Saturday, August 27, 2011

Growing Chicks

When we decided to let our broody Brahma hatch eggs, I was terrified, as I've mentioned before. I had no idea what I was doing. And as our happy soon-to-be Mama hen sat on all of these eggs, I suddenly realized we were in way over our heads with this one. Of course, I kept that little piece of thought to myself as my husband was originally less than thrilled to get chickens in the first place. He had grown to love them and was totally behind the idea of letting our Brahma hatch some eggs to get over her broodiness, but I felt like this was my venture so I needed to know what I was doing. And, I assumed my husband expected that I knew what I was doing. Why else would I have been so hung ho about hatching chicks? I am the chicken lady in our family. So, I took to the internet and checked out a new chicken book from the library (I'm nothing if not a planner and researcher) and I've already written about hatching those cute babies.

Once they were here, I scoured all of my resources including the two chicken books I already own and could find little in terms of a timeline for my expected babies. I wanted pictures. I wanted charts. I wanted to know what to expect and when to expect it. Now, I understand that all chickens are different. Raising chicks is like raising children in the fact that all the "What to Expect" books and the parenting magazines warn you that all children are different and some develop at a slower or faster rate than others. But I seriously wanted some sort of flow chart to follow so I'd know what to expect. Why hasn't anyone written a What to Expect When You're Expecting Chicks book? It could start with the development of the chick in the egg as it's sat on by the hen. Then the chapters could be divided by week with each week having a description of the types of things your chicks should be doing and thing they might start doing. Then it could answer common questions people have about raising chickens. I mean, this sounds like a money maker to me. I've read the chicken forums. People raise chickens and hatch eggs and have no idea what they're doing. This sucker would be a huge seller in hardware and feed stores. Just saying.

I'm going to give a basic timeline for the clutch of chicks we hatched. I'm going to start at hatch and go through 8 weeks. They're a few days away from being 11 weeks old. The biggest changes happened between hatching and 8 weeks. The past few weeks they've mostly just grown and integrated more and more with the flock, so in terms of development it's not as exciting as those first 2 months. You may find that your hatching experience is different or that your breed of chicken developed differently or at a different pace. I completely expect that to be true and I'd love for you to share your experiences below. I've only experienced the hatch of one clutch, so that's all I have to go on.

This is the story of 5 Japanese-Old English Game Bantams. Keep in mind they are super tiny since they're bantams. Let's get started:

Week 1: It took three days for all of the eggs to hatch. When they first hatch out, they're super tiny and look wet, but within the first hour they become the fluffy little chicks you expect. They make constant peeping sounds.

This is the first baby to hatch. She's less than an hour old.

Here they are on Day 2.

Week 2: They are all out and about. They stick to Mama as closely as possible. When she finds food she makes a particular clucking sound that alerts them that she has something to eat and they come running. They still look like little fluff balls except by the end of this week their wings are feathering out and they're starting to grow tiny tail feathers. The color of their fluff is not necessarily any indication of the color of their feathers. They're easily caught and picked up, though they make frantic peeping noises when you do it. During the day they are super active. They like to scratch around a little in the dirt. They climb all over Mama's back and sit on her. Sometimes they try to burrow under her wings when she's sitting with them. They like to sit in the sun and sun themselves. They take lots of little naps during the day - they'll just plop down somewhere in the dirt and fall asleep. Peeping is still constant. At night, they all climb into the nest box and burrow deep under Mama. You can't even tell they're there.

 They're getting ready for bedtime and are about to climb in and burrow under her wings
 and in the back of the box under her bum for the night. 

Week 3: Feathering continues and the chicks' backs and chests begin to sprout feathers. The tail fathers have grown out longer. They preen themselves obsessively. They still stay fairly close to Mama and she still gives the food call. They eat and drink when they're hungry, but take a lot of cues from Mama. They forage when she does and stick close most of the time, but once in awhile one or two chicks wander off a little in the run and scratch and forage for themselves. They're beginning to realize that if they hide in the corner, they have more of a chance to eat what they've found or stolen away from the others! (Note: This week was the week of the 4th of July. We were out of town most of this week and my sister chick-sat, so there aren't any example chick pictures.) 

