Orange the hen (center) as part of her flock in better days....Photo by: Susan Eirich

You could understand having problems with bears or wolves, but in fact the chickens cause big problems too.

After two years of absolute harmony as a flock, being raised together as chicks, sleeping together, racing around the property chasing bugs under the watchful eye of the rooster Grouse the Third, I suddenly heard a great squawking two days ago. I rushed out to find two hens fighting with intense energy. As I watched a third joined in, with a fourth showing interest. FIGHT!  Outnumbered three against one Orange crawled under a shelf into a corner and crouched down, passively awaiting her fate. The other hens pecked away.

Why? Why after years of peaceful cohabitation? It is early February after a bitterly cold, dark and windy January. Even though they are free to go out they have chosen to hunker down in the barn refusing to go out. Are they going stir crazy? Need distraction? Is it Chicken Cabin Fever?

Under the guidance of our last rooster Grouse the Second the hens were more exploratory, marching across the snow towards the beckoning call of the office porch with its dry wood and early morning sun. Or even going out all the way to the pasture, high-stepping it through the snow to scratch through the smorgasbord of horse, bison and donkey dung, or find a warm donkey back to perch on. But for some reason these hens and rooster stayed in day after day.

When I finally got to Orange she was in shock, tilted to one side and motionless. As an emergency measure I picked her up and put her in a travel box in the enclosure of Adrianna the goat. Adrianna lives with the chickens but has to be sealed off into an inner enclosure when we feed them or she will (does) steal all their food. The young man who was helping me that day, whose father raises chickens to eat, probably thought he knew exactly what to do with a problem chicken but he tactfully helped me without a word.  

adrianna goat 5Adrianna the Goat

Then – what next? With deep snow everywhere and every shelter otherwise occupied we have limited winter options. Unfortunately later in the day someone left the door to Adrianna’s inner enclosure open, meaning well for Adrianna, and I found several hens in there pecking vigorously at the travel box. So the prognosis for it being a one-time event was not good. She was a marked chicken. 

Today I am experimenting with introducing her to our second flock, which includes one outcast, Gimpette; Twisty, a hen with a radically deformed beak, and two normal chickens, to see if she can integrate there. Gimpette broke her leg. She now walks with a limp and the other chickens didn’t take to it kindly. She had to live alone for a while until we got a second flock of three unwanted chicks including Twisty, and then carefully introduce her to them when they were old enough to defend themselves. She chased and bullied them. You would think since that happened to her she might be more generous-spirited but she wasn’t. We were concerned that Twisty was no match for a healthy hen; even one with a limp. But eventually they sorted it out and now they perch on the same roost though the three, very close since chickhood, huddle together and Gimpette is a bit on the outside. Still, at least she had a flock. Chickens being very socially oriented, this is a real need. So it is to that flock of four to which I am trying to introduce Orange. We will see… 

Susan Eirich, PhD

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