Updated: Sep 1, 2021
You might recall when last I wrote that the 4 littlest chickens, (Maddie, Betsy, Penelope & Gerdie), were getting way too big for their nighttime crate. I had ordered a small coop to set up inside the chicken-run and expected it to be delivered within days of the last post, Part 3.
I worried the 4 chicks would end up escaping their enclosure and perching on my husband’s classic cars if I didn’t get them into something more permanent, and this is where I found Maddie & Betsy the very next morning.
As you might have already sorted out… The new chicken coop didn’t make it on time! It was time for the great chicken integration.
The Great Chicken Integration
This was the day I would see whether Gerdie could handle the 4 older chickens (Abbey, Katie, Jenna & Etta James) pecking at her, and survive with both eyes intact.
I pulled on my chicken boots, put the 4 chicks into the blue tote, and walked them out to the coop. Like taking lambs to slaughter, nervous knots pulled at my belly as I worried how it would go. Walking through the coop and out into the run, I said a quick prayer before letting them loose.
The 4 largest chickens circled the little ones like great white sharks hunting baby seals. It was as if they were saying, “Nothing can protect you now!” So I threw down some feed to keep them busy.
I would have to wait and see how forceful the bigger chickens would assert themselves to learn who would be the last chick in line at the food trough.
Staying right inside the pen in case the sharks worked themselves into a frenzy, I nearly worked myself into a panic attack watching.
When it looked like an older chicken was getting out of hand, I would gently guide them away.
“Be nice!” I warned, repeatedly.
After things settled down and the political posturing concluded, I felt comfortable leaving the flock alone for a while.
Leaving for two and three-hour spans, I checked back frequently to ensure none were squawking excessively, bleeding, or had otherwise been murdered throughout the day.
So long as nobody drew blood or pecked out any eyeballs, all would be fine. I knew they had to establish the rules of the coop for the safety of the entire flock. The pecking order would be attained whether I liked how they did it, or not.
The Pecking Order
In Part 3, I believed Jenna and Etta James, the Rainbow chickens, were the alpha and beta because they were the one’s doing all the pecking. I guess you never really know for sure who the lead chickens are until adding more to your flock.
After the little ones were plunged into the pen, I could see who the alpha and beta were right away!
Jenna is the boss of the flock – the Alpha.
All the other birds give in to her wishes, and she marches around the place as if wearing a tiara and robe.
If she isn’t the first one to see me when I come, she pushes everyone out of the way to be in front. It’s kind of like watching a kid take cuts in the lunch line while the other kids either let it happen, or don’t. I don’t know if she does this to protect the others, or to get first dibs at any tasty tidbits I might be poking through the chicken wire, but she is always the first chicken in line.
The Beta Shocker
Let me remind you how my sweet girl, Katie, would let me touch her soft feathers and pick her up. How she always came running when called.
Now she follows right behind Jenna, pecking at anyone that steps out of line.
Katie is also right in the front of the line, but being she backs down from Jenna, I figure she is the Beta.
Bedtime in the Coop
At bedtime, I needed to make sure all chicks were allowed inside the coop, and as it turned out, I didn’t have to worry about Gerdie at all!
Jenna and Gerdie were the first chickens in the coop. I watched as Gerdie waited out of the way while Jenna jumped up to the top roosting pole. After she found her spot, she gave Gerdie some reassuring clucks to which Gerdie hopped up on the roosting pole below her.
Maddie and Penelope were the next chickens up on a roost, snuggling close to Gerdie. Betsy tried but failed to jump up high enough to sleep with the other chicks. Content to stay on the lowest roosting pole, it wasn’t long before the remaining three chickens, Katie, Abbey, and Etta James waddled inside to try and find room to roost.
It appears the coop is too small, so we will be making another addition so they will be more comfortable to roost.
It was especially touching to watch Jenna take Gerdie under her wing. It seemed like she was tucking all the little ones into bed that first night, and helping them feel comfortable and safe within her coop.
Perhaps all the extra effort made to introduce the little ones every day prior paid off.
If only I could understand why my sweet, Katie-girl was being so cranky lately.
It’s sad to think that my once sweet, Buff Orpington is now a cranky, assistant manager! But to hold her position as Beta, I understand she can’t seem like a softie to the others.
Now when I poke my finger through the chicken wire to touch Katie, she pecks at me! HARD!
Just last week, my husband did the same thing… poked his finger through the fencing and said, “Ouch! She just pecked me!”
“What happened to sweet Katie?” I fretted.
Did the Buff Orpington’s disposition change after her climb up the ladder of chicken coop success, or was there something else going on?
Did you ever wonder if chickens could be jealous?
Ever since the chicks were first being introduced to the flock (Part 3), I have given Maddie, the Isa Brown, a little more attention than the rest.
Before that, it was all about Katie.
You may be thinking chickens are stupid, and there’s no way they could be jealous of one another, but you’d be wrong!
Chickens DO get jealous, and they possess a multitude of other feelings according to Dr. Joanne Edgar. Come to find out chickens are deeply emotional and experience profound feelings of happiness, sadness, empathy, jealousy, and will even grieve for lost flock mates.
It is astonishing to discover chickens are so intelligent, and I had no idea the attention given to the chicks would upset the older one’s so much. It is time to make amends, not only for Katie’s sake, but to help every member of the flock feel loved and cared for.
Etta James or James Brown?
As for Etta James, she did not grow a wattle or a big red comb on top of her head. She did not crow the blues during the wee hours of the morning and wake the neighborhood… thank the maker! And it’s a good thing, too, because after raising her all summer, I don’t know how I could have gotten rid of her had she turned out to be a James Brown.
She is STILL Etta James regardless of her longer saddle feathers, and she is the most beautiful chicken in the flock.
And so far, it appears ALL the hens are STILL hens. Yay!
Egg Laying Time
The time is drawing nearer for fresh eggs!
Friends and family are saving their empty egg cartons in anticipation that we will be getting more eggs than we need.
I keep checking the nesting boxes every morning and night in hopes of finding more than straw and feathers, but it hasn’t happened yet. Being there are feathers in the boxes tells me it is getting close to egg laying time, so I have added laying crumbles to help them get the extra protein needed for laying eggs.
Maddie the Future Alpha or Beta?
As the flock grows to adult hens, I wonder if Maddie will somehow end up on one of the top rungs. Being one of my favorites, she right in the thick of things when Jenna and Katie investigate something new.
Here she is, the bravest of the flock, trying to figure out what a tomato is.
Being the courageous one, she enjoyed the most of this special treat, and is often the first to try anything I offer her.
Time will tell if she grows into the chief chicken in charge or be content as one of the flock.
Coming up next, the chicken coop expansion project, who will be the first to lay an egg, and where will Maddie end up in the pecking order?
Thanks so much for reading!
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If you would like to read the Crazy Chicken Chronicles in order, here are some handy links:
Merriam-Webster, Like a lamb to the slaughter, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/like%20a%20lamb%20to%20the%20slaughter
Susan, November 13, 2020, Are Chickens Jealous? Do They Have Feelings?, https://henraising.com/are-chickens-jealous/
Thornton-O’Connell, Jodi, 2021, How Do Egg Laying Crumbles Work, https://animals.mom.com/egg-laying-crumbles-work-9644.html