Week 4: They're roosting now. They've nearly tripled in size since they hatched. They are now strange chick/chicken hybrids. They have fuzzy chick heads and feathered bodies. Their chests are in the final stages of feathering, so there's still a little fuzz poking out in places. Still constant peeping from everyone. Mama is still mothering them and they mostly stick close to her, but they go off on their own a lot. They generally stick to the buddy system and have at least one other chick around near them at all times. Some of them still try to snuggle with Mama when she's laying in the sun. They even interrupt her dirt baths to get on top of or near her. Personally, we let the chicks out to free-range with Mama at this age. They stick right by her and love scratching for bugs and tidbits all over the yard. She does not let the other adult hens near them and gives a warning call before attacking if someone gets too close for comfort. Their combs are much more pronounced. If you're familiar with chickens and hatching at all, you can generally tell by the comb how many roosters and hens you have at this point (some breeds make this identifying a little harder, so it's not always the easiest task). I can tell that we have at least two roosters at this point. They're very curious. A piece of hardware cloth divided the chicks and Mama from the rest of our flock. The two areas were next to each other, so they could see each other through the wire and spent lots of time contemplating each other. 
Roosting on the mini-roost we put up for the chicks and on part of the coop structure dividing the two areas. 

A close up of one of the roosting roosters. Notice the still fuzzy head. 

Week 5: Their heads are working on catching up with the rest of their body! Feathers are sprouting, but you can still see a little fluff too. They actually look like mini chickens now and not chicks anymore. I won't be able to call them babies for much longer (though I'll continue calling them chicks throughout this entire piece to be consistent). Their combs are even more pronounced than last week and it seems that we have 2 hens and 3 roosters. When they're out free-ranging, the chicks will wander a little farther away from Mama. She's still in their sights, but they'll go quite a few feet away without worrying. One of the chicks is  a free adventurous spirit and goes off halfway across the yard by himself. At the end of this week we integrated the chicks with the rest of the flock. They've been free ranging for nearly two weeks and the adult hens and the chicks have free-ranged alongside each other without any problems (besides Mama getting cranky). A pecking order has to be established, so some pecking and chasing has ensued; otherwise, the merging of the two coops is going well for us. Oh, I almost forgot. Still with all the peeping. 

Week 6: This week is more of the same: they are growing bigger, continuing to peep, loving to forage and scratching for anything edible. They love bugs. Big time. They've gotten the routine down from the big hens. They join in with the rest of the flock when it's time for The Food Lady to appear. They love treats. They are super fast little buggers and it's an event to catch one of them. But you know I do it anyway.  

Week 7: There is no sign of fluff on the "chicks" anymore. Since they're bantams, their size is the only thing that still makes them look like chicks. The roosters have nice tall combs and beautiful iridescent tail feathers. The girls are fat little beauties. They're still growing rapidly. It's not so apparent when you look at them every day, but looking back at pictures from just a few weeks ago shows how much bigger they've gotten. They are just like any other member of the flock. They do everything the big hens do. I haven't seen them dust bath with my own eyes, but I'm sure they must be doing it when I'm not around. That's the only thing that I can't check off my list of "chickenish" things I know they do. They scratch and stretch their wings. They eat out of the big hens' feeder  (even though we still have their chick feeder in the coop) and they've started using the big waterer too. They roost a lot. It's one of their favorite pastimes. Mama occasionally makes a little food alert noise when they're foraging and they still follow her around to a point, but this week seems to show the biggest difference in terms of their dependence on her. They're almost to the point where they are just other members of the flock. (This week also happens to mark the first egg laid by Mama since becoming broody). They're now spending a lot of time establishing a pecking order between themselves. They get into little duels with their neck feathers all fluffed out. It's hilarious to watch.

