Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Pecking Reorder

I open the egg door on my chicken coop and I see Molly gently extracting the yolk from an egg that Whipped Cream lay this morning.

I sigh thinking, 'I was hoping this is why I wasn't getting eggs.'

'It's time.'

I turn to the brooder where my two Americana hens are and I count back the months on my fingers, 'May, June, July, August, September, October...that's 20 weeks. It's time.'

Soon I move the big live trap near the brooder and open the water hatch. The hens know something is happening. I lift the big hatch and they cower near the water.

After I open the live trap door, I take one of the hens and move it to the trap. The door swings shut gently. I grab the other and nestle it, wriggling, near my chest as I put both in the live trap and move it to the chicken run.

Molly, being at the bottom of the pecking order, cowers in the coop unseen.

The two new hens calm down and look. The other hens and rooster move to investigate. Everything is relatively peaceful.


The sun shines brightly on a warm mid-autumn day. I retrieve a can full of chicken feed and pour it over the entire flock. The new hens eat in the live trap, the existing flock pecks and scratches.

'Molly. Where is Molly?' I wonder.

Using a broken shovel handle, I nudge Molly from the perch in the coop. She runs out ready for a melee, but none exists. She stumbles a little and drinks feverishly. She eats. She looks at the new hens.

There's an important stasis in the flock.

It looks like Sisu is molting and the rooster pecks playfully at her. Her golden brown feathers are scattered through the coop and the run and it looks like she just woke and needs to brush her feathers.

After patiently watching, I move the live trap and open the chicken run door. The live trap door opens and the new hens emerge quickly into the flock.


To promote peace, I dump several pounds of chicken feed on the floor of the run. Runt moves to peck at the smaller of the new hens. Molly enjoys freedom and eats voraciously.

The reorder is clear that the smaller, new hen is at the bottom.

After the bird's hunger is satiated, Molly uses her new position and eyes the new hens. I watch her moving towards them, now cowering in the corner of the run.

Crack! Molly grabs for neck feathers and the young hen squwacks loudly! The young hen nestles near her sister.

The rooster investigates and shows little interest, but provides a peck or two at the new hens to establish his presence. Something instinctive inside tells him, I think, to wait for a few days or weeks until they are ready to lay their first eggs.

Molly meanwhile, continues her pursuit as she enjoys her new position. She cracks out and grabs more neck feathers! The new hen escapes and tramples through the water pan.

Bored, Molly pecks at the food on the ground.

The pecking order is a function of deep seated, latent nature and cannot be avoided in a flock of chickens.

But Molly had to stop eating the eggs that I need to eat and she was desperate for relief from the pecking order. So I introduced the pair of new hens a few days early so that Molly could find her natural place and get a chance to thrive.

The new hens will continue to grow and a slower, natural re-ordering will occur. Perhaps Molly will once again be at the bottom, but she'll have status now and will not be banished to the coop.

As I write, I hear the occasional squwack from the coop outside as the pecking re-order continues.

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