Jonas Verdickt, Latin and Dutch teacher at the Xaverius College in Borgerhout, was able to explain it to his students on Thursday. Everyone had seen the funny video on ATV where he testified about his chicken’s remarkable sex change. “She’s ‘mocking’”, Jonas described his trans’hen’der Belle. “Should we call her Bo now? Or Bernard?”
“Ah, the students know me so well, I stand in front of the class with the same enthusiasm”, laughs the teacher, who is also active in the Bananentejater. Yet the banishment of his laying hen seems to intrigue many people. In our own reader reactions, there were many people who thought they were aware of this phenomenon. “If hens are kept in a group without a rooster, one of the hens automatically takes on the role of rooster and starts to behave more masculinely,” it sounded. But that turns out not to be true.
“Our Belle is only seven months old. We have ten chickens, and I’m sure I’ve collected ten eggs at once in one day,” says Jonas, who bought Belle in Oelegem. “When I suddenly heard her crowing, I went to my vet. He thought that Belle is probably just a rooster and is only now entering her – or his – puberty. Which is understandable when it comes to a seven-month-old chicken.”
Still, Jonas wanted to know the best. He pulled some breast feathers off Belle for a DNA analysis. Result? “100% definitely a woman, but one who thinks she has to crow in the morning and starts to get physically together.”
Veterinary center Trigenio in Nijlen is specialized in birds. Veterinarian Tom Verbeek can immediately clarify why Belle seems ‘in transition’. “It’s rare, but I’ve seen it before,” says Dr Verbeek. “The rooster behavior usually remains within limits, although they can also become a bit more aggressive. Belle has a medical problem. Unlike female mammals, birds have only one ovary. A hen that lays eggs only uses her left ovary. Her right ovary is just a little bit of residual tissue. A disease, such as a tumor or infection, can affect the left ovary, causing the chicken to produce less of the female hormone oestrogen.”
The right ovary then responds immediately and begins to grow. What then arises is also called ovotestis: the right ovary is in fact an ovary and a testicle in one. Estrogen, the female hormone, is under pressure due to the new situation and therefore male characteristics can take over. A hen will then have a larger comb, heavier wattles and spurs and will sometimes crow, like Belle. Sometimes they let the hens eat first like roosters do or they pounce on their sisters. You can compare it to women who grow a mustache or beard after the menopause. Or man-girls.
“Meat chicken breeds such as the Mechelen cuckoo are less likely to have a problem with the laying device than a laying hen like Jonas’s,” says Tom Verbeek. “He shouldn’t expect chicks, because Belle will never be able to fertilize or produce sperm.”
Another fact from the vet: a chicken has only one ovary, but a rooster has two testicles.
Jonas Verdickt is now going to have Belle examined again. “I’m a little concerned. She’s still so young. Hopefully she won’t die. For now, she’s limited to morning crows. That happens in a muted manner in the indoor loft, because I always lock my ladies away from the marten at night. So far my neighbors haven’t said anything yet. Apparently many roosters also crow in the evening. I’ve read that they sell collars to put around a rooster’s neck, such as a dog bark collar, to smother the crowing. But I think that’s pathetic, I don’t. There would also be an implant to suppress testosterone. It costs something like 130 euros”, says Jonas, who is still a bit in doubt whether he will address his rotten crow chicken with ‘she’ or ‘he’.