By Diane Lockspeiser

I couldn’t wait any longer. The birds in the playpen in my den were getting wild and crazy, fighting, knocking over food and water dishes, ripping holes in the mesh sides of the playpen and in the old lace tablecloth I use as a covering. The room was constantly coated in the dust they kicked up, and it stank to high heaven, even after I changed the bedding as best I could with them squawking and flapping and trying to escape.

I had been trying to wait until I was absolutely sure of the gender of the two chickens that were in the chick enclosure within the coop outside. I figured that once they were loosed into the general population of my hens, it would be extremely difficult if not impossible to separate them out again if they turned out to be roosters. Videos online told me to watch for things like pointed neck feathers or arching tail feathers. I watched, and the young birds just stared back at me, growing but not changing. Maybe it was time.

One bright sunny day, as I yearned to rest once again in my recliner by the south-facing windows without chicken dust and odor, I decided it was time. So, with a prayer and a deep breath, I let the two chickens loose in the coop. They are still adapting to being treated like alien invaders by the other hens, but they are coping, and still looking like hens. I cleaned out the chick enclosure and set it up for the next group.

That group was made up of four different types of chickens, in four different sizes. I watched them carefully before deciding that the middle-sized, mostly black one, was definitely the most aggressive, acting