Friday, February 9, 2007

Hopping Hens Here!

To borrow a phrase from one of our favorite PBS children's shows, 'Between The Lions'.

Maggie is improving, and has graduated from full-time Housechicken to part-time backyard flock member--she still comes indoors at night.

She hops/limps with loud 'thud's around the kitchen in the evening and still sits a lot, but is definitely on the mend. We are pretty sure it was a fracture in her hip or thigh, and the only thing to do is allow her to heal unmolested--hence the custom hen condo that J. whipped together last weekend. This keeps her safely isolated from overzealous roosters and jealous hens who might reinjure her.

Sigh...isn't this leg EVER going to get better?

We figure another week or so of this nonsense and we'll be able to reintegrate her into the flock, which will involve some intervention on our part with any of the hens that decide they want to pick a fight with her and knock her down a peg or two in the pecking order.

That's a whole 'nother story though--chickens have a rigid sense of caste--their flock's pecking order. Who is Head Hen and Head Roo, who is Beta, and so on down the line. Older laying hens are usually at the top, followed by younger laying hens and bantams, then at the bottom are newcomers and youngsters. Whenever we introduce new birds to our flock we hold what we call 'Meet & Greets'. That is where we bring the new bird out into the yard and set it down on the ground, right at our feet. The other chickens will come around and trash talk at the new bird and once in a while puff themselves up and try to peck the new bird. That's when we step in and growl threateningly at them and chase them off a bit, just like a mother hen would protect her chicks. We are, in essence, letting them know that 'This is MY baby, and under MY protection!' and we have a zero tolerance policy towards pecking them. Since we humans are the head of the flock, the other flock members usually catch on pretty quick that our 'baby' is not to be messed with and retreat, grumbling disgustedly. We've found if we do this for about 20 minutes for a couple of days, we can then release the new birds into the flock for good with far less butt kicking and chicken-y angst.

Chickens have amazingly complex emotions, which in turn often leads to soap opera-like Chicken Drama.

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