Friday, March 25, 2011

When Your Hen Becomes a Rooster

Last year, after losing a hen to a neighbor's hungry golden retriever, I allowed one of my broody hens to hatch out two eggs. I have two coops, but they aren't large, so two was all I felt I could handle.

The mother was Buff Orpington. The fathers were either Delaware or Buff Orpington. As fate would have it, Mom presented me with offspring of each. Of course, I could not tell the sexes.

If you know anything about chickens, you know that you  can always handle an extra hen or two, but roosters can be trouble with more than one in a coop. The babies were shy, so personality told me nothing. Then a hunting friend of my husband's came by and said, "The tan one is a boy and the white one is a girl." He talked about tail feathers and the necks, but I took him at his word. I nicknamed them Little Boy and Little Girl.

I fed them by hand, and hugged them whenever I visited, at least once daily. They came right to me. Brother and sister loved each other, protecting one another. We no longer had the Delaware daddy, but the Orpington daddy favored both of them. All was right with the flock.

They grew fast, exceeding the sizes of all the hens. Then one day, as I got into my car with my adult son, I heard a young crow from the coop. "Ah, Little Boy is trying to crow. That's so cute," I said. Young rooster are like boys growing through puberty - cracked voice and all. I wanted to go cheer Little Boy on, make him feel all big and macho. But I turned and got into the car.

My son didn't. "Mom, you need to look at this."

I stepped back out of the car and watched the coop occupants. The crows continued . . . from Little Girl.

My son busted out laughing. "So much for you getting another hen. How you going to keep three roosters in one coop?"


While I had a comfortable family in that coop, I knew that in a few months, the civility would change almost with the flip of a switch as the three boys fought over the five girls. Believe it or not, that bothered me. This wasn't what I planned. I'd given roosters away to my husband's friend before, not wanting to know if they landed on his table for Sunday dinner, but that was not an option this time. These were my babies.

When we invest time into our writing projects,the  scenes, chapters, characters and paragraphs become our babies. We birthed them, fed them, built their world around them until we thought everything was perfect. Then someone, whether a critique group member, mentor or editor, tells us that something isn't right. Suddenly we are faced with the task to "kill your darlings" as William Faulkner once said.

I've seen many a writer refuse to butcher their babies. Most didn't sell, either, and the stories wound up languishing on a flash drive somewhere, maybe on paper in a drawer. But if you can accept the dirty duty of cutting out those darlings, and killing babies, you'll do wonders for the rest of the piece. I dare to say that the majority of unpublished writers aren't willing to dispose of their work and phrases. They are in love with them. They've fed them by hand and hugged them too much to part.

Well, Little Boy still pals around with dad in their coop. You can hardly tell them apart. Little Girl, however, was moved to our second coop.  We cut her/him out of the original flock, and after only one night of confusion, she/he adapted, even thrived. Now he services nine hens of his own . . . and his name is Alex.

And all's much better in the chicken world.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Hope--I am a relatively "new" follower (within the last few months) so I've seen you do this before, but each time it surprises me: taking one of your personal experiences and making a spot-on connection to writing.

But this one really threw me for a loop. Roosters? Hens? What about raising chickens could apply to writing? But as I've discovered, there is NOTHING that you cannot connect to the process/business of writing/publishing.

Perhaps you could have a contest, and the participants could throw far-fetched subjects at you...You would then make the writing connection. Trimming your toenails! (Wait, I just thought of a way to make that metaphor work!) Having to go to a get-together with in-laws you're not fond of...Nothing. Running out of shampoo and having to make do...Oooh, I thought of a way to connect it to revising!

Anyway, in my digressing way: great post!

Hope Clark said...


If you are a story-teller and writer, you make do with what you have. Actually, the ability to take an object or subject and turn it into a lesson has evolved from 12 years of writing editorials for FundsforWriters! Don't get out of the chair until the story has been spun. Hey, that leads to yesterday's post! LOL


Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Great post. I'll be back for more!

Um, is this somewhat akin to "kill your darlings"?

widdershins said...

What a perfect 'third option' for a testosterone-y problem... do roosters have testosterone? ... there's even a right there about doing your research!

Karen Lange said...

Enjoyed the analogy. Butchering the babies is not always easy, but necessary. It builds character. Or something like that. :)

Susan said...

Alex must be one happy rooster. He's got his own little harem. I enjoyed this post since one does not often get to read about hens and roosters! Susan

Glenda Beall said...

I like this post and the way you gently lead the reader to the point of "killing the darlings" in her work when they don't work and move the writing forward.

As a teacher of writing, I see that problem over and over again.
I remember when I was determined to hang on to my darlings, but as I gained more experience, I found that I didn't have to kill them, just lock them up some place and use them later.

I look forward to meeting you in Blue Ridge Georgia at the Writers conference.

Hope Clark said...

I'm looking forward to Blue Ridge as well. Can't bring the chiekens with me, but hubby and Dixie the dachshund will be in the motel room, kicking back while I'm doing the conference thing.

Hope Clark said...

I'm looking forward to Blue Ridge as well. Can't bring the chiekens with me, but hubby and Dixie the dachshund will be in the motel room, kicking back while I'm doing the conference thing.