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24 July 2013

The case of the changing chicken

It seems we're continuing our run of bad luck with health issues. Yesterday I drove Hanno to the hospital at 6am because he'd been up all night with a bleeding mouth. He had a tooth out in the afternoon and the tooth socket kept bleeding all night. Hanno's on warfarin and I don't think the dentist took that into consideration when he performed such a drastic extraction.  We were in emergency all morning and after the doctor injected adrenalin into the socket, finally, it stopped the bleeding. The doctor, Cheyne, and medical student, Zoe, took very good care of Hanno. Both were thoughtful and gentle and Zoe did a lot of fussing around to make him comfortable. It makes such a difference when hospital staff take their time with you.

I'm pleased to report that he's had a good night's sleep and I hope he'll be feeling much better today.

I'm running late and a bit behind today. I've started on my next writing project and I don't want to fall behind on that today, especially now I'm in the important mapping out and organisation stage. So today's post will be a short one but I hope you find it interesting.

It's THE CASE OF THE CHANGING CHICKEN 

Our chooks are all different ages but one of our old girls is about 7. She's an old cross breed, mainly Australorp with a touch of Leghorn (I think). She's always been a strange one. I don't think she's ever laid an egg, I've certainly never seen her on the nest, and she thinks of herself, even though the others don't, as the top chook. She sleeps on the top roost and she tries to boss the other girls around, but they rarely listen.

Here (above and below) she is with her one white feather.


And here she is, white feather gone but with a red feather necklace and the beginnings of her rooster tail.

About 18 months ago, she grew one white feather on her side. When it first appeared, I thought that if she grew a few more she'd look like a magpie. But it was only ever the one feather. Strange.  The white feather lasted for a bit over a year and then it disappeared and red feathers grew around her neck. Very odd. Now her tail is turning into a rooster tail!

What next?

Have you ever had this happen to one of your chickens?  Or do your chooks do other weird things. I'd love to know.

50 comments:

  1. I'm glad Hanno is feeling better!!

    I haven't ever had a chicken do that, but I have read several stories about hens turning into roosters in their older years (or at least starting to look like roosters & starting to crow!).
    One was in a local magazine, and that one was an older hen as well, but she had layed well most of her life. I have no idea what changes may happen to their internal anatomy, but it sure is strange!!
    ~Melanie in Canada (it's been a while since I've commented, but I still read!)

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  2. I can't answer your question, as I don't keep hens. However, I do have a question for you. How do you pronounce "chook"? Like "book" or like "roof." I'm from the United States, from Maine, and the first time I ever came across the word was in your blog, which by the way, I love. Now, I come across it all the time, but only in pieces from the United Kingdom. As far as I know, we don't use the word here.

    Thanks!
    Laurie

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    1. Hello Laurie. It's pronounced the same as book. :- )

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  3. I'm glad Hanno is doing better now. That must have been a little scary. I haven't had any chickens of my own but I do so love to read about chicken life. I would like to have them someday.

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  4. Hmmmm... maybe it's some sort of chicken menopause?

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    1. I love it - the idea of chicken menopause :) We females just never know what tricks MOTHER Nature will play on us.

      Diane in North Carolina

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  5. We have a old lavender araucana that's in the process of changing into a rooster, she has dark neck feathers now and growing a lovely tail and also spur nubs. Unfortunately as we are in suburbia her first crow will be her last. I'm hoping he/she keeps quite because she's becoming a beautiful rooster. We first noticed her feathers changing about a year ago and thought it was just old age! Good luck with yours. Shari H

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  6. Dear Rhonda. Do you think she has gender issues? I say this tongue in cheek!
    Chickens are so interesting, I didn't realise they had such personalities until my DIL bought her little flock.

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  7. I like that. An ever evolving chicken. Mine are the same always. Very entertaining and giving me lots of eggs. They are a couple of very sweet girls.
    Your changing chicken is very pretty. Is she green flecked when the sun shines on her?

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    1. Claudia, she still has the dark green sheen that black Australorps have. She's been a very pretty chook in her time.

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  8. Sure wish my white "feathers" would disappear!

    I didn't get chickens this year and miss my girls.... Next year hopefully!

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  9. Hi Rhonda - what a time you've both had. Wishing Hanno a very speedy recovery. Thinking of you both.

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  10. I've kept chickens most of my life and have never heard of this happening. In fact, I checked the date of the post in case I'd brought one up dated April 1st! Extraordinary - I shall watch my hens with baited breath....

