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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14 Comments

  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Katalia

    Glad that you are enjoying the bee and chicken posts!

    I must try hanging carrots and broccoli in the run. Thanks for the tip.

  2. Katalia

    Hi, I love your blog!
    The bee and chicken posts are my favorites.
    I have 5 pet chickens and they love a head of broccoli or a carrot hung with twine in their coop. It keeps them busy for hours when I’m at work.

  3. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Joanna,

    I think that it’s important to micro manage a small flock of hens. I want every animal in our care to be as happy as possible.

  4. I am so relieved to hear we’re not the only ones micro-managing our flock! We have 3 Ameraucana hens (they lay green eggs) named Neil, Tubby & Blondie, 2 Black Stars named Peeps & Poops and 2 Red Stars (both awesome brown egg-laying breeds) named Boldy & Scaredy, plus a black Japanese Bantam rooster named Toshi and a young Delaware rooster named Del.

    We are always making sure they get enough food and can free-range in the barnyard with the Dexter cow, Stella.

    When Peeps was a newborn, she got sick and we had to bring her in the bathroom with a heatlamp. She got lonely, so we brought her sister Poops in too, and we had so much fun holding them and making sure they got well.

    I hope the cabbage trick works for the hen-pecking trouble. We have a spare coop we use for isolating trouble-makers, and we can’t seem to leave them to their own business, but make sure the flock is a happy comunity.

  5. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Pat,

    I’m sure that Barbie would perk up if she heard your commiserations.

    Hi Amanda,

    I think that the cabbages may be doing the trick as Barbie is now eating grain with the others. A bit crouchy but she is not being chased away.

    Hi Celia,

    They are like teenagers crossed with the Mafia. Chickens can be so heartless sometimes.

    Barbie is getting more and more bald. Hopefully she’ll have her new frock before it turns too cold.

    Hi Sara,

    Chicken histrionics continue to amaze me.

    Hi z,

    Your comment makes me wonder if the bullying is a diet related thing. The hens and keets are fed on organic layers pellets, with different seeds and grain as a morning treat.

  6. Our bantams are pretty easy-going and there doesn’t really seem to be a pecking order. I remember years ago, when my mother-in-law kept bantams, there was a lot of bullying when one that had been raising chicks was put back in with the rest, but we don’t get that either. Just lucky, I suppose.

    We’ve never bought commercial chicken food (except chick crumbs for the babies) – they are fed on wheat grain, household scraps and greens. If there’s a nearby maize field we glean after harvest, dry the cobs and supplement their feed with the corn.

  7. farmingfriends

    So sorry to hear about Barbie – poor thing. Good to hear that mrs Boss is getting on well.
    Sara from farmingfriends

  8. Aren’t they just like teenage girls sometimes? – she’s not my friend! I hate her! nip – pinch – peck!!!!
    We’ve found that our hybrid maran girlies are quite a lot calmer than the cochins were (what a to and fro round the feeder working out who could stand next to whom!!!!).

    Barbie’s certainly fallen down the ranks – hope she feels more confident when she gets her new feathers (a new frock cheers up most girls). And good for Mrs Boss – she must feel on top of the world! 🙂

  9. It’s not like you can sit them down and give them a good talking to… Let us know how the cabbages work out.

  10. Ohhhhhhh Poor Barbie!!!! I hate seeing this happen but it not only happens in the bird world but also with people. Give her a big ole cuddle and an extra lot of grain please.

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