This journey with chickens began as a surprise really. My neighbors built a house the next field over and soon had chickens free-ranging in their yard. After observing them for a winter, one day I asked my neighbor if I could hold one. They seemed surprised since they never picked up their chickens, but said I could. She was a beautiful Brahma hen who allowed me to stroke her and cuddle.
After that I was hooked! I began looking in poultry catalogs at all the breeds I could own. WOW! It was so hard to make a decision, but once I received those first little peeps, I was captivated.
From the time of their hatching and growing they all have different ways of approaching the world around them. Some are aggressive, timid, bossy, followers, whiners, fast, flighty, slow, etc. The flock I own now is fifteen strong and a total delight. Along the way I have had laughter, heartache, good times, predators, sickness, and always contentment. If you take time to watch a flock of chickens, you will soon find yourself fascinated with their antics and forget about your stresses. Here is a little insight from these fascinating creatures.
There is a pecking order….from birth to death. The higher a chicken’s status, the higher they sleep on the roost at night. Changes confuse them….no one knows where they fall in the order if a new chicken is introduced, and they have to start all over deciding where they belong. “Earn the privilege of moving up, don’t just expect it.”
Chickens usually stay together in at least groups of three. Predators from the sky always look for that lone chicken to attack. “Be part of a network of friends who have the same values as you.”
Sometimes a hen will go off by herself and do as she pleases. She is a loner and has confidence in herself. She is the “diva hen” who is above it all. She answers to no other chicken or rooster and does not get involved in the drama inside or outside the coop. If a hen wants to move up the pecking order, it will serve her well to follow the diva hen around. She is fearless but not entirely unapproachable. Even the rooster doesn’t mess with her. “To thine own self be true.” (William Shakespeare)
When hens lay their eggs (usually once a day), they sing “the egg song” to let others know they have done. “Always be proud of your accomplishments”
Roosters are entirely different and can become aggressive as they age unless handled. As soon as they become chicken teenagers, hold them, stroke them, carry them around, and give them special treats. Pet them and talk to them every night while they rest on their roost so they know you for them. “Knowing you are loved makes a difference in your trust of others.”
A teenager rooster is overcome by hormones and may need a little scolding when getting overzealous with the hens. His hormones rage and he loses his good sense. He can be carried around under your arm for a while so he gets the message. “A teen needs consistent supervision.”
When a rooster gets past this stage, he learns his job as the protector of the group. The rooster is always murmuring and talking as he scratches and looks around outside, letting the hens know he is there and all is okay. A good rooster does a little dance around a hen indicating he is interested in her. If she doesn’t respond, he leaves her alone. He is looks out for the welfare of his hens. If he gets a treat before they do, he drops it and keeps dropping them until all hens have been given the treat. Then he will gladly eat some himself. “Guys, respect the women!”
Hens follow with him because he is the first line of defense. If there is an imminent threat, the hens all go into the coop while he waits at the door. He is twice the size of the hens and this is his most important job. “A man always protects the women!”
Chickens work very hard during their time outdoors….always looking, always scratching, and trying to steal other chicken’s goodies. Then they all stop, go to their roosts, groom, and take a nap. They do this several times a day. “Breaks during the day make everyone much more productive.”
When darkness comes, all the chickens instinctively move inside the coop. They know there are many dangers at night and they cannot see them. The coop is the safe haven. “Always make your home your safe haven. If it isn’t, do something about it.”
Chickens love a good dirt bath. It is fun for them and keeps their skin and feathers healthy. They splash and kick up the dirt until they are covered, then get up and shake it all off. They sometimes purr like kittens while doing it. They love it when two or three dust-bathe together because it gets more dirt on everyone. “Working in a group is sometimes more enjoyable than working or playing alone.”
A hen can go broody (decides she wants to sit on eggs until they hatch). During that time if she is disturbed, she would growl and give the “stink eye”. “Mothers to be can get a little quirky. Don’t irritate them unnecessarily.”
After chicks are hatched, mother hen is extremely protective of her new brood. Even though she may hatch eggs from other chickens, those chicks are hers. “Adopted babies are just as precious.”
There are so many other things to be learned, but here is a beginning list for you. The longer you have chickens, the more they will teach you. Chickens are hard work but very much worth it if you really get to know them. If you simply want them as egg producers, you will miss out on a lot of quirky wisdom. Spend time with them and get to know them.