Scratching in front of their big Mama.

Week 8: The chicks are now simply other members of the flock. Mama is nice to them, but she doesn't help them with food. I actually saw her grab some treats away from some of them when I was giving them their morning treat. They still have a bond with Mama though. When she goes in to lay eggs, some of them follow her into the coop to check out what's going on. They'll hang around near her when they're all hanging out and lounging in the dirt. They seem to have fit into the flock's pecking order. One of the hens, Ochocinco, still throws a peck their way every now and then to keep them in line. They stick together. The incessant peeping continues. They're growing bigger, but there aren't any major appearance changes this week. 

During week 9 I finally saw them dust bathing. It was cute because three of them squished themselves into one of the dust bath ditches in the coop (the hens generally dust bathe in one of a few determined spots in the coop's run). I like to watch them preen. It's so cute because they're so miniature. At week 10 they still have a size disadvantage mostly because of their bantam status. They're getting much bigger though, so space has become an issue in the coop at nighttime. We're passing on the 3 roosters to friends because as urban chicken keepers, we're not supposed to keep them. Next weekend, a few days shy of 3 months old, 2 of them will go off to live in the country with dozens of other chickens. I'm like a scared Mama. I'm worried about how they'll fit in and if the other chickens will be nice to them. I'm sad to see them go. They're my babies. It'll be another few weeks before the last one goes to his new home, so I'm hoping it'll lessen the blow for me.  They're the most beautiful little birds I could've imagined. They're fun to watch, as are our other chickens. They have such huge wings that they can do some pretty good flying. They're can't fly off into the sunset, but they can get some height, especially if they're taking off from our higher roost. 

 The multi-chick dust bath.

Alright, broody Mamas. I'm ready for round 2!

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Food Man/The Food Lady

Chickens are ravenous beasts. They would have you believe that they are starving to death every time you come around with food. That's just because they know we're suckers. Because we are.

My husband and I joke that the chickens refer to us as The Food Man and The Food Lady because that's all we're good for. As soon as our chickens hear the back door open, they start pecking at the hardware cloth on the door of their pen and fighting to be the one in front when we get out there. Every morning before I head out to my day job, I bring them a treat. It usually consists of a variety of scraps or, sometimes, when I don't have any good leftovers or something they'll like (they can be picky little divas about their food), I bring them a piece of bread. When I unlock the door and start to open it, I have to shoo them back so I can toss them the treats or put treats in their suet feeder - the suet feeder was a great idea. At 7:30 in the morning, I'm not trying to have to chase them back into the pen after having only five or ten minutes of forage time (they do not like to cooperate when they don't think they're getting their way, which is more diva attitude I'm afraid). I generally step inside the run (it's around 8 feet high, so I can easily walk around in there) blocking the door and throw some treats on the ground while I check out everyone and say my good mornings. The girls generally are looking for me when I head out the back door and will let me know if I'm running late by making some inpatient squawking noises. They know when it's time for The Food Lady to make an appearance.

God forbid I go out to check for eggs without a treat. They make me feel horrible about myself, like I'm a bad chicken mommy. They'll do their clucking and clamoring to be front in line at the pen's door, but when it becomes obvious that you aren't there to let them out of give them treats, they start making mean noises. I swear they get mean look on their faces too! If it's possible for chickens to furrow their brow, mine do it.

Whenever my husband or I got out to let the chickens free-range in the backyard, we bring treats. Again, it's usually a variety of leftovers and tidbits from the kitchen that we know they'll like. Favorite things include bread, rice, tomatoes, cooked pasta, meat (they are lovers or pork and beef), melon, cooked or uncooked squash, and pizza crust. Generally, we throw some pieces of whatever we've got on the ground when we first let them into the yard. A few of our girls will head out to their favorite forage spots once the initial treats are gone, but a few stick around to make sure you aren't hoarding any other delicious food items, which we usually do. We had to start bringing out a container with a lid so we could keep the chickens out of whatever we have left. See, we keep a little on hand to help coax everyone back into the run when free time is over. At one point Pouncey became hip to our jive and started jumping onto the table in the backyard and eating off of the plate or out of the bowl that held the bribe. Then Bossy followed suit. Neither hen is easily dissuaded. Hence the container with a lid.

