Meet Hawkeye, my new BFF*
Until I got my own girls last year, I had no idea what drama existed in the lives of chickens. In my innocence, I imagined nothing more than cheerful bukking and clucking as my fantasy hens roamed my garden, patrolling for bugs, creating fabulous fertilizer, and laying the odd egg. But in the year and a half since I got my first peeps, I have learned that tv soap operas are nothing on the real life drama of the henhouse.
My first taste of avian angst occurred when the girls were still peeps. Betty, the only solid colored bird in the group (a golden orange RRI/Buff Orpington cross), sank to the bottom of the pecking order as soon as feathers started coming in. I had to apply the smelly purple goo to fend off the bullies.
When I added Babe, my ill-fated bantam frizzle cochin a week or two later, the peck-a-thon recommenced against her. She was just too different for the other girls to deal with, so they harried and chased and pecked her until she was nearly bald and a complete mental wreck.
She made it through the winter and I found a happier home for her with one of my chicken coop tour guests this past spring.
Early this summer, I brought in a couple of young pullets from a poultry swap, to ramp up the egg production, and though they had a bit of an adjustment, they mostly settled in with the gang, though now taking Betty's former spot at the bottom of the pecking ladder.
Sylvia (Dominique/Blue Orpington cross)
But last week I noticed Hawkeye, my sole Ameraucana, was staying inside the henhouse day and night. Was she cold? Winter temperatures had just arrived, and she was in heavy molt. Another day or two went by, the weather warmed up, but still no Hawkeye appeared outside. Was she sick? No, she seemed alert and normal when I checked her out, and when I offered her food, she ate hungrily.
Hmm, maybe it's something else. I read up on molting behavior, and learned that it hits some hens like a version of chicken PMS. They get cranky, moody, and irritable. Their new feathers growing in can be painful if they brush up against anything, so they stay away from the gang. Maybe that was it. I offered her a bowl of water and food, up on her perch atop the nest boxes. She ate as if famished, which she probably was. And she moved around so I could see she wasn't injured or seemingly sick.
A couple of days later I opened the door and caught her in the act of eating an egg from the nest box! Bad chicken. Very bad. As you can imagine, egg-eating chickens are not only bad in themselves, but they often teach other chickens to do the same thing. Various schemes ran through my head all day, as well as visions of the stewpot. Realistically, though, that's probably not an option, since: a) I couldn't imagine eating one of my girls and b) I have no neck-wringing experience. Thinking hard and asking various other chicken owners, I gave her more food in her cave in hopes she had just been desperate.
By now she was giving me a friendly greeting every time I opened the door of the henhouse and looked in. The top photo shows her, coming to say hi as I open the henhouse door in the morning (bearing ... ahem, treats). A couple of days ago I I was kneeling down, attaching something to the wire of the outside run. Suddenly Hawkeye appeared next to me, on the side opposite the other chickens (who, typically, had all come in to see what I was doing). Then she leaned against me, and when I raised my arm, she ducked under it and crawled right into my lap! Then she jumped up onto my arm, and when I finished with what I was doing and stood up to go outside, she flew up onto my shoulder and stayed there, peering into my face and looking around happily.
No matter what I did, I couldn't get her down, so I stood there for a while like some kind of farmer/pirate, with a chicken on my shoulder in place of the standard parrot. No one else was home to help, and I was freezing, so I finally managed to get her down onto the ground. Immediately the two highest-ranking hens ran over and started totally whomping on her! I chased them off and she fled back into the safety of the henhouse, where no one can get at her.
And that's where we are now. Up to now she has been squarely in the middle of the pecking order rankings, so I can only surmise it is her pathetic featherless aspect that has caused the attacks. She was never particularly friendly to me before, so obviously I am now viewed as her protector and new BFF*. Still really a novice chicken keeper, I have no idea if the attacks will stop when she regrows her feather, or if she has permanently sunk to the bottom. Maybe I should knit her a wee chicken 'jumper' (jacket) as the kindly English ladies do for the rescued battery hens?
Stay tuned for further bulletins. Until then, you can call me .......
Kathbeard, head chicken whisperer
*Best Friend Forever