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Pullets vs. Cockerals

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After finding a loving home for our 3 year old mixed flock, we borrowed the neighbors' incubator and ordered hatching eggs from two breeders listed on Ebay. Past flocks have been started with day old pullets, and my focus has always been on having a variety of breeds who lay different colored eggs. This time, I went for interesting feathers and two breeds who were known to be docile, no drama types who get along with one another. I received 10 silver laced orpington eggs, and 18 blue laced silver wyandottes in the mail.

It was like a kid waiting for Christmas, watching over those eggs for 3 weeks, as the incubator mythodically rocked them and maintained a constant temperature. The neighbors, who have lots of experience, showed me how to candle them to see which ones were viable, and the batch of 28 eggs was winnowed down to about 20; Christmas finally arrived on March 24, and 12 wyandottes and 2 orpingtons hatched (I posted a video of one hatching on the Sweetlife Farm Facebook page on March 24). 

A boy and a girl?

Since then, many hours have been spent watching over them, introducing them to tidbits from the garden, admiring their emerging beauty, and agonizing over how many would turn out to be hens and roosters. When you order from the hatchery, you can order "straight run," which means they haven't been sexed, or pullets, which have been examined by an expert and are supposed to be all hens; that said, in the 30 years I have kept chickens and ordered pullets, I have never NOT gotten at least one, and often times several roosters. Statistically, the chances are 50-50 boys vs. girls, but apparently health of the parents, diet, temperature and who knows what else effects the gender and the hatching rates of boys vs. girls; it is very difficult to tell the gender of baby chicks. 

I have never raised wyandottes or orphintons. Both breeds are large, fluffy birds with rounded shapes. The defining characteristics of male vs female feels much harder to call before the birds have reached maturity. A few have started crowing, but they never crow all at once or on command, and being the same breed, they are difficult to tell apart. Now that they are 3 months old, I am cautiously certain that one of the two orpingtons is a girl, and one wyandotte is a girl. The one pretty-sure-wyandotte girl has a pointy tale and a single pale comb. The other 13 wyandottes are still mostly a mystery to me, because their combs, wattles and feathering look so much alike, even though the feather colors vary. Some have pointier tail feathers than others, and several of the black and white ones are getting iridescent tail feathers, which makes them more likely to be roosters, I think. None of the grays have iridescent feathers, but at least one of them has crowed....They all have rose combs, a type I have never had in all the years I have kept chickens, and their combs and wattles are filling out in a way that make them all look a little different, but very similar. This has me worried that they are all boys, and I am going to be bummed out if I only get two hens out of 28 eggs!!!! 

Eventually, they will be mature enough to know for certain who's who; the girls will begin to lay in another 2-3 months, and the mature feather patterns should be definitive. Meanwhile, the wait is excruciating.