Twiggy Switches Flocks

Twiggy is a classic White Leghorn. She’s energetic and restless, and she lays eggs day in and day out. Her huge floppy comb is like a bulls eye for the other hens – when she gets too close, they peck at it, but she’s been too fast and wary to get caught.

That changed recently. I noticed that she was keeping apart from the flock.

Twiggy

 

There’s always chasing and resource guarding in a group of hens. That’s the pecking order. What shouldn’t happen is aggressive behavior that causes injury. Twiggy has fit in fine for three years. Last week that all changed. Both Black Star hens, Beulah and Nancy Drew, went after her. I’d seen the skittering around and thought it would settle down. It didn’t. A couple of days into this heightened banning of Twiggy from their space, they went after her. The Black Stars pinned Twiggy to the ground and pecked at her comb. They meant to kill. Luckily for Twiggy, I was outside, saw this happen, and intervened.

Behavior never “happens out of the blue.” There’s always an antecedent and a trigger, however in this case I had no idea of what it was. Twiggy looked the same to me, but chickens see tiny details that I can’t. I isolated Twiggy in this [amazon text=rabbit hutch&asin=B000YY53K4], in the Big Barn, both to keep her safe and to observe her.

in crate

 

Her manure alternated between runny and normal, which might have been due to stress and heat, or could indicate and underlying issue. She did lay an egg, which let me know that some of her systems were still working properly. However, she hasn’t laid an egg in several days since then. I’m hopeful that Twiggy is finally going into a molt and will take a break from laying. Maybe that’s what the Ladies noticed different about her.

egg

 

For two days, Twiggy slept in the hutch and spent the days in the goat paddock. I monitored her input and outputs. All looked normal enough. Whatever the Black Stars Death Stars noticed about Twiggy, I couldn’t see it. Perhaps the Gems In the Big Barn wouldn’t either.

I let the Gems out on the lawn, and put Twiggy into their enclosure to explore and learn where the food, water and roosts are. This is the procedure that I use whenever I introduce a new hen to a flock (see my FAQ.)

in pen

 

Then out Twiggy went to free-range with the Gems. Most of the hens ignored Twiggy. Amber stayed companionably nearby. This was good!

on lawn

 

As I had expected, the only hen to object to Twiggy’s presence was Misty, who was sent to live with the Gems last year when she proved too aggressive to live peacefully with the Ladies (the flock in the Little Barn.)

MIsty objecting

 

But, Misty chased, she didn’t jump on Twiggy’s back and pummel her like the Black Stars had. I thought that it would settle out, and it has. There are two areas of outside roosts, and Twiggy has used both of them. Soon enough, the other hens were up there with her.

twiggy_big_barn

 

Also, the compost bin is circular, so when a hen chases after another they go around and around but can’t catch each other. Twiggy did some laps around that bin, but within a day, she was also inside of it, scratching the ground with her new flock.

twiggy_compost

 

Not everything is perfect. That big red comb of Twiggy’s is like a red flag to a bull, and it’s easy to grab with an outstretched beak. It was bloody this morning. Someone, likely Misty, had gotten a chunk of it. But by the time I saw it, Twiggy was acting normally and the hens were spread out. No one seemed perturbed. It’s better for Twiggy to be out with a flock than confined, alone. Twiggy has joined the Gems.

Comments:

  1. I wondered if she had moved, have been watching her for a few days after I saw her at the window of the Gem’s barn. Hope all works out. Chickens can be very fickle as can we all…..:)

    • Yes. Though in mixed flocks, some hens are targets more than others. BTW, the term “bullying” has implications not really applicable to hens. What they do is not out of spite. It’s hard-wired. It’s our job as caretakers to create an environment and manage it so that the resource guarding and the pecking due to wanting to drive away an ill or new hen, doesn’t happen.

  2. You can put BluKote on her comb and it will become attractive to the other hens. When working on their face, I’ll spray BluKote into a plastic yogurt container and use a Qtip to dab it on. Turns the comb purple for a bit. Just another option if they keep going for it.

    • Yes, blukote is great for wounds (it’s an antiseptic) and I always have some on hand. One caution for those who haven’t used it – it’ll stain you purple and it doesn’t wash off. I use disposable gloves :)

  3. Hopefully the transition will work well for her. She is so fast and active, I just love catching a glimpse of her and that lovely red floppy comb. Glad to see she may have a buddy in Amber. What happens if she doesn’t end up with a “buddy” but everyone is calm with her. Will she be ok without one?
    With your blog I have learned that observation is a valuable tool.
    Even at a young age a flock already seems to have an order to it, with slight changes. Surprisingly my BO girls are the noisiest, most rowdy and demanding, compared to the Barred Rocks and SLWyandottes. But the little roo will chirp at them and they quiet down. I haven’t seen any pecking yet from any of the girls, a couple of chest bumps, but I hope that will be all. (But I doubt it :)

    • That is unusual. But, strains of breeds do seem to have different temperaments. As far as buddies go – I’ve had hens that never made best friends, but they all were integrated members of the flock and were fine.

      • Don’t get me wrong, the BO’s seem very sweet and so far get along with everyone, but they are no wall flowers. They are very friendly and the first out the pop door and to the veggies, and are quite vocal, but they make room when everyone else comes along.

  4. Another timely post for me – thank you! I think I read in one of your earlier posts that it’s best to remove the aggressor when things turn ugly, or look like they will. Did you opt to integrate Twiggy in with the Gems in this case because there were two aggressors?
    One of my standard hens has been jumping on her bantam Silkie foster mother and pecking the poof on her head lately, for no apparent reason. On several occasions now I have had to intervene. None of the other hens bother her. Do these conflicts sometimes resolve on their own, or would you recommend preemptive measures; i.e., should I isolate the perpetrator?

