Rooster, or Hen?

We’ve been waiting for a couple of months now to determine whether the Rhode Island Red chicken we bought at the end of January is, in fact, a hen. She was sold to us as a hen, but we always wondered. Last weekend he heard a distinctively different sound from the chicken coop and wondered if this was in fact the moment of truth: a proto crow? But no, nothing since.

Rose, our mysterious chook
Rose, standing momentarily still!

So, here is a list of observations that make us suspect that “Rose” is either Rooster, or Hen:

  • She has never laid an egg. Not very conclusive! But if we had an egg, we could rule out Roo :). Since we purchased her as a 30 week hen, by now she’s going on for … 38 weeks or so. Basically 9 months. That’s quite old! But not unheard of for a RIR to start laying.
  • She walks like a hen – not upright like a rooster, but runs skittishly around the coop and is the lowest in the pecking order. She is a submissive and easily spooked chicken! None of this behaviour seems much like a rooster, who is supposed to be protective of the flock.
  • She has no tail feathers, but is starting to grow some. They look a little droopy, like a rooster would have, and glossy black. We think this might be a more definitive sign of being a rooster. It’s happening slowly, though!
  • It looks very much like she is developing saddle feathers (those at the back of her body, before her tail). That’s a Roo-thing.
  • She has a nice red wattle and comb, and yet she isn’t laying. Apparently that’s also quite a rooster-y characteristic.
  • She’s a big ‘un! Very tall, and her legs are stocky, strong. But she’s not plump sideways like our really big hens have been.
  • She has lumpier spur lumps than the other hens (check out that picture above … not much there). Given the size of her feet, though, that could just be a size thing. So far, no obvious spur development going on.
  • Her neck feathers are starting to look long and swishy – like a rooster plume. But she doesn’t puff her neck feathers out at anyone.
  • She once gave a hairy eye to another chicken (maybe twice) and we’ve never seen that before between our hens. Apparently a rooster will puff out the neck feathers when facing off like this. She didn’t …
  • She doesn’t crow … yet. Our boss-hen Raven used to crow for a few months, but always sounded like a loud hen. Sometimes they do this after they get an upset (it was right after another hen had died, and a Brush Turkey came stomping on their coop). But a RIR rooster can start crowing at about 11 weeks … so … ??? Maybe if she’s a he, he’s just not dominant enough to crow.
  • Most RIR roosters will be showing decidedly male characteristics (the pretty tail, crowing, spur development) by twenty weeks. We’re at double that now, and still not sure … so. Hen?

Totally puzzled on this one. It’s very annoying to have to return a rooster and exchange for a hen – we will need to introduce two new hens at once, and we are attached to our odd little Rose. Matilda and Rose are BFF at the moment. So sweet! And yet … to be raising someone else’s rooster for them is a bit galling too! And we aren’t getting any eggs from her, meantime … *sigh*.

I think I might have to shoot this one out onto the Backyard Chickens forum. So far my best guess is that we have a Rooster who thinks he’s a Hen. Trans-gender chookie? What’s your guess?

Update: It’s unanimous! The folks at Backyard Chickens say it’s a “he”. :-/

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