Chicken Shenanigans

It’s been a long time since I blogged. I gave it up because when the dog killed my sweet chickens I lost my muses, I kept away from it because I was enjoying life on the farm without thinking about how I’d word what I was seeing, doing and experiencing. Now I think it’s time to get back into it, probably in a less intensive way. The lovely feedback I’ve received here, in email and on other people’s blogs asking when I was going to be back has helped encourage me to sit down and post. So, for now anyway, here I am.

I’ll be updating the tabs across the top of the blog and posting a few catch-up posts over the coming days (I apologise in advance for the length of the posts, there’s a lot to catch-up on). And without further ado, I’m starting with my worrisome chickens…

IMG_5228-001We adopted 3 perfectly nice chickens back in November. Lenny is a lovely rooster and he has always taken such good care of his flock that it’s hard not to like him. He calls them over and gives them the best grubs when he digs one up, he screams like a banshee when a hawk lands in the tree above the coop – making sure the girls are safe in the coop – and he generally hangs around making the flock a family.

IMG_5217-001Penny likes Lenny a lot, Henny adores him and he loves her passionately. Boy does he love her. So much so that her back and shoulders are totally denuded of feathers. That’s a problem. She gets sun burnt in summer and will freeze in winter. In autumn she gets burnt and freezes. It’s autumn now and any new feathers she gets vanish within a couple days even if Lenny isn’t around (is she pulling them out, is Penny, is her back so damaged they fall out?).

Something had to be done. We didn’t want to kill Lenny (he’s just being a good rooster, after all) but we wanted to give Henny a chance to regrow feathers. We tried separating Lenny for a while but that was unsatisfactory for several reasons. In the end we decided to adopt 3 more hens and wanted to get some that were past their prime, who needed a home, who might give us a few more eggs a week but mainly would share Lenny’s love and take the pressure off Henny. We thought of Ian at Clarendon Farms. We know he keeps lots of free range organic hens, we’ve met him a couple times and know he can’t keep the girls forever and so we thought he might sell us some of his older chooks. Turns out he was happy to give them to  us. They’re 3 years old, not laying much but should be happy here on our farm for the rest of their days (2-4 years I guess).

Enter Holly, Molly & Polly. 3 Isa Browns that are used to free ranging with a LARGE flock and protector dogs. They now have a good-sized run with a dog who is a bit too keenly interested and a neighbouring flock who are kind of scary. Here’s how we’re integrating them…

  • Frank built them a temporary mini-coop out of an old table.
  • We put a fence down the middle of the run so the 2 flocks could see and smell each other.
  • It took a couple days for the new girls to get used to their new environment (those first 3 nights, dusk was a stressful time for them as they tried to figure out where to roost).
  • We opened the fence between the run, rake in hand to separate any bad fights, and watched for 30 minutes or so a few times over a few days.
  • Everything was going pretty well. Henny & Penny were being mean to the new girls but Lenny seemed keen on them. So we put Lenny in with Holly, Molly & Polly and forced him to roost with them at night and thought getting him to adopt them would be 80% of the battle. That went better than we hoped. Maybe too well.
  • Back to opening the fence while we stood guard. The girls have established a pretty clear pecking order (in order: Penny, Henny, Holly, Molly, Polly) with Lenny at the top. Lenny will come to the aid of his new harem if things get too aggressive.
  • But… (why is there always a but?) Lenny now hates Henny. Why? Is it because she was wearing a cape (to protect her back which she took off AGAIN so now isn’t wearing), because she’s bald and ugly, because she is sick (maybe she caught a cold being naked when it’s 3 C/38 F overnight), because he saw her beat up his new girl friends, because she’s his sister and he suddenly has gone off incest? Whatever it is, he’s not nice at all. He chases her, grabs her wing and really pulls/shakes it. She doesn’t flex her left wing to its full length any more. And she runs screaming if he so much as looks at her. She cowers in her nest box (which is where she roosts at night). It’s so sad. She used to follow him everywhere, she simply adored him.
  • The current plan is to spend part of each day with the run open and part with it closed. When it’s closed, Lenny is on 1/2 and Henny on the other. The other hens might be on one side or the other – that’s random. It’s hard on the hens who want to lay and don’t have access to their favourite nest box but that’s the least of my worries right now. (And the least of theirs, if Penny sees a hen in a nest box, she chases the poor little things out.) I open the run up and let them mingle which works for a random amount of time (is it getting longer?) then Henny flees to her box. After a while of her self-imposed imprisoning, I close the fence in the middle of the run again, coax her out and give her time scratching before opening the fence again. It’s exhausting for all of us.
  • At night we leave the separating fence open and Lenny goes back to his old roost with his old girls and sleeps right next to Henny. Funny he doesn’t peck her at night. Surely this will get them used to each other soon.

This, of course, isn’t an exhaustive list of my worries. There’s the moulting (including associated lack of feather regrowth for Henny – oh dear), the possible return of the leg mites, the various palates requiring multiple food types, uncomfortably high numbers of soft-shelled eggs from the Isa Browns, random laying in the middle of the run, the list goes on. But I’m confident we’ll get there, it’s just going to take a bit more time.






About Laura Rittenhouse

I'm an American-Australian author, gardener and traveller. Go to my writing website: for more. If you're trying to find my gardening blog, it's here.
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22 Responses to Chicken Shenanigans

  1. cohutt says:

    Welcome back.

