a distinctively different coloring. Little Jerry was lighter-colored than the others, with some brownish markings on the face. Since then, the difference has become only more noticeable.

Until recently, Little Jerry was pretty much the same size as the other chickens. In the past few weeks, Little Jerry has grown to at least 1 1/2 times as large as the others, and his/her legs and talons seem much sturdier. Their combs and wattles haven’t grown in yet, so we don’t have a clue there.

Behaviorally, Little Jerry is definitely in charge. But is this because Little Jerry is the biggest and clearly at the top of the pecking order? Or is it because he/she is destined to protect the flock?

So, how do you determine if a chick is male or female? There’s an old method of guessing a day-old chick’s sex that involves thrusting a closed fist into the brooder (the chick container). Allegedly, the braver chicks that approach the fist are the future roosters, and the ones who run away are the future hens. This is very un-scientific, but if it works at least part of the time, it would explain why Little Jerry was the most outgoing chick.

There’s another method that is a little more reliable called “feather-sexing” where you take the chick’s wing and analyze the arrangement of the incoming feathers. This is much less intrusive (and less potentially damaging) than actually attempting to look at the chicks’ sex organs, but honestly, I couldn’t tell anything from the feathers. Although, it could have been because trying to count pinfeathers in any sort of arrangement with a wriggly ball of fluff is difficult.

As far as actually trying to get a good look at the chickens’ privates to solve the mystery, that’s called “vent-sexing” and it’s for experts. Seriously. There’s a reason that chicken sexers were featured on “Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe.”

Some hatcheries guarantee 90 percent accuracy in their chicken-sexing operations, so you have less chance of getting a surprise rooster than the “straight run” chicks. These experts are trained to determine the sex of thousands of chicks per day, while I can’t even determine the sex of ONE of my chickens.

At this point, for us, I think the only reliable method to see if Little Jerry is indeed, a rooster, is the “wait and see” approach. As soon as we hear a pathetic croaking attempt at a crow, we’ll know. I’m apologizing in advance to our neighbors, just in case.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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