Note to self: Don’t release the new ‘toddler’ chickens into the flock during the day!
It took George and I over 30 minutes to catch each of the 10 chickens I had released that day . Apparently, they do not know to go to the ‘big coop’ with the rest of the flock. And why should they…they have never been there and they are scared of the other chickens they don’t know yet!
It is beyond me why I did that in the first place! I know better than that!
You see, normally, I would catch 3-5 ‘toddlers’ in the ‘baby coop’, one at a time and in the evening. Take each one to the big coop and just set it inside the door. This is so much easier and better for all. All the competitiveness of the flock is over for the day. The only thing the entire flock has in mind is to sleep. The newbie toddlers will sit there scared at first but then will soon realize, that it’s dark and the sounds are familiar. Putting in 3 to 5 together on the same night, will help calm them quickly. They will snuggle together and rest.
By 6am, every morning, I head out to the yard. This is after I’ve spent the last hour grumbling to myself that it’s time for the rooster to take up residence in the freezer. But it never happens. It’s one of the annoying, pleasures that I know I will miss dearly when that time does come. Reminds me of the time I had a beautiful, large, Rottweiler dog named Kooter. Kooter would sleep in the kitchen at night. And every morning I would get up, patter through the kitchen in my bare feet, and step in……. drool! Yes, you know the type. The kind of ‘shoelace’ drool you can envision from the movie ‘Turner & Hooch’. Ewwwww is right! This would be followed by spontaneous cursing in French announcing to the rest of the house-hold, Momma’s up.
No worries, this was routine and Kooter knew it meant nothing. But when Kooter passed on, how my heart ached for the longest time, to be able to step in that old dog’s drool every morning.
The rooster isn’t quiet at that level. But they do get ‘temporally missed 😉 For now, it’s just time to open the coop and feed the flock. I open the door making sure, I stay behind it, for fear of having a half-dozen chickens fly into me. Like a herd of buffalo on a stampede, they charge out. Some fly, some run and some roll out from getting trampled. All anxious to see what kind of goodies that I had spread across the lawn prior to opening the door. The toddlers of course are the last out, that is, if they are brave enough. But not these; not yet. They have spent the night in a corner that they feel safe in.
Poor scared little buggers. I always feel a little sorry for the little toddlers. So, I shut them up in the coop with me, while I clean and refresh the coop. Sprinkle some feed for them to be sure they get something inside them for their long, hard day that they will have to face. The first day of the pecking order.
Don’t you just hate the ‘pecking order’? If you have ever seen what goes on in the chicken world then you know what I’m talking about. Then again, it’s no different then our world. If you haven’t seen this, then it’s kind of like being the ‘new kid’ on the block, where everyone has already formed their cliques. If you try to enter the wrong way, then it can be disastrous. You better take it slow, watch and learn who the leaders are, so you can avoid stepping on wrong toes.
In the chicken yard, it’s not so different. There’s the rooster, defender of all chicken kind when trouble is near. He is the ‘finder’ of food to feed his family. He is the one who makes the eggs fertile and keeps the flock growing. Mike named our roo, Rudy. And Rudy wears a proud, tall and straight crown.
Under Rudy is the head-hen, I named her Goldie. Goldie is second in command. Keeping the flock in order, and asserting her strength in disputes. Down from her is the rest of the flock, each in order of status and of strength. This is one head-hen you don’t want to mess with.
The order of the flock can change whenever I add to or if I have to ‘cull out’ (remove from flock by being sold or otherwise). Culling out can happen for a number of reasons such as; being too mean, sick, doesn’t fit the breeding program or it’s the end of the year and time to scale down for the winter. And of course there’s always a need for a good chicken dinner.
So, needless to say, re-establishing the pecking order, can happen often in our busy, carefully attended to flock.
The God-given pecking order in chickens, is something of a very interesting balance. If you look closer you might see something you never seen before. The strongest get the best, of the best, and they get to eat as much as they want. If one over another wants something, they’ll take it or get pecked hard! That is, unless it can run fast enough. The only time this order changes some, is when there is a mother hen with chicks. You don’t mess with Momma! She makes sure her babies get fed. And if you get to close to her chicks, look out! I have seen an overly protective momma spring off the floor, without notice and attack another hen across the coop house, like a hawk dropping down in attack mode! I never knew they could move like that!
