It isn't always easy to tell the hens from the bulls

August 05, 2013|By TIM ROWLAND |

The smaller the animal, the more difficult it is to determine gender.

You can imagine the difficulty, for example, in telling whether an oyster is a boy or a girl.

Or a caterpillar? Forget it. No one could be expected to figure that out.

As animals get larger, things become easier, although they are by no means a cinch.

With chickens, you pretty much just have to wait until they start to develop; roosters will start to grow a larger comb and tail feathers, and, of course, eventually will start to crow. So misreading a young chicken is perfectly forgivable.

Kittens are a little easier, but I know some cat experts who have made initial misjudgments. It happens.

Puppies — now you start to get into more certain territory, but even so, if you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for, it can get a bit tricky.

Goat? You should know, although it might take a little studying.

But by the time you get up to the size of a calf? The sex of a calf is something no one, no matter how inexperienced, should ever, ever, not once in a million years, get wrong.

Keep in mind, all of the above is not me talking; it is me listening. Listening to someone with the tone of voice that is trying to be patient and finding it exceedingly difficult.

This, after I botched not one, but two, attempts at sexing in the space of maybe three days.

First, the Polish tophat chicken (only a picture can do that bird justice) that I named Edna — well, we think she has started to crow. Not sure, might still get a reprieve. But it’s not looking good. But no one gets chickens right, so few people would give me too much grief over that one.

The calf is another matter.

A couple of points in my defense. One, this happened maybe 10 days ago, when I was already beginning to feel a bit poorly. So I wasn’t on my calf-sexing “A” game. Sue me.

Second, as (bad) luck would have it, I arrived almost right at the moment of impact, so to speak, and was subjected visually to high concentrations of ick. I do not deal well with ick. I am not going to go lifting any tails that are bathed in what appears to be petroleum jelly. I’ve seen real farmers do it, but I’m not a real farmer, and our herd is small enough that I don’t get a lot of practice.

So when the calf tumbled out, I saw what I took to be a nascent udder, named the calf Sheba, shot a quick video, called Beth to come quick and then got the beefsteak out of there. So how was I to know that boy calves are like boy anything else, and just because they have the makings of an udder, it doesn’t mean that anything will come of it?

I do not feel I should be held responsible for an obvious design flaw. As Gallagher said, do plumbers go around putting spigots where there ain’t no pipe?

Of course no one would know about my error if it weren’t for this little thing I like to call Facebook.

This is why I almost daily consider closing my account. Nothing like an Internet website with like 3 billion subscribers to show your ignorance in a good, strong light.

Because yes, like a fool, I put up a shot for one and all to see, boasting of little “Sheba.” This drew a ton of responses, including a comment from our “real” farmer friend Cindy, who wrote, “I can’t get over how many girls y’all have.”

Yeah, well. About that ...

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at

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