Caroline Cummins is Culinate’s managing editor. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and cat in Portland, Oregon.

Pecking order

Not-so-friendly chickens

June 9, 2008

Stevie the runt still hasn’t caught up with the Big Five, and because he/she has been living in isolation so much, the rest of the chicken gang isn’t thrilled to have Stevie around. They flock together in a clique. If Stevie tries to burrow underneath one of them for shelter, or walk through their posse, they peck mercilessly in retaliation.

So Stevie (let’s call him a he for now, OK?) tends to sulk in a corner by himself, sticking his head down as far as he can get it. Or he flies up onto the roosting bar in the chicken run, brooding out of reach of the other, bigger birds. If I come out and stand near the run, he’ll dash to the side of the cage nearest to me, squawking angrily, and then flutter back and forth along the run, demanding to be let out.

Stevie trying to hang with the bigger, cooler Black Australorps.

Occasionally we do catch him and let him walk around outside the run, or inside a box of his own in the grass. But mostly we’re trying the Tough Love theory of parenting, hoping that Stevie will learn to hack it on his own.

Of course, there are scary chicken stories (I know, that sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true in this case) of chickens pecking another chicken so viciously that the behavior is termed “cannibalism.” So far, the Big Five don’t seem to be actually eating Stevie, but they have been known to draw blood in the past.

My husband worries more about the birds than I do. Maybe this means I’m callous. Or maybe, as my husband mused the other day, he’s just a “chicken hypochondriac,” restlessly looking up avian diseases and flock behaviors, trying to figure out what might be going on when all that’s going on might just be normal.

Since we’re planning to divest ourselves of half of our bird population once they’re grown, the social dynamics of six birds really aren’t as important as the social dynamics of the three that we choose (or are forced by gender revelations) to keep. So I am trying not to count my eventual chickens before they’re chosen.

Tuffy, the orange Boss Chicken, overseeing the run.

Nevertheless, lately my husband has been trying to guess which, if any, of our birds might roosters. Bigger, redder combs is apparently one sign. But since all the Australorps have similar combs and the Araucanas have none, this is not so helpful. Bigger tail feathers held higher in the air is another sign. Again, the Australorps have bigger tail feathers than the Araucanas, and it’s hard to tell if one bird is holding its feathers higher than another.

We still have quite a few weeks to go before our rooster-or-hen question will be answered, both in looks and in the acid test: a bird that crows.

There are 4 comments on this item
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1. by Amy on Jun 9, 2008 at 12:17 PM PDT

Caroline: I’ve been enjoying your chicken articles! My husband and I plan to raise a small laying flock in another year or so; I’m really interested to read about your experiences. Can’t wait to find out what the gender breakdown is.

2. by Liz Crain on Jun 9, 2008 at 1:47 PM PDT

I really like keeping up with your chicks too. I want some but now we just got a puppy so we’re going to wait awhile now.

This morning at 5am I took our puppy out and saw and heard a racoon on my neighbor’s roof. She keeps chickens and has been trying to keep this tenacious and hungry racoon out of her backyard and away from her chickens for weeks. I heard this cooing/clicking sound this morning and it put the fear in me. I was certain that he’d finally gotten one of her chickens and was having a rooftop feast.

But after I put our dog inside and walked over for a closer look/and to possibly wake up my neighbor I saw that the racoon was just licking and taking care of her new baby. Maybe I had heard birthing sounds? Now my neighbor has two racoons (maybe more I couldn’t tell) to duel with.

3. by Kathleen Holt on Jun 10, 2008 at 9:37 PM PDT

Hey, Caroline, I check in at Culinate every couple days to see the latest on your chicken adventure. This is like a great suspense novel: Will the chickens take to their new coop? What’s going to happen to Stevie? How will Caroline “divest” herself of three chickens?
I’m also loving what you and Kim are doing with the rest of the website. It’s definitely become a go-to place for me. Thanks for the great work!

4. by Caroline Cummins on Jun 23, 2008 at 2:46 PM PDT

Kathleen — thanks! Not much has happened with the birds lately; they’re getting bigger, but we still can’t tell the guys from the gals. Stevie seems to have caught up, size-wise, with the rest of the gang. Stay tuned for the rooster report ...

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