And yet, there is still a pecking order over momma and her chicks. I had assumed that a momma hen would now be the head of the flock, even if just temporarily. You know, seeing how she would take on the world for her little chicks. But that’s not so! When Goldie walked in, and saw some feed momma had for her chicks, she just walked over and helped herself to some! Momma quickly shooed her chicks off to find more elsewhere, until Goldie left. That kind of impressed me! Momma knows who leads the flock and respects that. The God-given, loving instinct in her, she showed her chicks who the head of the flock is. Thus, saving them some nasty pecks growing up.
And some say chickens are stupid 😉
But it didn’t stop there, something else had also caught my attention with closer observation. Goldie only pecked at some of the feed! Then she just walked away in search for more food. It was as if she was content enough that she had made her point and is now letting momma and chicks have their feed back. She could’ve just ate it all, without a fight, but she didn’t. She went out and about her way. Maybe the pecking order isn’t always mean as led to believe, instead, it’s actually a security system to keep the whole strong.
It’s different for the new toddlers that are being added to the flock that don’t have a momma. The ones that have been brought into the flock through incubation or bought elsewhere. They are used to keep and maintain a certain population number in the flock. They have no momma to see that they get fed and protected. Now I’m not talking little chicks. Little chicks wouldn’t survive this. These are the ones I call ‘toddlers’. I prefer around 6-8 weeks old, depending on their size. They are big enough and smart enough to learn the ropes of the yard and the dreaded pecking order. On the BottomsUp, if you are without a momma to help, I like to step in and help a little. As I said earlier, I give them at least some feed and water, in a safe place with me, to help them start their new, first day. Then, when I’m done refreshing the coop and they had a bit, I open up the coop for the day. All the chickens can come and go as they please. They’ll come in to escape the heat of the day, lay an egg, or get a drink. Never do they stay in long during the heat of the summer. The best feed is out in the wild and in the shade of the trees. And there’s dirt! Tons and tons of dirt to dig and bathe in. They do love their ‘dirt’ baths!
The first day for new toddlers is tense, but eventually they’ll gain confidence in the coop. Seeing the others come and go without too much fuss becomes the norm. They’ll start making their way together toward the doorway to peek out. Watching the rest of the flock in the wide open, running here and there without a care. There’s lots of space for all which eliminates the need to compete for space and food. A safer and healthier way to establish the pecking order.
Early afternoon the eggs are collected. An observation is made of the progress of the toddlers. They have made their way out to the yard. Staying closely together and getting the feel for their new family rhythm. They will be okay. Within three days they will be comfortable in their places given. Running to and fro on the hunt for live food in the big wild.
As the day closes and the sun starts to set, the flock will start making their way home for the night. One by one, they will go in to roost and rest. Momma and chicks are some of the first to go in. Goldie going in as she pleases. Rudy is always among the last. Making sure that all those below him are in, safe and sound. Any stragglers or lost, are up for me to find and get in. Yes, I’m the true ‘head-hen’ and Goldie and the rest know it. I respect their order, but if I have to step in, they know what I say, goes. I look after the motherless, the sick and the lost. I’m the one with the pail of feed and goodies. I’m the one who makes the beds and delivers fresh water. But Goldie, Rudy, and all the flock know my voice and my looks, because they know I care for their needs. When all are safe inside and settling down to a contented cooing, it’s lights out, door closed and latched. The gates are closed and all is hunkered down as the darkness closes in. Night is here and the coyote’s howl is carried across the corn field. It’s okay though, our good days work is done both in the Heart of the BottomsUp 2/3 Acre and off. All did their part. From the head of the house-hold to the head of the yard. And all are safely back in the protected realm and in the castle.
And just like Goldie there’s a head over me. One who brings home the feed and provides security over his family. My husband, our children’s father, the super-hero and one who humbly calls himself ‘just the farm-hand’.
Looking at the creation given around us, to tend to and keep, has more answers than I had given credit. I no longer look at the chickens and just see food. They can be so much more profitable than just feeding the stomach, if time is given to see the true character their Creator gave them.
So, I guess there’s more than one type of ‘pecking order’ in the Heart of the BottomsUp 2/3 Acre. And each type varying in accordance to it’s kind 🙂
Reminder to self: it’s alot easier to use my head, to help the chickens join the flock easily, than it is to spend over half an hour running around after them like a chicken with it’s head cut off!