More than six months on, the new girls Little Ava and Mabel are settling in and contributing to their keep with an abundant supply of fresh eggs.
The first time Ava laid an egg was a morning of concern.
Now, most hens have a small comb on the top of their head when they’re not laying. But Ava, for some reason, has always prided herself with a vivid red comb. Much bigger and brighter than the other girls.
But then one morning I heard what sounded like a seagull in the garden. Crawk, the loud noise went.
I didn’t remember hearing anyone making that type of noise before.
I opened the coop door and saw Ava looking at me and making that raucous noise again.
Bright red comb. Squawk. Squawk… An unusual noise, unlike the other girls. Was it a squawk or a crow?
Either she was going to lay her first egg or… What if she was actually a cockerel and they got it wrong at the farm?
I felt a tinge of foreboding. I had warmed to Ava and didn’t want her to go but if she was male, she might be too noisy for my neighbours…
Why would the farm get it wrong? The chickens were 12 and 14 weeks old when I adopted them, surely the farm would know.
Yet I had heard mistakes can be made…
… And that female hens can turn into roosters.
Had I lived in the countryside, no problem, but unfortunately there were neighbours around who probably wouldn’t like a wake-up call at 5am every morning.
I brooded on this as young Ava went up into the indoor section and back down again. She seemed as confused as I was.
About 20 minutes later, I headed out again. It was nearly time to go to work and this matter must be left to one side for now.
Fortunately, events had reached a conclusion.
The result for the scarlet head, triumphant seagull sound and general confusion was that Little Ava had rather an eventual morning. She was proving she was definitely a lady with the egg she had just laid.
Thank you Ava, I had never doubted you!
As for Mabel, she has proved to be a hard working member of the team, producing many delicious eggs. She is a little gutsy and always eager for an adventure. She will try to edge her way through the gate when I open it and I have often the need to tell her: “No, Mabel, you’re not going through the gate, stay in your own garden with your friends.”
Facts of the Day
1. According to Andy Cawthorne, of Country Smallholding magazine, November 2016, ‘Hetty can become Henry overnight’ when ‘there is a part change of gender within a hen’. Thankfully – for those of us who have small gardens and neighbours nearby – this is not a regular happening.
2. A hen ‘will no longer lay eggs. Her comb and wattles will develop, her feathering and feather structure will become more male in appearance and she will even begin to crow’. She still is genetically a female though.
3. Andy says in his article that this phenomenon is caused by stress or illness and only occurs ‘in hens with one ovary’, the other remaining as a ‘regressed male gonad’ which can take over.