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  11. I have a beautiful speckled Sussex purchased as a hen at great expense.....I noticed that she was looking a little different from the others then she started to try to crow. Mr bozo as he is now known tries to mount the hens but falls off and has never perfected crowing......but he is such a funny character we keep him around. The little bantam rooster bosses him even though he is half the size of Mr bozo. I think he may have fathered some progeny as we have a couple of larger teenage girls running around now. I don't know if he changed into a rooster or if he was an extremely late developer. They are such interesting creatures aren't they?

    Hope Hannover is coming good.....I am taking dad to the dentist to get a front tooth out today...I hope he doesn't have complications at 93...

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  12. We used to have a mixed flock of various breeds, but finally got down to lower numbers - no cockerels. A friend wanted to buy half a dozen laying hens from us, stipulating NO cockerel, and we sold her some. She came back a couple of months later, cross because we HAD sold her a cockerel. NOPE, we had sold her a laying hen which for some reason turned into one. I can't explain it, but is CAN happen (as you have discovered).

    I hope Hanno is feeling a bit better now - not a nice thing to have happen and let's face it, some dental treatment needs some facing up to at the best of times, and doesn't improve when it is followed by a trip to the Hospital . . .

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  13. I had read of a hen turning into a rooster and thought it was a joke.

    But it happened to us some years ago. I noticed it as we had no rooster and in the morning we started to hear a very warbley crowing noise. We live kilometres from our nearest neighbour so it had to be our chooks. Then one of the hens started to grow a rooster tail. She also was an older chook.

    Quick healing wished to Hanno.

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  14. Hi Rhonda!! I wrote about this happening to one of our chickens a couple of years ago. http://sistersun.blogspot.com.au/2011/10/henster-or-roost-hen.html
    That hen is still with us because I just don't have the heart to do 'the deed' .......and she is still a he!! I have heard of this happening but usually only when there is not already a rooster. The top hen can sometimes take on the rooster role, so much so that she changes completely. Ours is an oddity!!!

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    Replies
    1. Gosh! That is very odd. In a few decades of chook keeping, I haven't seen that, although some of my hens have changed a little over the years, and some of them have crowed like a rooster at times.

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  15. We have had this happen every now and then over the years. We have always wondered whether it is because we don't have a rooster, and the 'top chook' begins to assume some aspects of a rooster?? warm wishes to you both Nellie in Mackay

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  16. Hi Rhonda we had a chooks that crowed every morning the boss. Then we got some new girls all quiet one of the new girls became boss straight away. My older chooks keep pulling their feathers out around their necks and look scruffy got ideas in that one. Di

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  17. Yes it can happen when the flock doesn't run with a rooster. We have seen the most dominant change as you described and even start to mount the other hens!!

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  18. I've not had a hen change to a rooster, but had an older Isa Brown who dominated the other girls by acting like a rooster. I now have a pretty silver spangled hamburg who was a beautiful rich black with white markings until her feathers came back after moult...she is now a brown and white hen.....still pretty but not as dramatic.
    A scare for you and Hanno, I'm glad he had the best of care and is on the mend now. Nanette

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  19. I hope that Hanno feels better quickly. I dont have chooks but a long time ago I had two finches, a girl and boy and they had a big fight with lots feather pulling it was dramatic. As the feathers grew back we found we had two girls. I dont think this was that they were both girls to start with as we had them for a while, I think one changed. The animal world is amazing
    Denise

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  20. Unfortunately it has been years since we have raised chickens. Therefore I can not help you. This is something I hadn't heard about but by the comments you are getting I take it it is not that rare!

    Our dentist keeps a health chart on each of us listing drugs and vitamins we take and any health issues. When we go we also mention any drugs that might cause bleeding again in case they don't check the charts thoroughly. :) Each year they check and update the chart if necessary. To guard against problems later Hanno might want to carry a card containing such information in his wallet to show the dentist or any emergency people when needed. Sarah

