Columns share an author’s personal perspective.
Born and raised on a farm, I have encountered many oddities and natural wonders in my lifetime. I’ve seen the elders “talk the fire” out of a burned child, and even “curse off” a wart or two. I once witnessed Granny flog a chicken-eating dog until he confessed his sins in two languages and then embraced Jesus as his Lord and Savior. But in my 48 years of rural living, I’ve never seen or even heard of a chicken undergoing a sex-change operation - until now.
It was my wife who first noticed this phenomenon. She rushed breathlessly into the house, almost in a tizzy, to inform me that one of my prized, full-blooded-with-papers Buff Orpington hens had completely stopped laying eggs, was growing a larger comb, waddle and spurs, developing more colorful, male-like plumage, and was now in the act of crowing like a rooster and making unwanted romantic advances to the other hens.
Naturally, as a veteran husband, it is my first instinct to discount, disagree with and disbelieve most of what my wife says. It’s just a fun hobby that I’ve enjoyed since we said “I Do,” and she has a much similar hobby. But a quick roll call and visual inspection confirmed what the crazy lady was saying. Still thinking it impossible, I Googled “Can a hen turn into a rooster?” Man, I really hate it when Google takes my wife’s side.
Much to my amazement, a little online research confirmed that, in very rare incidents, a hen can transform into a rooster. An article in www.livescience.com cites a 2000 report published by the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences that states, “Sex reversals do, in fact, occur - although not very frequently … To date, however, spontaneous sex reversal from male to female has not been reported.”
According to Backyard Poultry magazine, female chickens are born with two ovaries, or gonads, but only the left one is active and produces estrogen and eggs, the other remains dormant. If some funky medical condition ever damages that southpaw ovary, estrogen levels get critically low, testosterone levels can rise and - abra cadabra! - the chicken formerly known as a hen transforms into, by all outward appearances, a proud, strutting rooster.
These chickens may act like roosters - talking trash and flirting with all the pretty girls behind the barn - but they are only making empty promises and will be unable to impregnate any other chickens. One website even claims that this sex-change miracle can be reversed by hormonal therapy, but I spend enough money on chicken feed and laying mash without having to call in a doctor to write a prescription for hormone pills, so that ain’t happening.
So Caitlyn Jenner wasn’t the first man to transform himself into a woman, and my hen wasn’t the first bird to switch teams, either. What is slowly changing, however, is the way society reacts to all this.
According to mypetchicken.com (yes, I’ve spent entirely too much time researching chickens for this article), in Europe there was the famous case of “The Rooster of Basel” in 1474, where a rooster was found guilty of “sex switching” and promptly burned as a witch at the stake for the “heinous and unnatural crime of laying an egg.” Similar cases made headlines in Great Britain in 1922 and in the U.S. in 1927, but neither of those chickens was rendered extra crispy by religious fanatics. Mankind has come a long way from the Rooster of Basel to the Caitlyn Jenner of Hollywood.
So where exactly do I stand on all this sex-changing in the world? Don’t let my American-flag-flying, truck-driving, rifle-owning, redneck exterior fool you. While this may not be popular with my more conservative brethren, I believe strongly in free will and the right to love, live and let live. Be yourself, be true to yourself, love yourself and love who you want to love, as long as it doesn’t harm others.
So if a hen wants to spend the money for a sex change and become a rooster, or if two roosters decide to fall in love and want to be recognized by the State of South Carolina as husband and wife, then I don’t oppose that. I may not always understand it or relate to it, but I respect and appreciate the rights of every barnyard animal and every human being to be who they are and love who they want to love, the hell with what the feather-pecking flocks of society think.
Who knows, maybe my little Chicken Jenner will go off to Hollywood and make a few million bucks with his own reality TV show. If so, someone owes me some eggs or some cash, because it appears as if I’m one laying hen short.
Michael M. DeWitt Jr. is the managing editor of The Hampton County Guardian newspaper in South Carolina. He is an award-winning humorist, journalist and outdoor writer and the author of two books.
DeWitt column: Don’t count your hens until the gonads hatch
Columns share an author’s personal perspective.