By Michael Atkinson, Chicken Lover
A brazen daylight attackOne day while in my kitchen I heard a baby screaming. An awful, heart-wrenching sound… coming from my backyard. As I rushed outside I realized it was one of my hens.
Let me introduce them. Two Rhode Island Reds (Sammie-lane and Rose), one Golden Laced Wyandotte (Bobby Jo) and one Americana (Nikki). This was their pecking order – led by big, confident Sammie-lane who led with a gentle wing:
- Sammie-lane 2. Rose 3. Bobby Jo 4. Nikki
Chickens pecking chickens… and a new regimeWe had found Rose hiding under discarded netting for the strawberry patch, reunited them all and soon I was shocked again: Sammie-lane was being severely pecked by the others. Her surgery shaved rump literally squirted blood as the others tried feeding on it. I put smelly black cream from the feed store on the wound but it didn’t do much. I then separated her: keeping the others in their fenced off area I let her roam the rest of the yard. She got lonely, it was sad.
Manipulating the pecking orderStep 1:
- I isolated the bully Bobby Jo from the other two in a solitary A-frame coop for a few weeks. (I believed if I brought her back at a later time, it would be 2 vs 1 in the pecking order and she would lose status and I was correct.) I always made sure the groups of chickens were near/could see each other.
- I also tried reintroducing Sammie-lane after a couple weeks, thinking she was healed enough. Nope. Nikki and Rose still went after here. Back to Isolation for Sammie-lane.
- After almost a couple months I felt good about Sammie-lanes’ healing so I re-introduced her again. Feathers were growing in well and she looked much better. They all looked like they were going to survive! But I was still worried about the pecking order, and still had three separate groups of chickens. I reintroduced Sammie-lane with Nikki and Rose. Rose, having successfully hid from the dogs, had of course been the healthiest this whole time. Bright red comb and wattle, she was energetic and quite a contrast to the recovering three.
Soon as I put Sammie-lane back in, Rose attacked really aggressively. Poor Sammie-lane just melted. It broke my heart and made me mad. So I booted Rose in with Bobby Jo – misery loves company ladies! Nikki asserted dominance with Sammie-lane and I let it slide because she wasn’t cold-hearted cruel about it. Again I figured I’d eventually add Rose or Bobby Jo back in one at a time, they’d enter at the bottom of the pecking order, and I’d re-arrange Nikki later… exactly what happened.
Step 3: After a couple weeks, Bobby Jo got let out of the coop to rejoin Nikki and Sammie-lane. After staying long enough to ensure Bobby-Jo sinks to the bottom of the pecking order (the power of 2 vs 1), Nikki went in with Rose. Sammie-lane got good payback and Bobby Jo quickly sank back under her in the pecking order.
Step 4: Nikki came back, easily went back under Sammie-lane (and Bobby Jo), and then finally Rose was reintroduced as well. By this time Sammy-lane was flush red again in her comb and wattle, and strutting her stuff. All back to normal!
A happy endingThere are still remnants of the Pecking Order Wars of ‘11-12. Nikki and Sammie-lane are best of friends – I’ve never seen Sammie-lane so much as nip at her, and Nikki is always quick to hop up on the roost and get under Sammie-lane – her favorite bedtime routine.
Rose is deft at fitting in and avoiding problems. She hangs with Bobby Jo at nighttime a lot, but is frequently welcomed to join Nikki and Sammie-lane. Bobby Jo continues to pay for her reign of terror. Dumb as a rock and a social misfit, she often gets pecked and chased off. At times she sleeps alone. Lately the girls have been reuniting a lot at night like an old teen band getting together for reunion gigs. It warms my heart. They are happy and each lay eggs almost seven days a week. And most importantly, back to where they started in their original pecking order, after months of hard work and juggling isolations and social groups by their favorite meddling human…
by Michael Atkinson