Thursday, 12 March 2009

The pecking order

When I just had Maude and Mabel, I used to think that Maude was the top hen. She seemed the most confident, the most likely to come haring up the garden for treats, and the most likely to land on visitors shoulders, scaring the crap out of them. Mabel was more aloof, preferring to watch all of her sisters shenanigans from a distance. Even when we threw Doris and Belinda into the mix, I still thought that Maude ruled the roost. Both of the older chooks gave the newbies a bit of a chase and put them in their place, but it was still Maude that was the show off. I have since learned that an outgoing personality has absolutely nothing to do with hen hierarchy.

Once Delilah and Mini arrived, it became apparant very fast that Mabel was top hen. She strutted around, hackles raised, bellowing at the top of her lungs her displeasure at these new chooks being in her territory. She herded the other three members of her flock away from the interlopers, and anyone who tried to make friends with them got a severe duffing up. Her favourite game became chasing the new girls around the greenhouse in a Benny Hill stylee.

Within a month of the new arrivals, the pecking order was established. Mabel is top hen, and gives the others the occasional peck on the head just to remind them. Next comes Maude. Doris, Belinda and Delilah seem to be somewhere in the middle, and poor little Mini is at the bottom.

Being bottom hen is a bit rubbish. She has to eat last, go to bed last and rarely gets any of the treats. Belinda is particularly fond of grabbing a beakful of her neck feathers if she gets too close, and Doris thinks chasing her is the best fun ever. Upsetting as this can be to watch, it's normal hen behaviour. Mini isn't mature yet, so she automatically has less importance in the flock. Hopefully, when she comes into lay, she'll grow some metaphorical balls and peck back, and they'll learn to leave her alone. She is, already, more integrated in the flock than she was, and is beginning to steal bits of bread and tear off up the garden with them. My little girl is growing up, and learning that being a devious bitch might be the only way of getting her fair share. Good on her.

A recent development in the pecking order involves Mabel jumping on the others' backs, in imitation of a cockeral. The first time she did this, Doris let out a bewildered squawk. The second time, she crouched. I presume that this is just Mabel asserting her authority, and not an indication that I have a rampant lesbian chicken on my hands. Time will tell.

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