Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Backyard Flock: The lone chicken

Life in Chickenland can be like living in a "mean girls" movie. Well, yes and no. Of the nine hens in my backyard flock, easily the nicest, sweetest one, of course, is the one that gets picked on the most. She is a buff Cochin I sometimes call Lady, sometimes, Molly and sometimes, Gertie. I guess it depends on my mood.

She is small, possibly a bantam, and kind of old - she stopped laying a couple years ago. She was mature when I first got her as a rescue a few years ago and very shy of human contact. She has come around in that department, mostly because of the little kindnesses we have shown her in helping her to deal with the "mean girls."

She gets picked on. No one wants to share with her when it comes to food or lodging. But worse, the other chickens randomly attack her, usually going for the feathers around her neck. It got so bad one spring when I was raising new chicks, I had to remove her from the general population and put her in with the little ones, just to keep her safe.

Like the nice girl in the "mean girl" movies, she has developed a number strategies for dealing with her tormentors. But they all involve avoiding the mob, rather than ingratiating her self to it. When I feed them in the morning, she immediately goes for the food no one else seems to want. After they have sated themselves on table scraps and deign to pecking at the cracked corn, she moves in on what is leftover from the leftovers. Unlike the heroine of the formula flicks, however, she does not rise above it all. She copes by embracing her outsider status. And maybe that's closer to real life than the movies.

Lately, she has taken to trying to sleep outside. Tired of being bullied at bedtime (one will often remain to block the door to the coop like a soccer goalie), she has taken to roosting in an open roost we have have set up as a daytime shelter from sun and rain. I would be happy to let her sleep out there if it were not for the raccoons that could easily snatch her while she is blinded by darkness. So, now every night, we have to grab her from the roost after dark and put her in the coop with the others, taking time to shine the flashlight through the window so she can find her safe spot in the corner, away from the roosting bad girls.

Why am I thinking about this on this particular morning? Well, I noticed that it is finally getting cooler. I had to throw on an extra shirt when I went out to un-coop and feed and water them this morning. I looked over at the roost and started thinking about those cold winter nights when we will have to snatch the lone chicken off the outdoor roost to protect her from more than just the raccoons.

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