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Posts Tagged ‘pecking order’

After our fox attack last week, I decided not to give the remaining two Ameracauna pullets too much time to get used to having the whole coop to themselves, lest they make things as difficult for future newcomers as my older girls did to them. I learned a year ago that when a pecking order is disrupted by the loss of the head bird(s), it’s a great time to introduce new members to the flock. Rather than old residents picking mercilessly on the newcomers, everyone has to negotiate a new relationship with everyone else.

The brief solitude did get Scramble and Omelet going into the coop to sleep rather than perching outside every night, so I am thankful for that little improvement. It’s not so much fun to have to pry two screeching chickens from a high ladder and stuff them into their house every night after dark. (And who would do that for us when we were out of town?). My older girls were effective bullies, so Scramble and Omelet preferred roosting outside over the hostile environment in the henhouse. Now they suddenly had the coop to themselves, and they immediately ‘moved in’ for the night – a good start.

After a flurry of Craig’s list contacts and calls, I drove down to Parker to pick up a very eclectic four-some of hens. One was a Buff Brahma, which is what attracted me to the ad in the first place; Pot Pie and Tandoori  endeared themselves to me in short order and I miss them badly, so I really wanted another Brahma. I knew I wanted a couple of reliable layers, and one of the chickens was a Leghorn; another was a Campine, a beautiful, petite breed known to be excellent layers. The fourth was a Cochin, a breed I’ve wanted since I first thought about getting chickens. They have less than stellar egg production but are beautiful, gentle fluffballs – so this hodgepodge group of chickens really appealed to me as a varied and interesting mix of birds.

They’ve been home with me for almost a week now, and today I let them out of the covered run for the first time. For Scramble and Omelet it was the first excursion since the fox attack, and they launched themselves into my raised beds with gusto, eventually finding their way back to their beloved dust-bathing spot under my potting bench. The 4 new birds stayed closer to home, gradually venturing across the yard but spending 80% of their time in and very near the run. When it was time to take Copper for a walk, it was a cinch to herd everyone back into the run. Whether it will remain that way when they all feel more settled is another question.

Here are photos of ALL the girls, since I didn’t get photos of the Ameracaunas before today (those dark, short winter days just don’t present many opportunities for picture-taking!).

Omelet, one of the two Ameracauna sisters who escaped the fox. They are much more at ease with this new group of chickens than they were with my old four.

Scramble, the other Ameracauna. She is a little bolder and less flighty than her sister, and I'm hoping she will tame eventually; she seems to be quite intelligent and spunky, and I love her cheeky expression.

The Leghorn, whom I've predictably named Foghorn. She's a pretty bird and skittish around humans, but seems to be getting along wonderfully with all the other birds. She neither pecks nor gets pecked and seems to be a great forager who stays busy.

The Buff Brahma. So far she has been the most approachable of the current group, though I'm giving them all a few days before I try to grab anyone for forced attention. Her former owner's boys called her Buffy, and I haven't had the heart to change her name; it's stuck already.

My two nutty Ameracaunas with the new Cochin, who doesn't have a name yet. She's huge and has gorgeous plumage. This chicken is definitely the new boss hen; nobody is disputing her authority. Would you?

The Cochin having a drink. Her shape is rather like a basketball. If nothing else, she'll be useful for keeping the other hens warm on cold nights. Though I should give her credit for laying two eggs this week, while everyone else is still on strike while they get acclimated.

This little sweetheart is a Golden Campine. They top out at 4 pounds, and since she was hatched in 2009 I doubt she's even that big yet. She's as flighty as they come, but not stupid - just chicken. Hopefully she'll settle down just a little with time. I've named her Henny Penny.

Everyone exploring the immediate vicinity of the run. You can barely make out Scramble in the raised bed on the right. In the summer, a grapevine grows over the right side of the run and provides welcome shade and tasty, edible leaves for the girls.

A view of the inside of the run, showing the space our girls are confined to most days. I'll be able to let them free range only when I'm in the garden, or put them in the mobile coop. This, though, is their permanent home and they don't seem to mind its small size all that much. Here, they're all inside even though the gate is wide open for them to roam about the rest of the yard.

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P1150777Sesame’s unusually small egg this week.

This is one of the eggs that my one-year old Ameracauna, Sesame, laid for us this week. It could be a complete fluke of course; I think we may have gotten one miniature egg last year when the girls were just starting to lay. However, given the fact that we just brought two new chickens into our fold – a pair of one-year-old Brahma sisters – things have been a little unsettled for poor Sesame, who was already the last in the pecking order. I noticed her getting picked on a bit more severely than usual by the Buckeye, Tipsy (who was perhaps trying to establish herself as the boss to all other parties, since the newcomers probably pose a legitimate challenge – they’re not small chickens!), and I also noticed her avoiding the new girls almost in a panic, rushing out of their way whenever they came near her for any reason. And to top off her erratic new behavior, she started laying eggs under the coop and on the floor inside the coop instead of in the nest box she usually uses. And one of them looked like this. Tomas called it a “sample size egg;” that’s one of her regular ones next to it.

Sesame and her endlessly cute cheek muffs.

Sesame and her endlessly cute cheek muffs.

All things considered, though, the Brahma sisters are settling in well and everyone seems to be getting along splendidly; I haven’t heard a single altercation and only seen a little bit of posturing between Tipsy and Sesame. It will take me a while to figure out the new pecking order, but I think Tipsy has positioned herself near the top. And Sesame is laying normal eggs again, though still frequently far out of reach under the coop. I tried to get one out with a pitchfork the other day – not a good idea – but the girls enjoyed the surprise egg-yolk snack while I hastily removed any shells from their reach.

