Chickens have a pecking order. It’s the hierarchy of authority, and it is established with actual, literal pecking. The top hen gets first shot at food and treats, and the highest, most desirable roost. The lowest hen gets what’s left over and a peck on the head. It’s not pretty, but it’s reality.
Pecking orders are established in the first few weeks of a flock’s life together, with much breast bumping and flapping of wings. It is both alarming to watch and highly entertaining. Once the pecking order is established, it tends to remain in place, unless it is disturbed by a major event, such as a death in the flock. Or an injury.
Buffy is currently out of her flock, and the space she left is closing every day. Reintroducing her after two weeks absence has the potential to be a bloody business. In my best attempt to prevent a permanent shift in the pecking order, I have been showing Buffy to her flock daily, one way or another. I’m hoping they won’t forget her, or treat her as an intruder upon her return.
Today, I invited Haley and Coraline (two of the girls lower in the pecking order, who have been at the receiving end of the feather picking problem) into the gated courtyard, to share a treat with Buffy: leftovers of last night’s brown rice with peas and spinach.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say they played, but they shared food easily, scratched in the leaves together, and there was no friction. I didn’t see either hen notice Buffy’s wounded right hindquarters at all. They were together out there for about half an hour; I hope to increase both the length of time and the number of chickens as the days go by.
When she is sufficiently healed, Buffy will be allowed to free range with the girls during the day (in her dress, to prevent picking) and return to her crate at night. If that goes well, she’ll be allowed to follow her flock into the coop at sundown.
Taking care of her has been hard. Letting her go will be harder…