One of the pleasures of living with livestock is that you see animals often enough to begin to understand their behavior. Differences in chickens that wouldn’t be apparent to a visitor become patterns to the people who see them every day. It’s charming when a chicken jumps into a car to see what’s in the back seat, but it’s interesting when the same chicken always jumps into a car to see what’s in the back seat.
We see differences not just in individuals, but in breeds. The Buff Orpingtons are more friendly and curious than the Rhode Island Reds. The Reds are more standoffish, more athletic, apter to go about their chicken business without fuss or bother.
One of the reasons I haven’t warmed up to our ducks is that they are absolutely indistinguishable, one from the other. They eat, drink, swim, and move as a group. When we go in the pen to shut them up for the night, they panic as a group. Still. Even though we’ve been doing it every night for the seven weeks that make up their entire lives. They are one organism. One messy, stupid organism.
Even though I felt no affection for last year’s turkeys, they had what, in turkeys, passes for personality. They engaged with us, and seemed to understand that we were not to be feared. Drumstick did his fluff-up alpha-male thing every time we went into the pen. Edith was wily and smart; it was she who figured out, and taught the others, how to fly over the netting.
At the time, I thought the turkeys were charmless, but that was before I had ducks. Ducks make turkeys look like George Clooney.
We have a new flock of chickens this year, with some new breeds – Brahma, Barred Rock, Araucana, and Leghorn. They’re not even a week old yet, but there already a few discernible differences. The Rhode Island Reds are frenetic, with a tendency to run full-tilt from one end of the brooder to the other. The Barred Rocks seem sleepy and lethargic, and like to bask under the heat lamp with a leg or wing sticking out.
And then there’s this one Araucana. Unlike most other breeds, Araucanas come in a variety of patterns and colors, and this chick is an all-over yellow-white. She’s easy to distinguish from the rest of the flock, which is mostly shades of brown, black, and rust. I liked the look of her from the moment I opened the box, and she was the only one I earmarked for us as I distributed chicks to the friends we’d gone in on the order with.
She’s the one to watch. When we put a hand into the brooder, she’s the one who comes over to investigate, while the others watch from a safe distance, or head for the hills. She’s less flustered than the others by strange noises like sneezing. She’s six days old, but she’s a ballsy, curious little hen.
But Kevin doesn’t think so. “She’s not a she,” he said. “That bird’s a rooster.”
It is technically possible. Murray McMurray guarantees 90% accuracy, which means they do expect the occasional male to slip through. But I want her to be a her, both because I like the idea of a stand-out female and because I don’t want to have to send this bird to the Cone of Silence at six months, when he starts crowing at dawn.
Where I see curiosity, though, Kevin sees aggression. “He’s not investigating, he’s attacking.”
“She didn’t attack me, she was just looking.”
“He attacked me,” Kevin said. “He pecked me almost to death.”
“He’s a rooster. Did you see the way he puffs out his chest and pushes the other chicks around?” he asked, puffing out his chest and pushing me around.
I suspect we’ll be having this argument until November, when our chick begins either to lay or to crow.