Friday, July 8, 2011

open letter to the gender police

Dear sister,

Part of my daily chores - a part I quite like, I must confess - is helping Br James to care for the chickens. We have 13 "layers" -- I put that in quotation marks because, though they are all purported to be laying hens, we are finding a suspiciously small enough number of eggs per day to make one believe that not all of the hens are pulling their own weight in the coop, so to speak. (Or that they are laying eggs where we cannot find them, but given the hens' proclivity to eating all the grass in their pen faster than we can move said pen around the field, this does seem unlikely.)

To replace our insufficient layers, we have 30 new hens, almost fully grown now, and separated from the adult hens for their own safety and our own ease in caring for them. Did I say 30 hens? I'm sorry. I meant 29 hens, and one emerging rooster.

Earlier in the month we began noticing strange, not-quite-clucking noises coming from the pen of new hens, but it took a few weeks - and a few increasingly confident, courageous attempts at crowing - for Br James to sigh, shake his head, and admit that one of our 30 to-be-laying hens was not, well, going to be doing any laying in terms of producing eggs. (Get the double entendre there?)

Actually, this was good news. Roosters will not only keep the hens from pecking at each other (a probable reason behind our current slim laying production) but also help protect their flock from intruders and invaders. In fact, that's how last year's rooster was killed - defending the flock against an incoming hawk. (The hawk didn't take any hens, but the rooster didn't live through his wounds. He ended up as soup.)

The problem has been determining which of our thirty new additions is the rooster. We hear him all the time now - at 5am as the sun rises, after breakfast when the dog makes his first rounds in the fields, whenever anything that smells un-chicken-like gets too close or sounds too noisy because really, this rooster seems to so enjoy his developing voice that he'll crow at anything, at any time -- except when we're watching.

We've tried various tricks, usually involving either me or Br James standing by the coop making all manner of animal noises, crows and clucks and cackles and even howls and barks. To no avail. We've mentally tagged the one we suspect - the largest one, with the most pronounced tail feathers - and have been waiting for any display of aggressive behavior, or hormonal attraction to his fellow coopmates. Nothing. Until today, that is, when Br James happened to wander close enough, and quietly enough, to catch him in the act. And that is what leads me to today's open letter, an apology which will, as I've gone on long enough up here, be as short as I can make it.

Dear Gender Police,

On the slim chance that you are as concerned with the gender politics of barnyard fowl as you are of the humans who care for them, please accept my apologies for the extreme and austere gender normative assumptions that we made in attempting to identify our rogue rooster. We were wrong to use overall size, development of tail feathers, and coloring of neck and gobble to divide between the sexes. That chicken appears to be, in fact, a hen.


The question remains, of course, which of the three look-a-like red chickens is the rooster. Br James saw one of them crowing, but which was it?

("Saw" is a relative term, of course. It's not like they have lips or anything. You just have to wait for one to open its beak slightly more than the others, and then you can isolate the noise-maker from the crowd. Which is why it took us so long to finally figure out.)

your chicken-feeding, rooster-watching, grain-dispensing sister

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