by SB C. Jane Taylor (Hinesburg SBs)
(This essay was originally published in 2019. It is still one of my favorites.) It has come to my attention that Mabel is a rooster. The shape of her tail and the presence of her wattle give every indication that she is developing into a rooster. Her behavior has begun to support this new gender presentation.
Chicken sexing is a highly valued and difficult skill. The best chicken sexers—those in Japan are purported to be the very best in the world—are able to determine gender from a mere glance at the cloaca of the chicken in question. The cloaca, or the posterior single orifice that serves as the opening for the digestive, reproductive, and urinary tracts simultaneously, is strikingly similar in appearance in young male and female chicks. Males are distinguished by a single very small cloacal mark that is not easily visible to the untrained eye. The most expert chicken sexers in Japan are so good at their art that they are able to make the gender determination by a kind of sixth sense, a hunch. The Japanese chicken sexers’ ways of knowing is a mysterious legend to those outside and even inside of the chicken gender determination business.
Here in Hinesburg on Orchard Hill, there are no chicken sexers. We wait for gender determinations. In the chicken world, time reveals all. Time has crowed. Mabel is a guy.
Under many circumstances this might be problematic, as roosters tend to sexually harass their henhouse mates. They peck at their necks and pluck their feathers. They chase and catcall and as a result are “re-homed.” Mabel, though she has stepped up as the big man on campus, has not resorted to such gender stereotypical aggression. She is a kinder, gentler sort of rooster.
Her sensitivities seem to be more nurture than nature. Mabel is new here on the Hill. She is a replacement chicken. Hand raised from incubated eggs in my neighbor’s basement, her predecessors were deceased, killed on their first week outdoors in the chicken run by a wily fisher cat. The Orchard Hill Chicken Massacre was sadly discovered by my lovely neighbor’s lovely son, who is only eleven. Early one morning and still in pajamas, he’d leapt out of his folks’ condo to feed the girls and was met with the grim reality of their untimely demise.
A single chicken among the first flock survived the massacre. Penny became dependent upon us for her social life and her security. As one, we neighbors stepped in to fill the empty hocks of her slain companions. Penny is still quite affectionate.
In Vermont fashion, a neighboring homesteader re-homed her extra chickens with us. This new flock of like-minded, age-appropriate companion ‘girls’ came to live here on the Hill with Penny. One of those ‘girls’ is Mabel. In their early chickhood, Rosie ruled the roost. A Plymouth Rock chicken of excellent confirmation and regal bearing, Rosie was a natural leader shepherding the flock at will and chasing off squirrels and the neighbor’s Chihuahua. Until Mabel became a rooster. Now Mabel is in charge.
Though Mabel is a guy, she seems to have intuited Penny’s need for solidarity and companionship. Science tells us of the epigenetic transmission of trauma through generations. I posit that such knowledge of trauma is also transferred on the wing. And that Mabel’s gentler nature is nurtured by his proximity to and empathy for Penny.
[I think Mabel has all the qualities that will someday make him a Silverback. Silverbelle C. Jane publishes weekly “love letters.” To be on her mailing list contact her at email@example.com . Her new book Spirit Traffic will be published in April, 2022. It can be pre-ordered on her website. SB SM]