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Is it possible that the sweet little white hen I left just over a month ago to go on my annual sojourn to the ‘auld sod of Ireland has become a cockerel in my absence? No way, I hear you say. Well think again …

Out of my original 5 chicks who hatched nearly 8 months ago, two were clearly Cockerels.

First Chick - Definitely a Cockerel

First Chick – Definitely a Cockerel

Ditto - the most dominant Cockerel

Ditto – the most dominant Cockerel

And then there were 3 hens. Unfortunately one didn’t survive, sadly dying at the age of 6 months, but the youngest chick, the white one and my Twitter avatar, has gone from strength to strength despite being the smallest of the brood. But when I got home earlier this week, she seemed to have developed a cockerel’s plumage, a larger, redder comb, and extended tail feathers. ‘She’ is also making some strangled throat style attempts to crow.

The Hen that may have changed sex

The Hen that may have changed sex

This is the best shot I managed to get as I chased my flock around the garden today. The older hens kept well out of the way – they’ve been there and got the tee-shirt!

Brother and Sister or Brother and Brother?

Brother and Sister or Brother and Brother?

I noticed the changes in my little white hen as soon as I saw her after a month’s absence and put it down to the fact that ‘he’ was maybe a late developer. Then the Healthy Chickens Bulletin (Issue 96) dropped into my e-mail box with this intriguing question from a subscriber: “Is it possible for a hen to become a rooster?” The answer was ‘yes’ and a link to an article by Jen Pitino, an expert on all sexually-related chicken issues, provided an analysis of the phenomenon. Here’s a brief summary:

Spontaneous sex reversal occurs in a hen when her left ovary, the only one to produce estrogen, becomes somehow damaged or fails. Without the left ovary properly functioning in a hen, the estrogen levels in her body will drop to critically low levels and conversely testosterone levels will rise. Without proper estrogen levels, the hen will no longer produce eggs. The hen’s dormant right side gonad becomes activated. When the dormant, right-side gonad is switched on, it develops into a male sex organ, called an ovotestis and the hen, in effect, becomes a cockerel. The full article by Jen Pitino can be found here.

I do believe this is what has happened to my little white hen. Her sister, the little red hen has started laying eggs – distinctive from those produced by the older hens (I have 9 others plus the Daddy cockerel) because they are brown and not white. This was a nice surprise for me on my return – when I used to buy eggs, I always plumped for brown ones for some reason.

The only hen left from my 'babies'?

The only hen left from my ‘babies’?

Spot the Difference

Spot the Difference

So, we now have 4 cockerels out of a flock of 14 – I don’t think the ratio of 4:10 is quite right, but they all seem to be getting along and the pecking order system is fully operational. In any case, my husband wasn’t as vigilant as me with regard to egg collection and there was one more surprise for me when I got back from my hols in Ireland. Three of the older hens are sitting on eggs. Lady Grey in the coop is stoically guarding 5, and Magpie and Blackadder (who hatched the ones I’ve been talking about) are sharing a nest in exactly the same position Blackadder chose last time – there are 6 in there! Oh dear, here I go again. Let’s hope none of them explode this time.