Dogs and cats are not the only members of the animal family that sometimes seem like quasi family members. Chickens, too, can mimic human characteristics — for better and for worse.
In the past couple of months, we have invited three sets of baby chicks into our lives: His, hers and mine. My husband picked out Batch 1 from a farm store several months ago: Four Rhode Island Reds. Batch 2 arrived at the beginning of May: Three Delawares, one Barred Rock and one Easter Egger that I ordered per my daughter-in-law’s picks, plus one Sapphire Olive Egger that happened to be at the store and was too cute to pass up. In the middle of May, Batch 3 joined the group: Two Silkie Bantams (exotic chickens with furry feet and topknots) that I had ordered, plus two other bantams that were at the store and were too cute to pass up.
I wouldn’t advise doing things this way. Getting all your chicks at the same time would be optimal. The way we did it — well, it led to a pecking order.
By the time Batch 2 was old enough to emerge from the heat lamp and run free in the chicken yard and coop, the Rhode Island Reds (Batch 1) had claimed the area as their personal domain — and they were not interested in making new friends. Although I never saw the Rhode Island Reds physically bullying Batch 2, there was some definite psychological bullying going on.
Evidence of this is the fact that the Rhode Island Reds — instead of spending their days in the chicken yard scratching at the pickings there, as they had done before the arrival of the Batch 2 interlopers — spent their days inside the coop, causing Batch 2 to cluster in the corner.
Need more evidence? Let’s talk about the bedtime routine.
Before Batch 2 arrived, the Rhode Island Reds all went to bed on the east side of the top rung of the roost.
When Batch 2 chicks first joined Batch 1, they slept on the floor of the coop. It wasn’t long, though, before they were agile enough to get on the roost. At first, the babies scattered among the rungs; but after a few days, they all found their way to the top rung.
Even though the younger chicks gave the Rhode Island Reds plenty of room and took the leftovers — the west side — the Rhode Island Reds were jealous. How do I know this? Because the night after the little ones found their way to the top rung, the Rhode Island Reds got up there first and claimed their spot — the west side!
Batch 2 chicks weren’t quite sure what to do, so some went to the east side and some squeezed in between the west wall and the Rhode Island Reds.
The next night, the Rhode Island Reds again claimed the west side. The younger chicks all went to the east side.
This went on for a couple of nights until one night the Rhode Island Reds again claimed the east side. Batch 2 chicks settled in all the way over on the west side.
The next night, the Rhode Island Reds were again on the east side, and Batch 2 was to the west — but closer to the Rhode Island Reds than they had been. So, an uneasy friendship might be developing. …
Regardless, Batch 3 chicks have yet to be let free in the chicken yard and coop — but I’m quite sure that when they make their appearance, they won’t be ruling the roost.
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