The Cottage Smallholder

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Bottom of the pecking order

chicken moultingBarbie has finally tumbled to the bottom of the pecking order. The chicken that holds this place is the one that does not fight back when pecked. Mrs Boss languished there for four years but has found new status since she has hatched out five guinea fowl keets. She has her own coterie and doesn’t need the companionship of the other hens. They, on the other hand, want to be around Mrs Boss. Perhaps they have heard the cluck that she is now the heroine of two movies on YouTube.

Barbie has always been a pretty bantam. She is noticeable as her comb is long and bendy. She flicks this comb like a girl flicking back a long fringe.

This summer, age four, she went broody for the first time. The anti broody coop worked like lightning. Despite escaping on the first day, she only needed one more day in the clanger before her comb was back to its normal red and she was released to roost with the rest of the flock in the evening. She shot straight from jail up to the dormitory and hunched on the perch.

Every morning I toss a handful of grain to our chickens. This is a good move. Firstly they associate you with the largess of extra treats and secondly, you can assess what is going on with the flock. This can just be the briefest headcount. Chickens love grain, especially if their diet is layers’ pellets. I give them a mix of deluxe parrot and wild bird seed. This gives them a good mixture of grains, from sunflower to linseed. If one does bird does not appear, you can let yourself into the run to check what is happening, with no danger of the more adventurous ones escaping as they are all hoovering up the grain.

At the moment, Barbie stays at the far end of the run when I appear with the morning treats. In the past she joined the others. Mrs Boss immediately springs into action. With 5 keets at the helm she is an imposing barricade. And Barbie has been chased away.

When I decided to toss grain in both ends of the run, Mrs Boss was at the Barbie end within seconds, whilst Barbie lingered behind the hen house. Eventually I twigged that if I scattered the grain thinly along the 30 foot stretch, every single bird would have a chance.

This morning, Barbie enjoyed a tasty snack but kept to her end whilst the other birds companiably tucked in at the other end. She looks extra tatty as she is moulting, which is happening to the entire flock with the exception of Mrs Boss and the keets.

This morning, watching Barbie, I realised that it must be so lonely being at the bottom of the pecking order.

Apparently, if you hang a cabbage in the run just high enough for the chickens to stretch to peck, this can relieve bullying. Tomorrow I am going to try this. There will have to be 2 cabbages at different heights as Carol is twice as big as Mrs Boss.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Michelle in Mississippi

    I can think of a solution for you. There will always be one hen at the bottom of the pecking order and generally this will be the last in. That’s why it’s not a good idea to introduce just one hen to an established flock.

    Hope that it works out for you and the hen.

  2. Michelle in Mississippi

    We were given a beautiful little gold banty (not sure of the age- not laying yet and comb is not fully developed) and we put her in with our mixed flock of standards and bantys. The other hens, especially one Wyandotte, beat and peck her mercilessly and don’t let her eat or drink, so after first trying to guard her in the coop from the others while she eats/drinks, I just brought her in the house b/c I could not take seeing her beat up. We usually don’t introduce single birds into our flock and I don’t know what to do short of making her a house pet. While she is sweet and cuddly, that is not a permanenet solution.

  3. my son raised a chicken from a baby to 2 months. He had to give his chicken to a farm because he was moving. the chick is only 2 months and the other chickens are pecking and chasing her around. How long will it take before they leave her alone. they have about 5-6 other full grown chickens. Should I take her back and find another place for her or will they all eventually adjust. PLEASe share your advice as I feel awful for my sons baby chick.

    • Fiona Nevile

      Hello Cathy

      We never introduce new chickens to our flock until they are at least three months old. Two months old is too young. Also it’s not advisable just to introduce one chicken to a flock, as they need a companion of the same age. The hens will not stop bullying your little hen. Introducing just one hen to any flock is always going to be difficult.

      I’m afraid that I can’t advise you as I don’t have a solution.

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