The Crazy Chicken Chronicles at the 44th Parallel, Part 3

Have you ever been awakened in the middle of the night by a loud and obnoxious, cocka-doodle-doo? It’s a sound so distinct that if you don’t live on a farm and heard it, you’d swear you were teleported to Old MacDonald’s farm some time through the night.

It’s a sound so shrill it will wake you from the soundest sleep, AND it annoyingly repeats itself like a skip on an old, vinyl record.

The sound is so grating that if the offender bellowing belonged to you, you’d surely march out to the chicken coop at 2am in your pajamas (like my husband did) to silence the ill-mannered cock who knows he’s being a nuisance to everyone within a 10-block radius.

This is a sound I do not wish to hear again, and so far, we have no roosters.

Rooster Recognition

According to Jessica Sullivan from Small Pet Select, roosters will become obvious after chicks lose all of their baby feathers which is around 8-12 weeks. Since I got my first batch of chickens on May 22nd, I should be able to recognize any roosters in the flock real soon.

Sullivan describes roosters as being much larger than the hens. They also start growing a large comb (the thing on top of their head) and red wattle (that gross, hangy thing on their face). Another identifying characteristic is longer saddle feathers as compared to the hens. That’s the feathers on the mid-back region just before the tail.

4 Fat Hens

The 4 oldest chickens in my flock are filling out nicely. They have lost their pin feathers and are growing beautiful, feathered coats.

So far both Jenna and Etta James, the Rainbow Chickens, have the longest looking saddle feathers which may signify they are roosters. But if size is any indication, they are still quite small compared to Abbey and Katie. I’m hopful they’re NOT roosters since they don’t have a wattle, but Etta James’ comb is quite a bit bigger than Jenna’s. Hmmmmm…

Katie and Abbey are the sweetest mannered of these 4 chickens. They look so plump and fluffy with their buff-colored feathers, and they are much lighter than they appear. These Buff Orpington’s are super soft too, and Katie allows me to pet her feathers if I want to.

Katie, Jenna, and Etta James all tend to stick together whether it be laying in the shade or enjoying the sun. Abbey isn’t usually too far from the group, but she rarely cuddles with them. I guess she’s a bit of a loner.

Besides regular chicken feed, I’ve treated these chicks to all sorts of chicken snacks including:

Dried worms – which they love to crunch on!

Dried minnows that stink to high heaven – that even the hens stay away from.

Chicken scratch – which offers some fun and tasty exercise picking and scratching through the mix of cracked corn and seed thrown on the ground in the pen.

Grit – which they scarf up with gusto as if they know it will help with their digestion.

I’ve enjoyed watching their antics as they have gotten used to their new home, and all 4 seem happy and healthy.

Chicklets First Outing

As the older chickens settled into their cozy new coop, the 4 newest chicks were getting to know me. What better way to do that than to take them outside for fresh air and exercise?

At first, I set up the portable dog enclosure for them to play in, but as soon as I walked away, they started crying, so I let them out to free range in the yard.

Four little chicks flapped their wings and raced around the grass. They tested their legs and wings, but never wandered too far. After wearing themselves out, the four snuggled altogether against my foot, enjoying the summer sun.

Ever since their first outing, the 4 have been excited to go out every day, and after they grew big enough that they couldn’t slip through the cracks of the pet enclosure, I decided it was time for them to start getting to know the others.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how mean chickens could be.

Chicken Meet & Greet

Thinking the little ones were too little to add to the flock for fear of them getting pecked to death, I attached the portable dog pen to the outside of the pen for the chickens to get to know each other safely.

It seemed all 8 chickens were thrilled about seeing one another for the first time. Jumping up in the air and flapping their wings enthusiastically as if shouting a big hello to each other, my cute little chickens were excited!

It was so adorable that after 20 minutes of watching them try to get through the chicken wire to be together, I decided to try putting the little ones inside.

That was a mistake. Chickens are so MEAN!

As 4 little chicklets huddled close to my feet, the 4 bigger chicks waddled over to get a good look at them. I thought all was going well until Jenna, the Rainbow Chicken, pecked little Gerdie right in the head. HARD!

