Photo credit: Tracy Halladay

Monday, June 13, 2011

Chicken Behavior

I love sitting in the backyard watching my hens go around, doing what they do.   A storm came in this afternoon and the girls went to their favorite spot under the lilacs to keep out of the rain.  They go to this spot for shade and for protection when something menacing is flying around overhead.

My wife got me a nice Adirondack chair for Christmas a while back.  I find watching the hens in the backyard quite relaxing.  Usually when I sit in that chair, they expect treats and are quick to come visit me and see what I have for them, usually an old piece of bread or handful of scratch.

Shortly after we got hens, I found them in my wife's flower garden doing something that surprised me.  They were digging holes and rolling around in them...I thought they were insane.  I seriously thought something was wrong with them.  Well, I found out this is completely normal.  Maybe it is part of why some people consider them 'dirty'.  the interesting thing is, as they roll around in dirt, it is called a dust bath and actually cleans them and keeps mites and bugs from living on them. 

Another interesting thing to observe with chickens is the pecking order.  My oldest hen is quite the mother although none of them are her young.  If she gets something particularly yummy to eat, she'll pick it up, set it down, cluck a few times, pick it up, put it down and cluck a few times and will keep doing that until the others come over to check it out.  She'll usually at that point leave it for one of the other hens to eat. 

In the pecking order, someone has to be on bottom, it has been whatever hen I added last.  Now I know adding one hen to an existing flock is difficult and sometimes dangerous as you upset that order.  There are some ways to minimize the effects of that.  I'm happy to say, just this week, the hen that was added last is now accepted on the roost with all the other girls.  This is a good thing!

I learned something about their behavior when they lay eggs as well.  Often when they are done laying eggs you will hear clucking.  I always wondered what that was all about.  I thought perhaps it was that they were happy that they laid or perhaps it was painful (an egg is large in proportion to body size)!   I read somewhere that it is a way for a hen who spent the last hour on a nest to reassociate with the flock.  Think of it this way, out in nature, the flock wanders around together eating and one of the hens sits down under a bush to lay an egg.  The flock just doesn't sit and wait for her, they keep moving around.  But they are social creatures and travel for the most part together.  When the laying hen is done, she needs to communicate (sometimes loudly) to the rest of the flock so they can get back together.

As you just sit and watch them, you'll be surprised at the social nature of these birds and their characteristics.  I have a mixed flock of 2 Rhode Island Reds, 1 Leghorn, 1 black orpington, 1 Ameracauna and 1 Polish.  I like the variety.  I find the characteristics and personalities of each breed fascinating as well.

Sam-I-Am (green egg laying Ameracauna)

Henrietta (Leghorn)

Rosie (Rhode Island Red/Mother hen of the flock)

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