    That’s a chore, more than I think we could handle, especially given the fact that we lately seem to be running a kitten rescue and adoption agency.

    But I’ll watch with interest from the other side of the world as you figure this one out. 🙂

    • It’s more of a chore than anyone should handle. We keep thinking, “it’s nature, let them just sort it out themselves.” Then I remind myself that there’s nothing natural about adult hens being locked together in a huge prison with a frisky rooster interfering with them whenever the urge takes him. In nature I think Henny would have skeedaddled into the bushes and left Lenny and his flock to attack each other. In nature 2 flocks would have never merged. Please tell me that in nature a brother and his 2 sisters wouldn’t have set up house in the first place.

      I’ve made my bed, time to lie in it!

      And thanks for the welcome. I’ve been lurking watching your posts. Now that I’m more earnest about blogging I might even start commenting more so expect something sarcastic soon!

  2. vuchickens says:

    Nice to hear from you! Thanks for sharing your chicken stories… they are so cheeky! I hope you are enjoying them (and their eggs) enough to make all the drama worth it. Do I see a new dog in the background?

    • Yes, those extra eggs are helping soften the blow. They’re laying more than we expected. We’re getting 3-4 eggs a day from 5 hens and it’s moulting season. Really, they could take a break.

      That is our new puppy, Rusty. Expect a post about him soonish.

      BTW, it was good to see your most recent post. It looks like I’m not the only one getting back at it.

  3. Ruth says:

    Nothing you have to say has altered my feelings about chickens – formed when we had them when I was young. My overall feeling is that they taste good when cooked, produce eggs that are useful in a multitude of ways – but are not particularly lovable critters.

    That Lenny personifies the typical alpha male – love ’em and discard “em when something more interesting comes along. Poor Henny, used to within an inch of her…er feathers – and now that the new chicks are there, Lenny not only doesn’t want to know her – but abuses her and makes her life a misery. All you can do is hope that when Lenny tires of the newcomers, he will return to his discarded former love. I hope it all works out well in the long run (make that the chicken run).

    • Frank’s theory is now that Lenny has multiple girls to look at he’s realised that Henny doesn’t look so hot being naked and all, so he thinks she has some terrible feather shedding disease and he doesn’t want his beautiful girlfriends to catch it. I hope he’s right and when (if?) she grows back her feathers Lenny’ll think she’s pretty enough to abuse in the normal way rather than this abnormal abuse.

      I have to say I’m getting pretty tired of playing chook therapist. That said, I do still find chickens lovable critters. And I like these new Isa Browns a lot. Isa Browns are just sweet little chickens, the Rhode Island Reds are too aloof for my taste. Not that I think they deserve to have their feathers ridden off and then abuse heaped upon their heads.

      Here’s to the long run.

  4. So glad to hear what’s been going on at your place! Although sorry to hear its been kind of drama-filled. Our roo has always been a peacemaker between our hens. When we integrate them (which happens often with our breeding program) if they start a tiff he runs right in there and tries to make them stop. It is interesting to read how things play out in other flocks.
    Hope everything settles soon!

    • I know what you mean by that tiff-settling behaviour. Lenny does that when Penny picks on one of the new girls. It’s a marvel of peace-making to behold. If only he still liked Henny.

  5. I have missed these chicken dramas! I mean, Lenny, c’mon man. Life’s too short for all this aggression. Just chill and enjoy all the love.

  6. Glad you have some more chickens but such a complicated mixed family? Hope the bees are doing well too. Amelia

    • It is complicated but birds live in mixed families. I prefer the thought of a mixed family to a boy and his sisters getting it on all day long!

      The bees are well, I’ll post about them soon.

  7. I love all the names, great, but you are right having chickens does present its own problems. Hope they sort themselves out in the long run as its horrid to see a chicken so trodden she’s lost her feathers.

    • The bar was set high when we adopted the rooster and his sister with their rhyming names. I didn’t want the 3 new girls who arrived nameless to feel left out but there aren’t 3 more “enny” names – or not ones that sounded respectable so they got their own clan name 🙂

      I wish I had more faith in them sorting themselves out. Yesterday was hard on all the hens who all seemed to think life was getting a bit too difficult. We’re back to leaving the 2 clans separated with Lenny with his new harem. It’s not ideal but everyone can lay when they want to and no one is beaten up. Maybe Henny will get feathers and we can try merging again. Or maybe inspiration will strike.

  8. pattigail says:

    I was so happy to see you are blogging again, but sorry you are having so many chicken issues. I don’t even have a rooster and my girls are always having little issues. They remind me of little girls…always excluding someone and then best friends with that one the next day. It is exhausting trying to figure it all out. I do hate when they are mean to each other though. I don’t think I could cope with the extra drama a rooster brings! I will be eager to hear how it all turns out….welcome back!

    • Thanks, I am happy to be back.

      I totally agree about that BFF thing turning into a bad rewrite of “Mean Girls”. Maybe they’re menopausal and the mood swings are getting to them 🙂

  9. Good to read you again. We have thought of you and your dependents often although we confess to wondering more about bees than chooks.

    • I know a lot of people follow this blog for the bee stuff and I am passionate (dare I say evangelical) about my bees so expect a post soon. With 23 1/2 hives (unbelievably we have a small swarm colony at the moment) there’s a lot to post about.

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