Thursday, 3 March 2016

Is Poppy the new Millie?

You may remember I had a nasty bullying chicken called Milly.   We'd had her, and another chook from the same place,  from when she was 8 weeks old.   Milly didn't just become top chook, she was really, really nasty.  I didn't entirely realise it, I thought it was just a bit of hen pecking.  The only time she stopped being a bitch to the others was when the last of her peers died, and it was only the slightly younger group left.  She was then OK with them, but was horrible to the next group.

Eventually, after far too long, I realised that her nastiness went way beyond hen pecking.  She would seek out the new chickens to attack them, she just wouldn't let them do anything. Eventually, after too long,  I realised she had to go, and we culled her.  I resolved that I would never again let this happen in my flock.

After the fox attack, the only chicken we had left was Poppy. She had suffered under Milly's reign of terror.  When we introduced Gloria, there was a lot of hen pecking, but it was the stuff you'd normally expect.  Gloria won and became top chook,  and the two of them lived together happily.

And then we started to introduce the 3 newbies,  Fleur (a cuckoo Marans), Fay (a Fayoumi), and Sasha (am Appenzeller Spitzhauben).   There was the usual hen peckiness from Gloria and Poppy.   Gloria, as top chook, mostly stopped the harassment, just doing it occasionally when one of the youngsters crossed her path.

Fleur managed it quite well.  She's a big chook,  she just hunches up, lets them peck her, then goes back to whatever she was doing anyway.    The two littlees don't cope so well. 

Poppy continues with the hen pecking.  Mostly, it's when the youngsters cross her path.  Mostly, they see her coming and dodge away.    I've seen no blood drawn.  The youngsters are easily able to fly up on to the raised perches in the Run (when they are shut in), and they don't need to be in her way.

I know that she doesn't want to go down in the pecking order, so I can understand why she needs to keep making sure she is higher up the order than they are.  Gloria doesn't need to do that,  she IS number 1, and no one wants to usurp her.

But sometimes, like this morning,  I see Poppy chase them, a little bit more than is really necessary.

I love Poppy very much.  She is my very favourite (living) chook.  I understand why she feels threatened.  I understand that her experience of being an introduced chook was horrible, thanks to Milly.   I realised today that if I didn't love her so much, and understand so much,  I think I'd already be considering whether her behaviour warranted removing her. 

Realising this,  I have to think about whether I should do it anyway.  Just because she's my very favourite (living) hen,  I have to think about the welfare of the others.

I can't take her down to the allotment - it's not fair on her to introduce a lone hen to all the others.  I could take Gloria back too, I suppose. Maybe that's an option?

I think I'm hanging on because she's likely to go broody soon, and then she'll be out of it for weeks.  Without any eggs to hatch, she'll be broody for 6 or 7 weeks.   If we put fertile eggs under her and let her hatch them (which I was hoping might make her a bit more amenable), then we'll have the time while she takes care of her chicks too. When she goes back in, maybe the two littlest youngsters will have settled and will be able to stand up to her.

As I am writing this, I guess the question is, can it wait that long?  Has the damage already been done - have the others learned the behaviour and will they replicate it when we next introduce new birds?

I also don't want to overreact.  She isn't Milly.  Her behaviour isn't any where near as bad as Milly's behaviour.  Maybe I'm just so annoyed at myself for not sorting out Milly sooner, that I'm in danger of overreacting.

Maybe this sort of thing goes on, unseen,  all the time in most flocks. There's no physical signs of bullying.  I only know about it because I see it.....  most people aren't working in their kitchen so they can see what goes on all day. 

I don't know.

I'll see how the situation develops, I guess.

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