Dear God, give me patience, an ability to think outside the box, be faster than the birds, and help me not be overprotective towards the least ‘uns, whoever they may be. Amen
The normal cycle of maternal behaviour in chickens ends with the mama chicken, responding to changing hormone levels, disassociating herself from her chicks and beginning to lay eggs again. This typically happens around the 4 – 8 week mark and may include quite aggressive behaviour towards the chicks. Cinnamon is laying again. Her eggs are gorgeous.
She has been a lovely mama. But before she went broody, Cinnamon was a bully hen, and in the course of 48 hours she completely reverted to her former nasty self AND developed an alliance with Hutch. This has created havoc, or perhaps a new normal.
Not only was she picking on Chickpea and Titch (the other three are fast enough to get out of her way), when working in cahoots with Hutch, the two of them were blocking the the chicks’ access to food, water, and shelter. It was more than I could stand.
Cinnamon and Hutch in the pokey.
Chickpea and Titch taking a break from Bully Mama and her Accomplice
After two days of bad behaviour I bought some anti-pecking spray at the recommendation of someone who knows. Basically this stuff, sprayed onto the bullied birds’ feathers, makes them taste so bitter the other birds decide not to touch them.
I have only sprayed the chicks, Clover and Ginger once, except for Titch who was sprayed a couple of days later for a second time. I did this after watching Cinnamon land a peck on her.
The spray seems to have worked well enough and things have settled. The adults are now leaving the chicks alone, mostly. But the chicks are still nervous of the adults and are doing their best to stay well away. To make sure everyone has easy access food, water, and shelter I have put three of everything in different parts of the chickenarium, and am letting the adults spend a good portion of the day out in the garden. Hopefully everyone will settle soon, accept their various places in the pecking order, and I will be able to relax.
One of the things that I have wondered about regarding this dramatic change in bird dynamics is the chickens’ two week holiday in September (Yes, they did!). Over the years, we have boarded our chickens at a nearby poultry ‘farm’ that sells chickens, ducks, quail, and the like. They also board birds. It is a blessing to have such safe and experienced hands to look after our birds when we go away (OK, yes, it was us who went on hols, but the chickens got to travel as well).
Because of the age of the chicks, the staff wanted to keep mama and babies in a central location in a more-secure-than-normal pen. This was great, but it did mean that the chicks were with Cinnamon only for their 6th to 8th weeks of life, and the five of them were completely separated from the other four who were somewhere else in a pen with a great view of the Devonshire scenery.
But it seems their return home coincided with Cinnamon’s last nerve as a mama and it has created a two-flock dynamic that I hadn’t anticipated. As things currently stand the five chicks are one flock and the five adults are another.
To complicate matters even more, Starsky went lame whilst on holiday. [Now that I think about it, he was moving more slowly before we left, but it didn’t occur to me that this was something to be concerned about]. One day the staff noticed he was limping quite badly. The vet was called and he was examined. As there was nothing broken or bleeding, it was assumed he suffered a soft tissue injury (maybe a spat with Hutch?) which may (or may not) heal with time. He is able to get around, but he is incredibly clumsy. I carry him out to the big grassy garden, but he moves about the chickenarium on his own. He is eating and drinking ( I do give him his own dish in the morning and evening to make sure he gets what he needs without fuss) and he still crows when the weather is fab. But he is not top bird. Hutch is. I don’t even have a proper photo of him right now because he has asked me to respect his privacy as he comes to terms with his lower rank.
Now, I put the ten birds into the coop the first night. Since then, however, separate sleeping accommodations have been arranged. This is because of the bullying, Starsky’s disability, and the two-flock mentality.
Starsky is unable to get up and down the ramp into the coop and is sleeping (at his request) in a cat carrier in the run. I have put plenty of straw in the carrier and covered it with a piece of carpet to make sure he stays warm. Initially one or more of the hens joined him for the night, but this led to the chicks, who are sleeping upstairs in the coop, having to run the gantlet of beaks each morning. Now it is just Starsky they have to get past, and as he can’t move too fast, they are able to do this pretty well.
Hutch has reverted to the shed, and he gets Cinnamon, Clover, and Ginger by default. Ginger seems to be the lowest ranking adult right now. She is quiet and subdued. Clover, on the other hand, has actually been going after the chicks. I am kind of pleased for her. She deserves a little status.
I think I will have to do another sneaky-in-the-dark manoeuvre before it begins to get cold. Once all the birds are asleep, we will need to move them in the dark into one sleeping space. Hopefully when they wake in the morning they will forget all the aggro they have caused and live happily together for evermore.
In the mean time, Cinnamon, Ginger and Clover are hanging together again as they did before Cinnamon went broody. Hutch is with them. And Starsky is keeping an eye on the chicks.
Parsley and Sage are gorgeous, and Chickpea is a beautiful brown and white bird who just can’t seem to get rid of all her head fuzz. Thyme is stunning, Titch is beautiful and tiny. They are all beautiful. And I don’t even think they look odd with tiny combs.