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  21. Rhonda, i really hope hanno is feeling better... my parents hsve been through this and it was very traumatic :( i hope this doesn't come across the wrong way... but i've recently had to convince my mum to change dentists because they kept pulling her teeth out and it was making her miserable... and giving her terrible self esteem issues and well the thing is there is rarely ever a need to pull teeth out anymore... in fact good dentists (especially newer trained ones pretty much refuse to do it! my mum didn' understand this because in her experience teeth have always been pulled out... but now they can repair or rebuild almost all teeth now) i'd been trying to explain this to my mum and she was worried about changing dentists because she'd been to the same surgery for decades... and she finally agreed to go and get a second opinion before pulling the latest tooth out... and the new dentist got cross at her for letting them pull her teeth out... he fixed the tooth and many others and my mum has a brand new smile and no dentures... she couldn't be happier... i swear she's like a new woman and wishes she'd seen a new dentist much sooner! she says it was worth every cent to not have to worry about dentures or smiling with no teeth! xxx
    amy

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  22. Poor Hanno! I hope he is feeling much better today.

    I'm with Purple Pear - hens can take on roosterish behavourish if there isn't a rooster in their flock, although I haven't seen quite the transformation Evi describes above (photos on her blog). Hers has a real rooster-looking head.

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  23. Rhonda, I'm sorry to hear about Hanno's ordeal - perhap's an unnecessary one!!
    Hopefully it is a lesson to the staff, and won't happen again!
    Yes we are fortunate to have though.

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  24. Hi Rhonda, This happened to one of our hens when I was a kid, it is a very strange. There is a short article here http://www.livescience.com/13514-sex-change-chicken-gertie-hen-bertie-cockerel.html if anyone is interested. Hope Hanno is feeling better today.

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  25. This happened for the first time this year, with one of our hens. She had always been all red, but a few months ago, began growing a ring of black feathers around her neck. No roosterish signs, though. But, we do have a rooster with them, plus it looks like 2 more of the little ones are roosters. I'd not heard of either the changing feather colors or the rooster traits before. Interesting! I hope Hanno will soon be feeling good as new.

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  26. I am glad Hanno is feeling better now, what a horrible night for you both. Perhaps the dentist should have stopped the warfarin for a period prior to extraction of a tooth. I am glad he was looked after in hospital. Lors

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  27. That is a very interesting story about your hen. It is things like this that remind you to have less judgement of homosexual activity in people because we are, after all, part of the animal kingdom. I have a friend who breeds roosters for cock fighting and he said that sometimes a rooster will act completely like a female and will not fight...so another view of hen sexuality.

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    1. Roosters for cock-fighting? This is (rightly) illegal in Australia

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    2. Good for that chicken. The "sport" is abhorrent.

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  28. Very interesting! Nothing odd like that has happened to our girls, but I do love how they each have their own personalities.

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  29. Hi Rhonda, I am a bit late here but I hope Hanno will be okay now. I have heard that you have to be so careful with Warfarin. I hope you don't have too many more trips to emergency as I guess you have to drive to Nambour.

    I want to get a couple of chooks next year when I have retired so am taking more notice of any mention of how to look after 'the girls' as everyone seems to call them.

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  30. Sending love to you and Hanno, how stressful for both of you.

    Madeleine.X

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  31. Hi Rhonda,

    I hope this isn't a repeat, but yes, that can happen. Chickens have two ovaries, but only one works. If the chicken gets old or the ovary gets damaged in some way, they can "change" into a rooster. She will look like a rooster, act like a rooster, may even crow like a rooster, but is sterile (obviously). It's basically the testosterone taking over for the female hormones since that one ovary is no longer working the way it should.

    Anyway, I hope that's not a repeat. I really enjoy what you write here and I hope Hanno is feeling better. Have a great day!

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  32. Hello Rhonda,

    My prayers are with Hanno. I pray for complete healing of his tooth.

    What a great chicken story! I don't have chickens yet, but look forward to the day
    when I will be able to watch all of their fun ways.

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  33. Aw I hope Hanno's feeling better, that sounds like a tough night.

    I have a hen who has a spur on one leg and was developing some lovely long tailfeathers...those have calmed down but the spur is still there!

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  34. No hens here either; although I would love some. Best of luck to Hanno and I hope he is feeling better soon. :)

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  35. Hi Rhonda,

    This fascinated me, so I googled a bit. Apperently, this is quite common for chickens - an exception of course, but still it happens now and then. I found that it has to do with the genetical make-up of birds: female birds are ZW, males are ZZ (with humans it's the other way around: XX for females, XY for males). A hen has 2 ovaries, but only one is functional. If for some reason that ovary stops functioning as well, the hen may turn into a rooster. This can happen because birds have a different hormonal system.
    I also found that this may happen under influence of toxins from certain funghi in chicken food, but have not found an English-language source on that.