One thing I did not expect when we got chickens was how much they have their own tastes. I assumed all chickens liked the same things. You can throw anything out for them to eat and some of them will look at you like you're crazy while others are gobbling it down. Our biggest diva, Bossy, is probably our pickiest eater. She likes carbs - bread, rolls, rice, pita, pizza crust. She does not appreciate new things and will not "take one small bite," which we tell our four-year-old son when there are new things on the dinner table. She hates squash and hard boiled eggs and nectarines...and the list goes on. Two of our hens are in the middle in terms of pickiness: Pouncey and Erickson. Occasionally they will pass on something, usually types of squash or eggplant, in order to grab up all the rice or breadcrumbs, but they'll usually get in on whatever action there is to be had. The babies, our nine-week-old Japanese/Old English Game bantams, are also moderately picky eaters. They'll eat most anything, but do favor some foods over others. Finally there's Ochocinco. She is a garbage disposal. We should have named her piglet because she likes to eat and she's not picky. If it's edible, I cannot imagine her turning it down.

It's not a bad job being The Food Lady. It's probably my favorite part of being a chicken mommy. Chickens love treats and if you have some, they love you too.  Plus, our girls will take treats out of your hand and I love it. I'm not above bribery to make them like me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Chicken Love

Anyone who raises backyard chickens loves them. They become your pets and part of your family. Chickens are like dogs or cats; each has a personality with her own favorite pastimes, food preferences, and even her own distinct voice. I can always tell when Bossy, the Barred Rock, has laid an egg because of her authoritative and boisterous calls or when Ochocinco, the Iowa Blue, has wondered off from the group by her sharp bark of a yelp. I love our chickens and so does my husband, albeit against his will.

I am grateful for the delicious eggs our four hens supply, but also for the entertainment and relaxation they provide. I cannot explain how peaceful it is to sit in the backyard and watch our little flock scratching around for bugs and tasty bits of grass and leaves. It has been an amazing journey learning about their behaviors and seeing them in action. I look forward to my morning trip out to the coop with a little treat to say good morning and wish them all a good day. I love being able to open the egg door and see who has laid eggs that day (yes, we can tell which egg belongs to which hen). I try to always make sure I tell them they did a good job and say thank you. Yes, I say all of these things out loud.

In Chicken and Egg by Janice Cole, a combination of memoir and cookbook, I stumbled upon this interesting, but not surprising (to me) piece of information:

          Research has shown that chickens are quite intelligent. Their neuron
          organization is highly structured. They have the capacity for
          self-control as well as the ability to anticipate the future based on past
          experiences. […] This ability may increase their chances of survival,
          but it also means they may be capable of such human emotions as worry
          and stress. Researchers are hoping their studies will not only aid the
          scientific community but also lead to more humane treatment of chickens.

My chickens have the good fortune of living in the lap of luxury with daily treats, a coop that's cleaned multiple times a week, fresh water and food, time to roam and forage, space to stand and walk and stretch, and people who care about their safety and happiness. Not every chicken is so lucky. Yes, I've dragged out a soap box and I sure am standing on it. I've been in situations where I was surrounded by negative, stressed out people. Those situations made me cranky, stressed out and unhappy. A chicken who is crammed in a cage or in a room with thousands of other chickens who can all feel worry and stress is not going to be happy.

