Last night in the cover of darkness, Josh and I crept to the chicken coop. Huddled in Josh’s arms was the wounded chick that had been living in our house for almost a week. Our plan was a good one, based on someone’s comment on some obscure blog that I couldn’t find again when I tried to look it up. So some real scientific, sound advice.
Actually, in all fairness to the nameless blog, I’m pretty sure that I read about it in some book too. (Obviously I pay a lot of attention to details like names and titles, huh?) So this is the gist of it: Chickens are kind of dumb. They don’t have long memories and their reasoning skills aren’t the best. Hence they can be fooled into thinking the wounded chicken never left.
So, based on this theory, after almost a week away from the rest of the flock, our wounded chick was no longer remembered. When we bring her back to the coop, it would be like bringing a new chicken into the group. This means they go through the whole “establishing a pecking order” again. And let me tell you, establishing a pecking order isn’t a gentle process, hence the word “pecking” in it’s name. Her wounded bottom has scabbed over nicely and I don’t think it would break open again but I wanted to avoid finding out for sure so I was looking for an easier way to get her back with the others.
The “trick the chickens” idea means you bring the chicken into the coop once it is dark. All the other chickens are asleep and won’t notice. You place the chicken on the roost and it too will go to sleep. When everyone wakes up, the “old” chickens will look at the “new” chicken and say to themselves “Huh, must not have noticed her before. But since she was here when we woke up, she must have always been here. Good to see you again old friend!” And chicken life will go on as usual, not real hen-fights required.
Ah, the simplicity of theories. Now here’s the reality of our clandestine mission. (Oh and please excuse the lack of photos. We were trying to blend into the darkness and thought the camera flash might give us away.)
We stumbled our way to the coop just fine. Then we noticed the red glow coming out of the windows. The heat lamps! We’d forgotten about them. So we peeked through the windows and the darn lamps lit up the entire room. Now, it wasn’t daylight but if you imagine a soft red glow giving everything a weird, eerie kind of feel, well, you’d be about right.
Our heritage breed chicks in their heated brooders(This is an old photo from when the chicks a few days old and lived in their brooder but it shows the creepy red glow…)
And the chickens weren’t asleep (thanks to the lamps). Most were all nestled down into the wood shavings or lounging up on the roost. A few were eating and drinking or just cruising around, probably saying their good nights. But not a single chick was actually asleep.
So we had a choice: wait until later (it was 9:00pm) or take her in with the chickens calm but not sleeping. Since it was almost my bed time, I picked option B.
We carefully opened the door. Chickens turned their heads to look at us but no one got up or ran around like they usually do. Josh carefully, slowly, gently placed the wounded chick on the roost and moved back.
And the chicken stood up, started flapping her wings and screeching and then jumped off the roost right into the middle of the chickens laying on the floor. After that, it was on. So much for “sleeping chicken” idea.
The wounded chick decided to be proactive in securing her position in the group and went around to almost all of the 27 other chickens and pecked them. (Of course, this could also have been retaliation for them almost pecking her little tail off. I mean, I wouldn’t exactly blame her if it was.) Some of the chickens didn’t take too kindly to the pecking and fought back.
You know all those horrible images of roosters fighting? Well, it wasn’t that bad but that’s about what it looks like. Both chicks puff themselves up, strain their necks as high as possible, make these screeching sounds and peck the heck out of each other until someone says mercy and the victor is crowned. Our wounded chick took on seven or eight other chickens this way, each time winning, then stood in the middle of the coop in the red glow of the heat lamps with this “Yeah, bring it on! I’m on a roll!” kind of attitude. I swear there was actually a ring of chickens around her, probably waiting to see who the next loser would be. When no one else challenged her, she walked around, pecking a few more chicks but got no response. So then she strutted to the waterer and helped herself to a victory drink (I imagined her tossing back a shot of whiskey), looking around the whole time just daring someone else to take her on. But no one did.
A wounded chicken resting in an old brooder box(The Winner! “Hey, you want a piece of me?!?!”)
Once the drama died down, Josh and I decided all was right in the world of chickens and headed back inside. When I checked on them this morning, everyone looked fine although they all seem to be a little rambunctious and unsettled. Oh well, now we know that this scheme doesn’t work very well with heat lamps keeping the chickens awake. I’m sure at some point in our chicken-keeping lives we’ll try it again but leave the lamps off.
We live and learn…