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Something to crow about

By Shannon Jenkins

In a small shed behind a Stockbridge home lives a curious wonder.

Some may not think of a hen as a mysterious creature, but Ralph Smith claims his father's chicken is a little odd.

"About two months ago we were out here picking blueberries, and we heard crowing," said Smith, who was outside that day with one of his sisters.

The 55-year-old said he didn't think much of it until that evening when he heard it again. After investigating around his father's property – which is next door to Smith's own home – he determined it was in fact the chicken that was making all the noise.

None of the neighbors have roosters, he said, and many of his family members have witnessed the eyebrow-raising event as well.

"We never heard her crow a day in our lives until about two months ago," Smith said.

Now the crowing is a regular part of the day on the property, where Smith has lived since he was 6 months old – minus the four years he served in the military.

"Just about every morning and evening she's gotten into the routine of thinking she's a rooster," he said.

The questionable hen is the last of a dozen Smith's parents purchased more than 10 years ago, and Smith is confident the chicken is female.

"She's laid eggs," he said. "I know she's a chicken. I just don't know what kind of chicken she is. Maybe she just thought she should be the rooster."

Smith said the chicken hasn't laid an egg since sometime last year – shortly after the 11th chicken passed away.

"When her sister died I guess she gave up," he said.

And it was sometime last year, he said, that the chicken grew spurs.

"I called the county agriculture people, but they never came to check it out," Smith said. "I wanted to know if anyone else had ever heard of it."

According to a Google search on the Internet, other people have indeed witnessed a "sex change" among chickens. On a message board at www.the-coop.org, several chicken owners discussed the phenomenon.

Dated December 1999, one woman posted the following message that prompted several responses: "When I was girl, my mother had a hen that turned into a rooster. My husband does not believe that this is possible. I need some proof to help support my position that this can actually happen."

One writer replied, "The hen did not actually turn into a rooster. But some hens when they get old do go through a weird hormonal change – chicken menopause? Some will grow spurs and even try to crow and tread other hens, but they are still hens. Just hormonally confused."

Another writer suggested "The Chicken Health Handbook," a guide popular among "chicken people," where she read about the change in chickens.

"I had a Cornish hen that shocked my socks off one day when she crowed," someone else wrote. "She was older and never did go back to laying but was more aggressive than in the past. Aren't chickens interesting?"