An eclec­tic al­pha­bet of chicken facts with a dif­fer­ence. Com­piler: Andy Cawthray

Your Chickens - - Contents -

N is for Nuggets


Although rare, na­ture does oc­ca­sion­ally pro­duce what is known as a bi­lat­eral gy­nan­dro­morph. It’s more com­monly known as a half-sider and re­sem­bles the two halves of the breed (male and fe­male) ef­fec­tively put to­gether. This doesn’t cre­ate a mix up of ap­pear­ance, but in­stead a very def­i­nite di­vid­ing line down the cen­tre of the bird where the left hand side ap­pears male in its plumage and the right hand side is fe­male.


An­other phe­nom­e­non that oc­curs is the part change of gen­der within a hen. This is not a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence but, by the same mea­sure, it is not in­fre­quent. A hen who has been lay­ing eggs will ap­pear to sud­denly be­come a cock bird. She will no longer lay eggs, her comb and wat­tles will de­velop, her feath­er­ing will be­come more male in ap­pear­ance and feather struc­ture and she will even begin to crow. She is, how­ever, still a she. She has only phe­no­typ­i­cally tran­si­tioned into a male, while ge­net­i­cally she re­mains fe­male.

The rea­son this oc­curs is usu­ally due an en­vi­ron­men­tal stress or ill­ness such as a

tu­mour, prob­lems with the adrenal gland, or an ovar­ian cyst. It only oc­curs in hens that have one ovary. Not all hens de­velop both ovaries dur­ing their em­bry­onic stages, and in­stead have one de­vel­oped while the other re­mains as a re­gressed male go­nad. In the event of the de­vel­oped ovary be­com­ing dam­aged and ceas­ing to func­tion, the go­nad can take over, and the in­crease in male hor­mone causes the hen to de­velop male char­ac­ter­is­tics. She will, how­ever, re­main fe­male and will not be fer­tile. The op­po­site ef­fect of a male be­com­ing fe­male has not been ob­served.


The con­cept of cas­trat­ing cock­erels to cre­ate a capon evolved in Ro­man times when, dur­ing grain short­ages, it was out­lawed for hens to be fat­tened for the ta­ble. The re­sult­ing bird grew to a sig­nif­i­cant size, and was found to have more ten­der and less gamey flavour than or­di­nary hens or cock­erels. The con­sump­tion of capons was con­sid­ered a guilty plea­sure of the rich and landed of El­iz­a­bethan Eng­land.


‘An egg a day can keep the doc­tor away’. Eggs are a great source of es­sen­tial vi­ta­mins in­clud­ing vi­ta­mins A,B, C, D, E and K. Re­search (pub­lished in The In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Food Sci­ences & Nu­tri­tion) has demon­strated that eat­ing an egg-based lunch can make you feel fuller for longer than other reg­u­lar lunches of a sim­i­lar calo­rie count. So if there is only time for a slice of toast or a bowl of ce­real for breakfast, then hav­ing eggs for lunch will sup­press the af­ter­noon snack­ing urge.


The av­er­age life­span for a non-com­mer­cial chicken is eight to ten years, although it can vary a lit­tle ac­cord­ing to the breed. Some par­tic­u­larly well-cared-for birds have been known to live be­yond twenty years of age. At the op­po­site end of the scale are the com­mer­cial lay­ers, which will live for three to four years, as­sum­ing they are not de­pleted at eigh­teen months of age. At the very bot­tom of the scale are the com­mer­cial broil­ers that are rarely grown be­yond ten weeks be­fore be­ing culled. It is a sad truth that if left to grow on they are un­likely to sur­vive be­yond twelve months.


In an­cient China it was be­lieved that the uni­verse started out as an egg. Within the egg the de­ity Pangu grew, along with the forces of Yin and Yang, for 18,000 years. When Pangu hatched from the egg he split Yin from Yang with one swing of his axe, and set about cre­at­ing the world. Yin was used to cre­ate the earth, Yang to cre­ate the sky. Pangu stood be­tween them keep­ing the two forces apart as they grew year on year, a task he per­formed for a fur­ther 18,000 years be­fore it was com­plete, and he was laid to rest.


The rooster is one of the 12 an­i­mals that ap­pear in the Chi­nese zo­diac. Peo­ple born in rooster years are known to be dili­gent and du­ti­ful in the tasks they per­form. They are hard

and courageous in bat­tle, sen­si­tive and nice to friends, and busy, alert, punc­tual peo­ple. They are also strong willed and self-con­fi­dent, and al­ways will­ing to crow about how well they have done. (And yes, I was born in the year of rooster be­fore any­one writes in to ask!)


In Bri­tain it was cus­tom, and still is in some house­holds, to crush egg shells af­ter breaking an egg open. It was also cus­tom­ary to poke a hole through the base of soft boiled eggs af­ter they have been eaten. The rea­son be­hind these two acts was the su­per­sti­tion that witches would use them as ves­sels and sail out into the ocean to sink all the boats!


Amer­i­can folk­lore sug­gests that in or­der to en­sure that healthy lay­ing hens would hatch from a brood the eggs should be col­lected and car­ried in a woman’s bon­net. On the other hand, if strong and vig­or­ous cock­erels were the re­quire­ment, then eggs should be car­ried in a gen­tle­man’s hat.


Chicken eggs have long been con­sid­ered a healthy source of nu­tri­ents in our diet, but what of other eggs? Folk­lore has it that the suf­ferer of a sore throat should seek out the nest of the mock­ing­bird and col­lect the dirt un­der the eggs in the nest, as it can be used to make a cure. As for al­co­holics, you were ad­vised un­der an­cient folk­lore to per­form the now il­le­gal act of eat­ing scram­bled owl eggs in or­der to kick the demons of drink!

Both sides look male here, but imag­ine how odd it would look if they weren’t

ABOVE: Once the cock­erel died in this trio, a hen trans­gen­dered BE­LOW: An Eastern per­spec­tive...

ABOVE: Do you crush your eggshells af­ter eat­ing the eggs BE­LOW: Rocky, my long­est-lived cock­erel at 12 years old

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