Finally, here are couple of photos of the new Brahma sisters, named Tandoori and Pot Pie. And their lovely eggs. Happy chicken-keeping!

Pot Pie scratching at something yummy. Note the feathered feet, characteristic of the Brahma breed.

Pot Pie scratching at something yummy. Note the feathered feet, characteristic of the Brahma breed.

The Brahma sisters, Tandoori and Pot Pie. Tandoori has more dark markings on her back, a really pretty girl. Pot Pie (right) is quite the little renegade; she refuses to go into the pen in the evening and always gives us a run for our money. Perhaps a better name would have been Houdini...

The Brahma sisters, Tandoori and Pot Pie. Tandoori has more dark markings on her back, a really pretty girl. Pot Pie (right) is quite the little renegade; she refuses to go into the pen in the evening and always gives us a run for our money. Perhaps a better name would have been Houdini...

New eggs in the collection. The speckled one and the pinkish colored one on the right are the new colors; interesting to me that two birds of the same breed can lay such different looking eggs, but it turns out we don't get speckles all the time! The large buff colored ones on the left are from Curry, our Australorp; still the most consistently large, beautiful eggs of the lot, but these new Brahma eggs are quite wonderful as well!

New eggs in the collection. The speckled one and the pinkish colored one on the right are the new colors; interesting that two birds of the same breed can lay such different looking eggs, but it turns out we don't get speckles all the time. The large buff colored ones on the left are from Curry, our Australorp; still the most consistently large, beautiful eggs of the lot, but these new Brahma eggs are quite wonderful as well.

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Tipsy

Tipsy has a drinking problem. It’s getting better now, but when we first noticed it (at about 2 days of age), we were a little concerned. Would she survive with such a severe behavioral defect? Would it compromise her ability to function like a normal chicken, especially in stressful situations where quick reflexes are needed?

I’m not giving my chickens beer, I promise… Tipsy just appears to be a little bit “special.” While all the other chicks quickly learned to sip a bit of water and tilt their heads back just a smidge to swallow, Tipsy would take a sip, sit back on her haunches (do chickens have haunches?), tip her head WAAAAY back over her back until she was looking backwards, and swallow that way. Except that half the time she lost her balance and fell over onto her back, causing a big commotion because she’d have to scramble and flap wildly to get herself upright again, inevitably disturbing some other chick’s peaceful moment.

At first we laughed heartily at this, thinking she’d figure it out in an hour or two. Then a day or two. She didn’t. This went on for days, and when I tried to gauge the normalcy of this behavior by asking more experienced “chicken people” about it, they frowned and said “that doesn’t sound right.” Great. It so happened that Tipsy was also significantly smaller than the other chicks. I decided she was a runt, and instantly felt something between despair for her and anger at the hatchery that would pick out a runt and ship it to me. Conventional wisdom dictates that runts won’t make it, and it’s better to put them out of their misery right away than let them suffer the overwhelming cruelties of life.

But after a bit of thought, I realized that if someone had to inherit a runt, it may as well be me. Here in her spacious run, with only 4 other chickens to contend with and plenty of daily personal attention (not to mention food), she could be as special as she wanted or needed to be, truthfully. And she is just too cute. Besides, I was a runt of sorts when I was younger. I know what it means to be smaller and skinnier than the other kids, and to be picked on endlessly because of it. I turned out ok. So I resigned myself to the fact that I have a runt, and resolved to pay special attention to her.

Well, she doesn’t really need it. Tipsy is tipping less, though I still catch her doing it once in a while. She’s still smaller than the others, with lots of fluff left and not much of a tail while the others are practically 100% feathered out by now. But this is one quick, tenacious little chicken. She chases down bugs with total precision, and often is the first to jump up and snatch a treat out of my fingers and take off with it (though her ensuing high-decibel, excited cheeping gets her in trouble immediately and she usually loses the prize). She protests vocally when pushed around, so I can’t be convinced that she’s on the bottom of any emerging pecking order. I think this girl is a survivor.

Tipsy is a Buckeye, a ‘critically endangered’ rare breed of chicken developed in Ohio (where else) long ago by an enterprising woman who wanted a docile, cold tolerant egg laying breed. The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy describes Buckeyes as having “a personality all their own. They are a very active fowl and are noted for being especially vigilant in the pursuit of mice, some breeders comparing them to cats in regard to this ability. They tend to have very little fear of humans and are possibly too friendly.” Well, little Tipsy is quite fearful at this stage in her life. Perhaps she’ll grow out of it, but she screams bloody murder when I try to turn the light out, so the girls are still sleeping with a lamp on at night which I guess is normal for now. She’s flighty and the least easy to handle, screaming bloody murder (again) when caught. But as with all chicks, her personality is evolving quickly. She is eyeing my lap more curiously, and she steps readily into an open hand – just fights like a banshee when grabbed. It’s truly impossible to contain her and I end up carrying her perched on my hand and flapping rather than ensconced in any secure way. Her agility when chasing bugs makes me think that the bit about catching mice may yet turn out to be true, and quite handy too because we have those now, after the resident cats moved out a few months ago. The only thing I doubt is that she will be six and a half pounds. But we shall see. She’s certainly proved herself to be a unique and uniquely keep-able girl.

Tipsy at one week of age; a tiny, dainty little thing.

Tipsy at one week of age; a tiny, dainty little thing.

Tipsy is the smaller yellow chick with the brown spot on her head.

Tipsy is the smaller yellow chick with the brown spot on her head.

Miss Tipsy at 4 weeks of age, about a week ago. She's getting browner.

Miss Tipsy at 4 weeks of age, about a week ago. She's getting browner.

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