Gerdie took off through the pen squawking and crying. She ran in circles wondering where to hide while 4 older chicks started after her deciding she needed to be silenced.

Thoughts of Gerdie being pecked to death spurred me into action trying to snatch her up before Etta James could cause her anymore harm. Carefully side-stepping the other 3 chicklets, I snagged the little brown noise maker and stuffed her back in the crate.

With Gerdie out of the picture, Jenna and Etta James decided to start pecking at the other 3, and as small as they were at the time of this first meeting, there was a very good chance one of them could have lost an eye.

As it turns out, this fowl ferociousness is a natural process required to establish the pecking order.

The Pecking Order

“Chickens are Brutal!” according to one local lady that raises chickens.

When asked to explain, she shared that her free-range flock pecked the eyes out of her beagle puppy when he came along to help feed them one day.

After relaying the gruesome story to the gal at Tractor Supply who also raises chickens, she explained that chickens establish a pecking order for the safety of the entire flock.

Understanding how and why chickens establish a pecking order seemed an important part in raising chickens. A little research yielded a very interesting article by Kassandra Smith entitled, A Guide To The Pecking Order which helps explain chicken hierarchy.

Not only is there a pecking order, but there’s an alpha and a beta in a flock. If there is a rooster, he automatically becomes the alpha, but in an all-female flock like mine (at least I think it’s an all-female flock), one hen will become the alpha, and another the beta.

The alpha doesn’t have to be the biggest chicken in the flock to win the position, but she will establish herself through strength and dominance. After winning the alpha position, the hen will always be the first to eat or drink and have first pick over nesting boxes and roosts.

On the other end of the scale, one unlucky chick will get picked on. Sometimes it’s the shy introvert, and sometimes it’s the most submissive chick in the flock. Other times it’s just luck as to who will get picked on the most, but I don’t want any of my chicks to be picked on. Especially not Gerdie!

Right now, Gerdie is the smallest chicken in the flock. She’s a Rhode Island Red that squawks like a baby about everything ever since being pecked in the head. I work with her every day to help calm her down. Speaking softly and trying to soothe her while carefully fetching her out of the overnight crate, she squawks and flaps her wings trying to escape every time I take her out for exercise.

Since I understand why she’s this way, I decided to put the dog enclosure right inside the chicken run so the chickens could safely mingle all day, every day. Maybe by the time the little ones are big enough to integrate completely within the flock, there won’t be as much picking going on.

The Integration Delay

Working towards getting all the girls together in the same coop has been difficult. Since the beginning of July, I have tried to encourage a happy environment in which the chickens could mingle and get to know one another. Yet the pecking order saga continues.

Since it’s always Etta James or Jenna (both Rainbow Chickens) that are doing all the pecking, I assume that these two are my alpha and beta. I’m still trying to figure which one is which, or if Etta James will have to be renamed James Brown.

Even though the little chickens are getting bigger, they are still an easy target for eye removal or bullying behavior. But man-o-man having them all living in the same coop would sure make my life easier.

They could share the same food and water so I wouldn’t have to refill two sets of feeders and waterers. I would only have to use one heat light at night instead of two. I wouldn’t have to clean two separate sleeping quarters. And I wouldn’t have to cart baby chicks back and forth, morning and night, to their separate enclosure.

Since my 4 little chicklets are getting too big for their nighttime crate, I’ve decided to order another small coop that I will put together inside the run. This will not only eliminate the need to carry them back and forth from the sleeping crate to the run, but it will also help to eliminate the risk of finding them perched on my husband’s classic cars that are in the same garage. I can only imagine these 4 perching poopers, scratching and defiling the paint on black beauty. Yikes!

Coming up next... will all the chickens be hens as expected? And just how well will the great chicken integration go?

Stay tuned for more as my flock grows.

Thanks so much for reading!

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Smith, Kassandra, July 21, 2020, Chickens In Charge – A Guide To The Pecking Order,

Sullivan, Jessica, May 24, 2021, How to Tell if You Have a Hen or a Rooster,

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