This is not a post about junior high school. Though it could be.
It’s the nature of being a chicken that you have to fit yourself into the pecking order. It’s all about who gets to the treats first, who gets the choice roosting spot, and who gets the best pile of dirt to dust-bathe in. There’s understood body language that ranges from mildly threatening head-darts to more aggressive chest bumps. Hens on the bottom will scurry about, and give the top-ranked hens room. Once in awhile, a chicken reasserts her place with a dramatic gesture. On the whole, though, life in a flock should be peaceful. I’ve heard from some that you need a rooster to keep all in line, but I’ve not experienced that. A flock of all hens does fine.
I have two groups of chickens – the ones you see on HenCam and the others in the Big Barn. There’s plenty of space in the barn and I wanted to add the new girls to that flock. However, you’d never know it by watching the daily interactions, but, there are bullies in there. The bullies are old and creaky, so I thought it’d be safe to add the Polish Crested. It wasn’t. The bullies didn’t strut and intimidate to tell the new girls to mind their place. No, they attacked, pinned them down and pecked their heads. If I hadn’t removed the Polish, they’d be dead.
So, I put the Polish in the neutral space of the goat paddock and let the HenCam chickens in. Yesterday, I put the new hens in the HenCam yard. I sat with them and watched. There was curiosity. There was caution. The Polish immediately recognized that they were bigger than the bantam white hens and asserted their right to get the food first. The little hens darted away. There was no aggression, just communication.
So, why are the girls in the Big Barn bullies? Partly, it has to do with breed. In my experience the barred rocks and the wyandottes are aggressive, especially to hens of other breeds. It’s like they’ve lost the ability to back off. They don’t know when enough is enough and they’ve gotten the message across. Over the years breeders have created beautiful and productive birds, but they don’t often select for temperament. Interestingly, now that the factory farms are being forced to do without cages, the commercial producers are creating a line of docile chickens.
The flock that the Polish hens came from was not a bunch of bullies. They pecked simply because it was too crowded, and those silly coifs on the Polish heads were irresistible. Polish Crested are not exactly known for their chicken sense. They couldn’t get out of the way at their old place, and in the Big Barn, they didn’t know how to handle the attacks of aggressive hens. (I have managed to integrate other chickens in with the bullies. The Golden Comets moved in a couple of months ago – but the Comets are savvy chickens.)
However, all is fine now. The Polish Crested are doing fine in with the nice HenCam hens. It doesn’t hurt that the Polish have outrageous duct tape headgear. The nice girls are astounded by the fashion plates among them. It gave the new girls instant status.