When it comes to faking it, your backyard henhouse gets its fair share of cross-dressers, role reversals and good old sex scandals, says Megg Miller.
You may know lots about poultry but there are some well-kept secrets in the henhouse. Take hen-feathered roosters: no flowing tail feathers or luxuriant neck hackles with these boys, just the feathering common to a hen. Are they cross dressers, perhaps? Sebright males are a classic example and rumour goes that the males lack ‘oomph’ and are bullied by their hens. It’s more common for roosters to be macho and grow profuse neck and saddle hackles and flowing tails.
Should we share the turkey’s secret? It’s called ‘parthenogenesis’, or conception without fertilisation by a male. Just a few females have this rare ability. What’s more likely is Mrs Turkey taking a dislike to the male and refusing to crouch for mating. The owners then decide old Tom is infertile and chop off his head when it was just perfidy on the hen’s part.
Then there’s the Muscovy: is it a duck or a goose? It grazes like geese and takes a similar period to hatch eggs, 35 days (other duck eggs hatch in 28 days). Muscovy don’t quack nor do the drakes display the curled tail feathers typical of domestic drakes. If Muscovies are mated with geese no offspring ensue but if mated to ducks, sterile offspring result. We’re calling it a duck.
Eggshells come in varied colours but how would you feel about charcoal coloured shells? Both Cayuga and Black East Indian ducks produce sooty shells when they first lay; this colour fades to dirty white with regular laying. They’re shockers to behold if you’re not prepared for them, and they result from the over-zealous effects of their black plumage gene.
Think you’re getting value for money with your ISA Brown chooks? You could do better with a handful of Japanese quail hens. Quail lay an egg that’s about 8% of its bodyweight while the ISA’s egg is probably 2½-4% of its weight. As well, this plucky little bird commences laying at six weeks of age when the ISA is still in the brooder. Best of all, a Japanese quail eats 14-18g of food daily compared with the ISA’s consumption of at least 130g daily.
The odd hen can crow and some undergo a sex change. Drakes are notorious for their libido and think nothing of engaging with fellow drakes. Turkey toms, bless them, masturbate with gusto and even the hens get perky and will display like a male. And the peacock? Poor fellow, he’s at the hen’s mercy and must show off to win her fancy. She calls the tune.