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Poultry sex and more

I love my chickens. They reside in a cage in our bunkhouse by the TV and all day long, they peep and flutter around. You cannot help but stare at them, the way some people stare at a goldfish bowl. They are simply amusing and different from any other kind of pet (at least to us).  No one can walk into the room without stopping to stare into the cage, then as if some unknown force compels them, they reach in to hold one of the fuzzy balls. It cracks me up. This entire family (and guests) is chicken mesmerized.


These four birds have unique personalities, and yet they are like a click of chicks too traveling in a clump and following the lead of whichever bird dares try something new. The other night we rented a movie. We all gathered in the bunkhouse and put it on the TV. All of a sudden, the chickens got perfectly quiet. We glance over, and they had gathered at the corner of the cage and were staring silently, motionless, at the set. Mark laughed and said to Denver’s boyfriend, “Uh Oh, I think they are trying to tell us something. Ginny must have rented us a chick flick.” Very funny.


Anyway, my chickens are getting bigger and shedding some of their fuzz for feathers now. Everyday, I look for signs of rooster-ness. One day, our builder had come over to pick up some checks. He paused at the cage, stared (as do we all), and asked what sex they were.


“If only we knew,” Mark said. “My wife is hoping for a rooster.”

The builder said, “Well it’s easy enough to tell. Just hand them by their feet. A chicken will just hang there limply, but a rooster will try to right himself.”


This kind of comment is normal in these parts. Everyone has a theory, wives-tale, system, or secret to second-guess the secrets of nature. If people want to know what the weather will be like here, they don’t turn on the news. They look at the bugs or the clouds or their grandmother’s rheumatism or whatever. We laughed a bit about Ronnie’s poultry sex defining advice, and yet in the back of our mind, we wondered about it.


Denver and Steven were sitting in the room staring at the cage and Steven said, “Why don’t we try out the chicken sex theory.”

Until then, none of us wanted to grab one of those cute little guys by the feet to see what would happen. Seemed mean. He reached in and took one of the babies by the feet and let him hang. He flapped and went crazy.

“Rooster.” Steven said.

Denver wasn’t convinced. After all, she thought she would flap and go crazy if someone came along and grabbed her feet and thrust her upside down too.

They tried the next chicken, but that one just hung there, like a sleeping bat.

“Chicken,” they both said, feeling like bird sex specialists now.

The other two chicks hung loosely too.

I walked in and they excitedly described their experiment. Of course, I had them demonstrate it to me. A few moments later, Mark walked in. Again, the poor chickens were thrust upside down. Every time, it seemed we had one rooster and three chickens. This, of course, is perfect luck should it prove true.


We went to the feed store to buy some animal supplies and talked to the owner. We bought our chicks from her – they sell over 60K chicks a season, everything from chickens, turkeys and quail to peacocks and other imported fancy poultry.  We told her about our experiment.


She laughed and said, “Everyone has a theory, but don’t go counting on it.  Some say males grow tale feathers first. Others insist the rooster’s wings stick out when they are upside down (hummm… a few of ours did that too). She gestured to a thick book on how to determine the sex of poultry and said, “I read that entire thing, and I am more confused now than ever, and I’ve worked with chickens for years.”


So, I guess I can’t get too excited about my home poultry demographics yet. Bummer.


She told us that at 9-12 weeks, roosters will grow this spur on the back of their leg. She showed it to us on the shop’s pet rooster. Only males have these. She said the boys will start crowing at that age too – little soft rooster calls even though they are still tiny. Ha. Talk about cute. Can’t wait.


So, I am now learning about chickens. Fun.

Our rabbit had another litter this week. Neva is planning to be a bunny tycoon and start her own business. We are finally landscaping this cabin, planning to get it ready to sell when the house is finished – we’ve decided not to keep it as a rental, because we put too much money into it. It turned out to be too much cabin (and upkeep) for a rental. Anyway  – we took the cages to the land and set them up next to the horses. This is where they were going to land eventually when we move, so we thought now might be a nice time to get them set up. The next day, the smaller cage (holding the male) had been turned over and dragged ten feet. We were shocked. The bunny was fine, but something had tried to get at him. We couldn’t imagine a dog or a coyote having that much power. What could it have been? A bear? It was disturbing to say the least. We righted the cage and set it up in another area. It’s been several days, and everything seems fine, but we watch carefully for signs of danger. Neva would kill us if anything happened to her beloved Thumper. Ah, the perils of living in the wild. Bunny threats around every corner! 


