Monday, August 01, 2005

Harry Houdini, Girlie Rooster

Harry Houdini sitting on eggs.

My original plan for this flock was to have a variety of my favorite breeds of hens, including some Partridge Rocks because I have had good luck getting them to brood eggs and raise chicks. I would keep one Partridge Rock rooster to fertilize the eggs and hopefully end up with some purebred Partridge Rocks in the next generation.

Answering the phone early one morning before I was fully awake, I agreed to take 3 young birds that my neighbor was getting rid of. It was too early to think straight and I didn't ask the sex until they were in the driveway. Suddenly I had two roosters in my flock. The new rooster was not just new, but he was of a breed (Red Leghorn, I think) that was bred for egg production only, so he would never grow as large as our dual purpose Partridge Rock.

But he was smart and he was quick. He soon learned to zip out of the pen at any opportunity, earning himself the moniker "Harry Houdini". We sang to him the song from Ragtime:
Harry Houdini, master escapist
Master at getting by

At first he got by simply hiding in the corner. Later he learned to blend in with the hens. He blended so well that after they moved into the barn for winter I often had a hard time seeing him at all and thought that he had escaped again. I would have to study the hens for several minutes before I could pick him out.

By spring, it was clear that his camoflage was not just behavioral. He was not growing spurs, even though he was the same age as our big rooster. This was when he started sitting on eggs. He will sit in the box, quietly spread out over the eggs, intently staring into space. If you reach toward him to get the eggs he suddenly erupts, racing for the door and screaming that high pitched "Whoob, whoob, whoob, whoob....." that the Three Stooges made so famous.

I'm guessing that the Three Stooges learned that sound from a girlie rooster. Certainly in their heyday everyone kept chickens . Audiences in the 1930's were much more attuned to the variety of chicken behaviors than today's audiences. Could it be that the "Whoob, whoob, whoob" sound was shorthand for "guy acting like a girl," a joke that we just don't get today?

My internet search on "rooster acts like hen" turned up many accounts of hens acting like roosters.
A bulletin board at has many first hand accounts of older hens that grew tail feathers and started to crow. I was intrigued by the story that "In 1774 A 'cock' named Basil was burned at the stake as witchcraft for crowing and laying eggs." Talk about a flock mentality!

There is an account of rooster who steal eggs at something called Tasomit but he claims that chickens have actual sex-change abilities because of an "undifferentiated gonad" that can change into either an ovary or a teste. Methinks this is another nut case.

As always, I go looking for one thing and I find something else fascinating. At a site called the Easy Chicken I found an article called Keeping Your Rooster Sane. The author outlines the basics of the chicken coop social order and gives tips on how to make your rooster respect you, although he admits that he has to "stew pot" his share of roosters.

Our big guy is headed that way. Pecking the butt of the woman that feeds you is not on the path to a long and happy life. I'm guessing that once the Alpha Male is dinner, Harry Houdini will start to crow, strut, cover hens, and grow spurs.

I'm interested: anyone out there ever had an egg setting rooster?

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