If anything, what I've learned about chickens is that happy chickens lay eggs. Lots of eggs. I have hens who are supposed to be moderate egg producers and who lay eggs nearly every day of the week. My buff Brahma, who supposedly should lay an average of three to four eggs a week, lays an average of six. Next time you're buying eggs and chicken breasts think about where and how they were produced. There are organic and humane practices that are not only right, but are going to produce a better tasting, more nutritious product. Isn't it funny that the better the chicken is treated, the better it is for you? Interesting.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chick Wisdom

We knew nothing about hatching or raising chicks when we took on the insane challenge presented to us by Erickson, The Broody Mama. And having searched for information online, I know there are plenty of other people out there who don't have a clue either. Here are some useful tidbits I'm calling my Chick Wisdom:

1. Hatching by Broody Hen. I wrote an entire blog post about this topic, but want to reiterate my knowledge here. Hens know way more than you do about hatching eggs. Make sure she has access to food, water, the outside to stretch and take an occasional break and dust bath and she'll do the rest. I know it sounds crazy and you think you have to do something so you don't trust me, but I'm telling you that all you need to do is wait. Have some sort of separate area to keep the Mama and chicks for say one month to six weeks depending on the size and number of your chicks. The one thing to keep in mind (if it matters to you) is the fact that Mama does not lay eggs during this entire process: not while she's setting and not while the chicks are babies. She'll only start laying once she feels like her duty is done and the chicks are "on their own." For us, that was around six to seven weeks.

2. Pasting Up. (This one is important!) Pasting up is a condition associated with baby chicks. Their poop gets runny and cakes up on their rear and vent. It can be deadly because if the vent is blocked, nothing can come out. That's all I'll say. The good news is that it's an obvious problem. You can see if one of your chicks is pasting up as their bum is all caked up with dried on poop. You don't have to pick each one up and scrutinize their bums. Don't worry about how to tell. When you see it, you'll know. One of our chicks, Leia, got pasty. I took him (yes, Leia has grown up to be a rooster.) inside and rinsed his bum with warm water and a washcloth. After he was clean, I set my blow dryer on cool and turned it on at the lowest setting to dry him off a little before I put him back outside with Mama and the other chicks. He made a lot of noise. It will hurt your feelings a bit. Mostly, he was upset to be away from Mama. I had to clean him up twice. Then I kept an eye on him, but all is well.

3. Tiny Chickens. That phrase seems silly, but it was amazing how the chicks were born and within the first few days they were acting as if they were tiny adult chickens. Most of the things your adult hens do, the chicks will start doing in miniature. You figure, of course, they're watching Mama, but some things seemed to be all instinctive. They walk around, scratch at the dirt with both their feet and step back while they're bent over to look at the ground for possible food items. Then, they peck at the ground for little tidbits. They stretch just like the big hens with one wing out and the opposite foot stretched back. They tear at scraps and fling their beaks around trying to break up pieces of food that are too big to eat. They preen their fluff and feathers (as they come in) just like the hens. It's pretty cute stuff to watch.

4. Mama's Help. The mother hen continues to take care of everything once the chicks have hatched. She constantly makes sure they're eating by collecting bits of food (treats, chicken feed, bugs, grass, whatever she can get) and making a particular clucking sound. The chicks know that sound means food and will come running up to her to eat. She puts the bit of food down for the chicks to eat, but if it's too big or the chicks are having a hard time with it, she'll pick it back up and tear at it with her beak before putting it back down for them to try again. She does this constantly, trying to make sure all the chicks get to eat. Now, she won't give particular chicks food. They have to jump in there and fend for themselves, but she will collect enough so everyone has a chance to eat. They still have to be strong enough and smart enough to help themselves. During all of this mama bird feeding, she keeps very little for herself. It's almost all for her babies. The chicks also follow her everywhere. They stay glued to her hips for over a month. They easily learn from everything she does and they stay protected because Mama defends them when another hen comes too close for comfort. She can also usher them back inside the coop if she thinks they're in danger.

