The spring chickens turn 12 weeks old today! Seems like just yesterday we were watching them hatch.
They’re old enough now that we can tell who’s going to be staying with us long-term. Mostly.
“Chick sexing,” or gender identification in chickens, can be pretty tricky. Last time we ended up with 2/2 boys, and because I’m an optimist, for months tried to explain away obvious rooster traits as “early-blooming hens.” Nope. Not this time.
With 23 young chickens all the same age, it’s been a lot easier to tell the girls and boys apart with this hatch. But we won’t know for certain until they crow or lay an egg (probably at least another 6 weeks).
Most of our chicks are barnyard mutts and Easter Eggers (also technically mutts), which can be especially difficult to sex because they have a lot of variation in appearance. Luckily, it looks like we got males AND females from most of our known crosses, so I have a decent basis for comparison this time.
I’m no expert, as you may have gathered from the first few sentences, but I have done a fair amount of research (and taken a lot of pictures.) So without further ado, here’s all I know about sexing chickens:
My sister and I ate General Tso last week, and he was delicious, though the cooking part didn’t exactly go as planned.
The original plan was to do an Asian-style tea smoked chicken, which is delicious but hasn’t graced my kitchen in a few years (I have a feeling it will soon, though.) But that plan shifted when we made a shocking discovery:
The General only had one testicle. And it was enormous.
To give you some perspective, a chicken’s brain is about the size of my thumbnail. The General’s lone gonad was nearly the size of my fist. Suddenly, his aggressive behavior made a lot more sense.
So back to the recipe. We’d talked before about making Beercan Chicken, mostly in jest, because we used to have a Speckled Sussex hen named Beercan. But now we had to, because of a favorite local beer: One Nut Brown Ale.
Unfortunately, Oskar Blues had One Nut on tap but not in cans or growlers. I briefly considered ordering a pint at their restaurant and smuggling it out, but instead I settled on the next best thing:
Only, the Beercan Chicken idea didn’t work out so well either. I decided to try doing it in the oven instead of the grill since it was getting dark outside, but the can slid around on the cookie sheet and collapsed. I tried for a few minutes to get the whole mess balanced, even using a different size can and spilling most of the beer in the process, but I soon gave up. It seemed disrespectful somehow, trying to balance a chicken impaled on a beer can. I can’t imagine why.
So instead, I laid the whole chicken down in the spilled beer (about half a can’s worth) and rubbed it all over with olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped fresh thyme. Then I added a few pats of butter and some chicken stock to the pan and put it in a 325 degree oven until the thigh meat reached 165F (this took about an hour and a half for a nearly 4 pound bird.) I turned it over halfway through the cooking process, and basted every 15 minutes or so.
The meat was tasty, and not at all tough (partly because we let it rest in the fridge for a couple days, partly because Speckled Sussex roosters are slow to mature.) The recipe I based mine on used a lot of pepper, and that plus the beer flavor was a bit overwhelming — I wouldn’t necessarily do it the same way next time, but it was still the best chicken I’d ever eaten because I grew it myself.
The leftovers were made into frozen burritos, assembly line style. And everything else went into the stockpot, soon to become several pints of rich, velvety chicken stock.
To make stock, I cover the carcass with filtered water (add in any unused giblets, too) and throw in a bunch of carrots and onions. We have a huge lovage plant that comes back every year, so I use that in place of celery (but you can use anything you like.) This time I also threw in a few handfuls of thyme, tarragon, and whatever else needed to be cut back in the herb garden.
I boil it for as long as I can (about 9 hours, this time) then strain it into glass jars. Once cool, I freeze it in plastic tubs and then vacuum seal the frozen stock so I can reclaim the containers. Then I have chicken stock whenever I need it — for soups, or as a vehicle for poached eggs.
Stock is infinitely better when made at home, and it’s a perfect way to make use of every last bit of the chicken (and fill your house with delicious smells in the process.) So please, never throw away a chicken or turkey carcass — why would you want to waste all that, especially when it’s so easy? If you don’t have time to make the stock right away (I usually don’t) just seal up the carcass and stick it in the freezer.
The chicks aren’t chicks anymore. They’re about to turn 6 weeks old, and now, they’re chickens.
The boys are starting to make themselves known, with big combs and little scuffles popping up everywhere. We’ve identified 10 that seem to be cockerels, exactly what we’d expect from the 19 chicks we hatched. I’ll go into detail about sexing chickens in another post, once I get photos of everyone. Not that I’m an expert or anything, quite the opposite. But I am finding it a lot easier to compare boys and girls now that there are so many of them.
The easter egger chicken above, known as Five Spice, is 100% boy. The large comb and the coloring are dead giveaways, even to me (and I convinced myself that my last two roosters were hens.)
This is Crispy, one of our assisted hatch chickens. Remember Crispy? We’re thinking girl for this one, but not sure yet. The other rough hatch chicks, Shelly and Sesame, are almost certainly girls. Glad I helped them out!
We ended up with 5 Easter Egger/Speckled Sussex chicks, which we refer to collectively as “The Cutlets,” after their mother. They are all very similar in appearance and turning out to be great little chickens — wily and very pretty. I think 3 of those are roosters, including this guy:
And last but not least:
This little barred easter egger, called Asada, is by far the friendliest chicken I’ve ever met. She flies up to perch on my shoulder when I bend down to refill their feeder, and settles in my lap for a nap if I sit down in the run. So far she looks like a girl, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed a while longer. Maybe you can cross yours too?
I spent way too much time today on the road, gathering some extra eggs to fill up our incubator. And of course, I ended up with just a few too many, but that will give me room to choose the best of the bunch.
I got 11 eggs from my friend Claudia, who adopted our extra rooster a while back. He is an Easter Egger (EE), which is not really a breed — just a mutt chicken that carries the blue egg gene. EEs are often sold from hatcheries and feed stores as “Araucanas” or “Ameraucanas” but my (limited) understanding is that 99% of the time, they are neither. Most of them are mutts, and any bird that lays a green egg falls into this category (true Araucanas and Ameraucanas lay blue eggs, along with a whole host of other very specific traits.)
Mislabeling aside, Easter Eggers are some of my favorite chickens — they come in all different colors, they’re productive layers, and mine have been some of the prettiest (and friendliest) hens in the flock. Not to mention their lovely mint-green eggs.
Kung Pao went broody in August — meaning she decided to stop laying eggs, and start hatching them instead. In chickens broodiness is a hormonal change, and some breeds are genetically predisposed to it while others (egg-factory hybrids like KP) virtually never go broody. Kung Pao is a hybrid known as a Black Star (or Black Sex-link, because males and females hatch out in different colors.) She’s probably a cross between a Barred Rock hen and a Rhode Island Red rooster, and she’s most definitely bred for egg production.
So we never expected KP to go broody. But exactly two months after a fox decimated most of her friends, she decided it was time to replenish the flock. She had all the classic symptoms — refusing to budge from the nest even at night, picking out all her chest feathers, and growling when I tried to move her. Just goes to show we can only control nature so much.