Madeleine L'Engle, 1918-2007
Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, Westport, Conn.

The Chicken Gazette: Loretta Crowed

At least we think she did.  Yes, it was awkward, and yes, it could have been a prolonged squawk. Or cough.  ("What was that?" my son asked.) I don't know. More observation is necessary. Hens do not crow.

Back in August I brought four chicks home to live in the yard in a compact little coop and run. Eggs, fresh eggs are what I was after. All the chicks were supposed to be pullets, but the seller said something along the lines of don't get mad at me if they're not. Not a commercial hatchery, needless to say.

Ever since she was a wee chick, I have suspected that Loretta may be a rooster. Her wattles started growing in before everyone else's, even though she was younger than the rest.  She is fond of the flying chest butt with the other chickens. She used to take off like lightning.

Hmm. Perhaps a Rhett is among us?

On the other hand, Loretta (a Black Orpington) is not much of a leader as roosters usually are. That falls more to the Barred Rock Petunia, but perhaps that's just the seniority effect. (The other Barred Rock, Bossy, is the most cautious, which sort of explains her reluctance to free-range last week.) Fuzzy, the Blue Orpington, is the trail-blazer: the first to try yogurt, the first to roost in the rhododendron bush (and the last to leave it), the first to sample grape tomatoes, now a favorite treat.

While we keep close tabs on Loretta,  I can with certainty recommend a picture book: Zinnia and Dot, by Lisa Campbell Ernst. Zinnia and Dot are two fat hens who argue about everything. They've lived together forever but never particularly liked each other. But! An intruder into the coop brings the two together, reluctantly at first, then with growing camaraderie. The picture of the two clucksters sharing nesting duties is worth the trip to the library. Dot looks to be a Barred Rock, by the way, and Zinnia a Rhode Island Red—and definitely both are hens.


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I like reading your chicken tales. It's funny how animals have personalities--just like people. I have two female cats who couldn't be more different--and they're nothing like the first cat we got for my daughter at an animal shelter nearly twenty years ago.

I hope you're keeping a "chicken" journal. Sounds like you could get a good idea for a children's book!

Elaine, good idea about the chicken journal. I may be prejudiced, but I think Bossy may be a natural for a children's book.

If Loretta turns out to be a rooster, I hope you'll rename her Stan. (Yes, that was a Python/Life of Brian reference. In the movie Eric Idle's character, Stan, states "I wish to be called Loretta."

I heard another crow type sound today, Kelly, but could not figure out whom it came from. At any rate, there's no regular crowing yet. I'll have to ask NT about Stan; he knows Monty Python better than I. I'll keep Stan in mind. Great quote. The Beatles' lyric "get back, Loretta," plays in my head, too.

Endlessly fascinating, those chickens! If Stan is a rooster how will that change the yard dynamics?

If Stan/Loretta is a male, then he will crow. A lot. I generally keep the chicks inside the coop until 8 or 9 a.m., so maybe crowing won't bother the neighbors. I would hope the folks next door couldn't hear it at, say, 5 a.m. We'll have to see.

Even commercial hatcheries have a difficult time sexing chickens. I hope she was just clearing her throat, but young roosters have awkward squawks for a while until they work all that out.

It's really hard to know, Wisteria! And I am such a novice chicken owner. The two Barred Rocks ignore Loretta's chest butts completely.

I didn't hear any crowing at all today. All four free-ranged a little, but kept running back into the coop for reasons known only to themselves.

This is a story right out of "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle"! And you'll remember what they did with those squawkers...

Loretta has kept her crows to herself this week. She and Fuzzy have a flair for drama, though, and do this "you talkin ta me?" thing where they stick out their necks at each other.

I'll keep you posted on the chicken chronicles, Laura.

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