    Here are some links to check it out yourself:
    - http://www.livescience.com/13514-sex-change-chicken-gertie-hen-bertie-cockerel.html
    - http://www.degeneratie.nl/index.asp?PaginaID=1095#Geslachtsbepalende%20systemen%20bij%20vogels (part of the text is English)
    - http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v464/n7286/abs/nature08852.html

    Regards, Hannah

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  36. Yes....it is illegal in Hawaii too but there is a strong sub-culture of cock fighting still. It is not illegal to raise roosters...only illegal if they are caught with the knives tied on to their feet.

    I might add that these roosters are super well cared for....the breeders will treat them like their children....and then send them off to war. Compared to caged egg producers, these roosters get a very good life so I am not quick to judge on this.

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  37. I have never heard of this. Though now reading the comments...I think it is quite odd.
    The strangest thing we have in our yard right now concerning our chickens is Ethel...and her Chicken Saddle. We get a few funny looks when people first see her.
    Not to mention George our Rooster ...he gives Ethel some strange looks as well.
    Love reading about all your day to day happenings.
    hope Hanno is improving. My husband had been on Warfarin for a time ...so I know how that goes.
    Pat

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  38. Hi,Rhonda - Sorry to ignore the chicken portion of your post, but instead, thought you might be interested in my husband's teeth extraction story which is similar to Hanno's, but with a twist. A little over a week ago, my husband had six teeth extracted. He, too, takes Warfarin and although his doctor had him go off his Warfarin dose, he told him to stop it one week ahead of the extractions. According to his dental surgeon, it should have been stopped only four days before the teeth were pulled. Husband started bleeding profusely and dentist told him if he was still bleeding that badly at eight p.m. that night to go to the hospital emergency room.
    Trying to make a long story short(er) here, but summarizing, the teeth keep gushing, we went to the ER and the doctor said, "Hmmmm. With Warfarin, there is only one kind of antidote and I'll order a dose from the hospital pharmacy and get you right out of here." Two hours later, doctor re-appears again and said "believe it or not, there's not a dose of that type of medicine in this phrmacy." By this time, we could well believe it. At any rate, the doctor said that he had an idea and would be back soon. He and a nurse eventually reappeared each carrying a paper cup of hot tea with a teabag. They wrung the teabags out and pressed them against my husband's bleeding gums. Within forty minutes, the bleeding had stopped completely and has never reoccurred.
    The doctor said that about thirty years ago he recalled that was a herbal remedy that was occasionally used. Ah...modern medicine! We love it! P.S. We now keep teabags in our cabinet...

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  39. What a terrible thing for your husband to go through. I'm so pleased he's back home with you. Lucky your doctor had a good memory.

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  40. Hi Rhonda. We had the exact same thing happen. Two of our old bantums - which were probably over 8 years old started trying to crow (they weren't very good at it and sounded awful). I started asking everyone I know and a friend forwarded me an article about how old hens can take on rooster-like characteristics when they got older. Probably a hormone thing. I wish I had a copy of the article now - but it was paper and I seem to have misplaced it.

    I hope Hanno is feeling better.

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  41. Poor Hanno! I hope he is feeling better soon. It makes all the difference when the nursing staff are genuinely caring doesn't it?

    I had 3 Australorp x Isa Browns a few years ago and towards the end of her live, the most dominant one developed the rooster tail and started to attempt to crow (not very well - it was the most horrible sound!). Her comb stayed large and rosy and she did not stop laying eggs though. Your old chook seems to have a tiny comb like a young pullet. It is interesting that she has never laid an egg. I wonder if she is a hermaphrodite perhaps?

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  42. This really got my gears turning, and I just spent a little while on some of my favorite chicken websites trying to figure out your hen-to-rooster transforming chicken!

    Here are two links:
    http://www.feathersite.com/Poultry/BRKChange.html
    http://www.backyardchickens.com/t/6250/can-hens-ever-turn-into-roosters

    Looks like if a hen has a damaged or infected ovary, female hormone production shuts down. Females also have some testosterone running through their systems (true for humans too) and as a result, the male hormones "take over" and they begin to exhibit male characteristics like rooster feathers and crowing. The damaged/infected ovary could explain why she's never laid eggs for you, and the testosterone could explain why she's found herself "top chook".

    Fascinating stuff!

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