5. Pecking Order. As I mentioned in my last post, the entire flock is thrown into disarray by the addition of the chicks. They have to work out their positions while adding to their numbers. In our case, Mama decided she needed to move up in the pecking order now that she did something none of the others had done, so she was pretty mean to the hen she was bypassing in the order. The lowest member on our totem pole decided she was feeling a little froggy and chased the chicks a lot, but it was all because she refused to move down to number nine when she was already number four (four isn't so bad anymore when all of a sudden there are nine chickens). The funniest part of the pecking order drama was the chicks themselves. They were also in a pecking order war, and there is nothing funnier than tiny six-week-old bantams getting feisty. At seemingly random times while they're out foraging, two or three (and at least one time four) chicks will stop scratching and looking for juicy tidbits and stand up straight and tall, fluffing up their neck feathers. Sometimes they peck towards each other a little, but it looks quite ineffective from the sidelines. Then, once they've decided who won, they go back to foraging and all is well. I'm still not sure of their pecking order.

6. Gaining Independence. Around five to six weeks, the chicks start to stray from their Mama. They slowly start to wander off when they're foraging and not worry so much if Mama is right next to them. Now, they don't get too feisty and wander clear across the yard from her - I'm talking six or seven feet away when they're used to staying within a foot or two. At this point, if they get too far away they still freak out and hurry back or "cry" if they don't see her right way. Around seven to eight weeks it's like a switch is flipped and all of a sudden each chick is just another member of the flock. Slowly, Mama won't call them over every time she finds food. Then, she'll start to grab food away from them just as she would from another hen who's lower than her on the pecking order. Initially it's a little sad that she's not being Mama anymore, but then you realize that they're all grown up and part of the flock! For us, the pecking order issues also disappeared at the same point. Everyone worked out their place in the group and they reside harmoniously (for now).

As I took a break from writing this post and looked outside into the backyard, I saw Erickson trying to get away from her entourage of chicks. We're going on week eight and sometimes they decide they want their Mama. All she wants is to go into the chicken house and lay an egg, but they won't leave her alone (they're staying within a foot of her right now). She'd just like some privacy. Man, can I relate.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Maternity Ward

As the hatch date for our buff Brahma's adopted clutch drew nearer, we started work on The Maternity Ward, or what some people call the brooder. We constructed a rectangular frame, covered it in hardware cloth (better than chicken wire because the holes are smaller and pretty impossible for something to reach through), added a door large enough for our 4 year old to walk through upright and attached the entire thing to the back side of our existing coop/run structure. The Maternity Ward is shown in the picture below.

We left the hardware cloth that was attached to the existing coop to create a barrier between the "big hens" and Mama and her chicks. Then my husband built a small cube on one and a half inch legs and a mini ramp for inside The Maternity Ward to serve as the nest box. During all this building, Mama was happily inside the big coop sitting on her eggs in one of the nest boxes. Once a day she'd go out into the run for food and water, a little stretch, and a dust bath before returning to her place on the eggs.

We weren't prepared for all of this construction and moving, so we finished construction and moved Mama and her eggs the night her first egg hatched! I came home from work and went out to the coop to check on our girls. I heard tiny peeping sounds when I opened the egg door, so I looked around and saw one tiny yellow peeping chick who had probably hatched less than an hour before I'd found her as her fluff was still wet and matted. After about fifteen minutes of scrambling and hammering and stapling, The Maternity Ward was secured to the rest of the coop. My husband bravely picked up Mama while I transferred the unhatched eggs and made a second trip for the newborn chick.

It was two days from the time chick #1 hatched to the time #5 hatched; Leia, #1, hatched on Monday and Bobba Fett, #5, hatched on Wednesday. (My son is in a Star Wars phase). Mama sat tight while the rest of the chicks hatched out. I lifted her up at least once a day after the move to check the progress of the remaining eggs hidden underneath her fluff and because I'm terribly nosey and couldn't help myself. We had two eggs that I didn't think were hatchable: they were either not fertile or the embryos died early on as I had amateurishly candled the eggs with a flashlight at around seven or eight days and again around fifteen days and neither egg looked like the others. I was going by the pictures in a book I'd been using as as guide for all things chicken, Living with Chickens by Jay Rossier. 