The horses are fine. Baby April is still skitterish, but getting tamer in slow, steady ways. The other day, all the horses came charging in from the lower pasture to eat. She was moody and stayed behind. Then, all of a sudden, she freaked out because she was separate from her mother, and instead of going through the gate that Mark was patiently holding open for her, she tried to jump the fence. Landed smack in the middle with her forelegs on one side and her back legs stuck in between the wire mesh behind her. If she moved, the wire cut into her. Mark yelled. I ran down and grabbed her, but she is about 200 pounds and she goes nuts if you lift her feet, so we couldn’t free her. Mark had to go to the workshop while I kept her calm to retrieve his wire cutters. We had to cut away the fence. (He repaired it after she joined her heard. Poor guy is forever repairing the fence it seems.) Yep – we get plenty of excitement from our pets.   


Donkey is doing well and is still (and will be forevermore) my favorite animal and best friend. He has eyes filled with soul and so much personality. He runs to the car when he sees it, recognizing that it’s us, he honks away in his distinctive voice (which no one in this family can imitate – we’ve all tried) . I can’t express how much I adore this little guy. If something happened with our past business and we ever had to return to Florida, (we’ve played this scenario out a few times) the one thing I know is, Donkey would be coming with us.


As for Dahlia llama – he is still standoffish, but he will eat grain from a cup if you hold it out to him, so he isn’t averse to coming close. We haven’t been very good about catching him for “desensitizing”.  Just been too busy with April. Maybe working on the llama is a good fall project. Nevertheless, I adore him.  He always seems so majestic and stately – and wise.


Other than the domestics (two dogs and two cats), that is it. Oh yea- Mark bought half a cow. Apparently, our builder buys a couple of cows each season to keep his grass down. Later, he will take them to be butchered. We, apparently, will be getting half of one cow for our freezer. ½ of a cow costs 250.00, but it offers you four times that (value) in meat. Mark has also been offered the cowhide to tan as a bonus– he’s been wanting one to recover a bench with.


You might want to know how I feel about all this.


When we first moved here, I would never consider eating something whose existence I was aware of in a first hand way. Felt wrong. Now, I feel differently. I have done some research to learn how animals are handled when raised in meat companies for food. The meat you buy in the store has been literally tortured – animals are born and force-fed, kept in cruelly small cages and in dirty conditions. But free-range animals, while their fate is sealed, still live a fulfilling life. They have a year or so of sunshine and happy grazing. They are patted and stroked and talked to, and they have other happy animals for company. They live lazy, easygoing lives, without fear. Considering the livestock will be eaten in either case, I think it is far more humanitarian to support the free-range animal industry. I can’t bear to think of those animals that are born only to suffer and die, landing on my plate. (This is especially true of chickens. The chicken companies keep those animals in tiny pens – filed with disease – it is awful – at least some cattle you buy are raised on plains and then taken to be slaughtered. But many are kept in stalls, overfed and even slaughtered in cruel ways.) So, I have a different feeling towards those people who raise their own food. It is healthier for them (no steroids or fat from force-feeding) and better for the animals. It is more akin to how nature intended the process to be.

Nevertheless,  for all that I am in support of natural farms, I still don’t want to eat my own beloved animals – so I will never want a cow (or a pig – Mark keeps talking about a pig. Ick) I just end up with too intimate a relationship with anything I live with. Doesn’t make sense, but that is how I feel.


Honestly, I am eating less meat than ever – even considering returning to my vegetarian status. The more aware I am of animals as creatures of god now, and I can’t look at meat in the supermarket and not imagine the face and fur of what it was before. At one time, I felt removed from what meat actually represented. I mean, I knew academically that it was a cow or a pig and that it was slaughtered, but still it felt as if those nice pre-packaged cuts were born that way – like it all came off of some cow-tree that grew flank steaks or something. I know it sounds dumb – but I just felt removed.


Not anymore.


It is good to be aware. It is good to be aware of everything in life.  

About Ginny East Shaddock

Ginny is the owner of Heartwood Yoga Institute. She is an ERYT-500 Yoga teacher, C-IAYT Yoga therapist, RCYT & Ayurveda Counselor who loves nature, gardening, and creative arts. She has an MFA in creative writing from Lesley University, and a BA in Business Administration from Eckerd College. She teaches writing and is the creator of the memoir writing program, "Yoga on the Page" combining the teaching of yoga to writing personal stories with integrity, intention, and heart.

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