    • There’s no set formula for dealing with this. In Twiggy’s case, there were 2 attackers, and they were going in for the kill, so it was too dangerous to leave her in place. If you have one hen who is the attacker, sometimes removing her for 4 days can change the pecking order and when she returns, she no longer is a danger. Sometimes, the hen that is being attacked is sick and needs to be isolated. Hens don’t like broodies, so it might be that the Silkie is giving off those vibes which sets the others off. Smaller silkies are often targets, and they’re not good at defensive moves. She should have a safe hidey-hole that only she can fit in. Good luck!

      • Thanks, Terry! You raised a really good point about broodies and that has me thinking … My Silkie was broody in June, raised two chicks right in with the flock (mother hen’s choice), and the chicks went to a new home at 8 weeks old, a week or so ago after she started laying again. She is a healthy, feisty hen who has been number two in the pecking order all along. However, I noticed last night that the order on the roost had changed slightly, and the aggressive hen was parked next to number one hen, then a bit of a gap and then the other four hens, including the Silkie. I found that odd, because the aggressive hen used to be lowest in the pecking order. Maybe the flock dynamic is in the process of changing because the chicks are gone? Anyway, she does have several hidey-holes that she can escape to, but I think I will take your advice and try removing the offending hen for a few days.

        • Chicks gone, hormones change… also coming into the end of the egg laying season. You’ll see plenty of changes in the flock dynamics.

  5. The Death Stars note cracked me up.
    Hopefully Twiggy doesn’t get picked on more!
    A question for you, do hens combs grow? I mean, they grow from chick hood to henhood, but do they keep on growing? My sussex now has a floppier comb versus last season.

    • Great question, and I don’t know the answer! Combs change by age, health and season. A mature hen’s comb will be larger than when she was a pullet. I don’t think that they keep growing after that, but I could be wrong. I’d say that after the first mature year, that the comb isn’t likely to get any bigger.

  6. Good grief, it’s like Lord of the Flies in a coop! Seems like you’re never safe in this life, even when you’re a chicken!

  7. The only one who still does not seem happy about Twiggy is Misty, she keeps following her around but Twiggy is too fast for her. Misty has now gone inside so Twiggy has found a dip and is having a nice dust bath..:)

    • Oh dear, that was short and sweet, Misty reappeared and chased her off again…:(

  8. Ok, quick funny story about ‘pecking order’: At a stable I frequented, the barn manager kept a very small Sicilian Donkey. And I mean very small. Think the size of an end table. Sicilian Donkeys are known for being quite friendly and relaxed, but not so this one. Gus was a rescue that had been bounced out of many homes for aggressive behavior; he bit people (hard and often) and was a notorious crowder and bully. I could never understand why she kept him, other than general kindness. Until one day, it all made sense. Visiting the stable one day, I watched this very capable barn manager try to manage several horses being paddocked together. It was a complete trainwreck –one mare kicked at anything that came within 3 feet, two geldings guarded food and another was a nervous wreck at the bottom of the pecking order. The poor barn manager tried every combination, every rotation, nothing worked.

    With limited paddocks I knew how serious an issue this was, and asked her how she was going to handle this. She told me to take a seat and watch. So, eating an apple, I sat on the top rail of the fence and…behold: Gus the Sicilian Donkey. She led the little monster into the middle of the generously sized paddock, amidst flying horse hooves and much squealing and bolting. I was sure he was going to be knocked off his teeny tiny little feet within minutes. Honestly, I have never seen anything like it. Within an hour, he had every single horse in that paddock –two ex-racehorses, one 18+ hand draft, and two veteran alpha mares– terrified of him. I still don’t know exactly how he did it. He brayed until our ears hurt, nipped several hocks, and advanced fearlessly on every horse who dared to challenge his hay access. Interestingly, he really had no interest in aggression to the horses (only people!), but his clear alpha status settled everyone right down. How on earth this was possible I still don’t know, but the barn manager told me it worked every time, in every situation she had ever placed him in. Gus had those crabby horses practically lined up in height order, effortlessly, tolerated no bullying or violence, and always entered and left the paddock first with all the other horses hanging back until he passed. I had to admit to the barn manager that Gus was a genius. All 100 pounds of him. He’ll be bounced to no more rescue homes.

    • Wonderful story! At the last barn, I watched Tonka go after a huge draft mare who was chasing an elderly and sweet appaloosa. He stopped her and protected his friend. Doesn’t sound like that was the case with the donkey. I think he just didn’t like chaos :)

  9. I saw Twiggy in with the Gems on cam yesterday; she was scratching in the compost, and all looked fine – one of the RIRs and Pearl were close by. Thanks for the explanation, as well as for the advice. Your Gems are real gems!

  10. Hi Terry, what is jutting out on the right off Misty’s body in the photo were she is chasing Twiggy. I have tried blowing it up but still can’t make it out ??

  11. I noticed odd behavior a few days ago in my flock. My very peaceful maran was sitting by herself. No one was bothering her but she was not joining in the fun of free ranging. She came out of the run and proceeded to take a seat and watch. Well this morning when I opened up the coop behold a few white feathers (wing feathers and a few smaller es) and I noticed her comb is not as bright red. I think her molt is starting although it seems a bit early. I guess a molt can happen any time?

    • P.s. I just love the first photo of her peeking out from behind the beam lol brought a smile to my face. I just lost my 2nd little d’uccle. It’s just the best little breed. So I now have 7 LF. So will have to wait a few years before getting more little ones. THanks for your posts. Always informative. This web site and your invaluable advice and experience has helped me so much over the years with my chicken keeping adventures.

  12. I hope Twiggy likes her new home! It’s tough to see when one of them is getting picked on.
    p.s. that must have been fun getting the fly tape out of chicken feathers. ;)