‘Your chickens should have their own TV show,’ Anna said. We met by chance in the chicken/horse/dog food shop. Holding a 25kg bag of relevant food or bedding for our animals each, we chatted about the new developments in my chicken coop.
The matriarch died one misty morning. And before you say that chickens don’t live in matriarchal culture, I know! I thought so too. The hens are famously horrible to each other when they are new or when they are ill or injured. Well this time it was different. The hen sat in the corner with a hangdog expression, not eating or drinking since the morning and the cockerel, little speckled, and blondie (too posh to lay eggs) gathered around her. They sat with her and walked her into the coop in the evening, her last climb of the ladder.
I felt sorry for the cockerel (named Chickoletta by the children, but I vetoed that – that’s no name for a husband of many!) and also for his two remaining wives. If you’ve ever kept chickens with a cockerel, you will be aware that his sexual appetite requires more than two partners (trust me, it’s that much better for the hens if there are more of them). So I phoned, drove miles, and in the end bought two new girls. Point of lay hens of the ‘little brown jobbie’ variety.
They behaved impeccably on the way home and when I released them into the pen, they were sprightly and confident. Blondie tried to bully them through some wire netting but one of the newbies squared up to the giant Cochin hen. So far so good. They then largely ignored each other. The hens, I mean. The man of the coop was beside himself! Frustrated that he couldn’t get his mitts on the new girls, he preened, he danced, he scratched, he called them to food, to water, danced some more, and was generally showing off. The two older hens were rolling their eyes and shaking their heads at his behaviour. Their indifference continued.
The second day (after a night in the same coop but separated) I allowed them all into the same pen. The ‘us & them’ attitude was obvious. Even the cockerel avoided the new arrivals. I congratulated myself on this amazing introduction without a fight. The next step would be allowing the new hens into the main body of the coop. Having made sure that the established family was safely in for the night, M and I gently encouraged the youngsters up the ladder. They entered.
A cacophony! Chaos! Panic! Within seconds the cockerel and his two older wives marched down the same ladder, with expressions of disgust on their faces. They would NOT share space with the interlopers! We apologised to all involved and reverted to the previous night set up.
This morning I let them all leave the coop at the same time. I spread an irresistible feast in the pen. They were intrigued and for the first time they all fed together. They are still keeping themselves separated and I think the cockerel is probably scared of all of them, so he just does as he’s told.
The more I watch my ‘Hendashians’, the more I love the secret workings of their world. They have personalities to rival the celebs of today. They plot. They are sneaky. They take offence. Sometimes they forget whose hand feeds them. But on the other hand they generously contribute to our compost heap. And their eggs are yummy.