We made the hard decision on that second night after the 5th chick had completely hatched out to dispose of the remaining two eggs because Mama will sit there as long as it takes to complete her mission of hatching egg. She won't get off the nest and start caring for her chicks if there are still unhatched eggs, so based on the fact that neither egg had a crack or any sign of hatching and on my candling, which I did one last time before we disposed of the eggs, we took them out of the nest and placed them in the trash inside a plastic bag. It was pretty evident that the last two eggs weren't going to hatch just based on how the rest of the eggs hatched. Almost a day before they hatched out, the chick would start pecking its way out. You can see the start of a crack, which gets larger over time until a hole appears and a tiny beak pokes through. It's a grueling process to watch because some of them are a little slower than others. The runt of our litter took over a day to completely hatch out of her egg. A huge chunk of egg shell was cracked off and you could see her wet yellow fluff and parts of her beak and legs, but she took her time breaking the egg apart and coming into the world. I was terrified each time I went out to check on the eggs because I didn't know how quickly they should hatch out and I kept assuming that I'd go out there to find that half hatched chick had died while trying to get out of her egg. But she didn't and she's now a cute, fast little black and white Japanese-Old English Game Bantam. And she's my favorite of the chicks.

Mama and the chicks lived happily in The Maternity Ward for six weeks. The "big hens" were just as curious about the chicks as the chicks were about them. The chicks would sit and peep at the big hens and the big hens would stand and watch the little chicks peeping around. Before we took down the barrier inside the run, we started letting the big hens and Mama and the babies out into the yard at the same time. There were a few altercations between Mama and the other "big hens" when the hens would get too close for comfort around the chicks, but after a few weeks, the pecking order started to work itself back out and the other hens learned to keep a little distance from Mama and the babies. Size was part of our deciding factor for when we took down the barrier. The chicks were getting big and in need of more space and it was getting close to the time when Mama would decide that the chicks were big enough to fend for themselves.

We took down the barrier one afternoon while all of the chickens were out and about foraging in the yard. The big hens were excited to be able to get into The Maternity Ward when they were lead back into the coop. Mama and the chicks seemed to just go with the flow. Well, that is until Mama had to work out her pecking order issues. Since she'd been away from the flock for over a month, she had to establish her place in the order, which is now #2 behind Bossy, the Barred Rock. Pouncey, the Americauna, got the brunt of Mama's attacks because Pouncey had taken up residency as #2 during all this mothering time. It was a little scary how mean Mama would get. I'm talking ruthless. She'd jump on Pouncey's back and grab ahold of feathers with her beak and peck and claw at her. We'd break them up if we were outside because it was too much for me to handle. While Mama was trying to regain her place as #2, Ochocinco, our Iowa Blue, was trying to hold on to her place at the bottom of the pack as #4. She was (and is) determined not to let any of the chicks get higher than her in the pecking order. She has spent a lot of her time pecking at and chasing the chicks away from her. It seems mean and scary that all of this fighting is going on, but it's an important part of a chicken community that you can't help.

If you watch them closely, you can see the dynamics. You can see that it's the same chickens fighting it out and that most of the time they're not doing much harm. Ochocinco doesn't hurt the chicks. She pecks at them, but for the most part she doesn't actually touch them. Erickson has pulled out a few feathers from Pouncey's back, but they have since worked things out. If Pouncey gets too close for comfort, Erickson puffs up and makes some mean clucking sounds and Pouncey crouches down until Erickson moves on. The chicks have figured out which of the big chickens are friendly and which ones to keep an eye on. They're a flock now. And a pretty nice one if I do say so myself.