One of the great things about having chickens is getting to watch their personalities develop. Well, not with Boss Chicken. She was running the show from day 1. Others take a little bit longer to come out of their shells, so to speak. When I entered the World of Chickens, I really knew very little about birds. My parents had had a couple of Cockatiels, but it was after I had gone off to college, so my exposure to them was pretty limited. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that chickens can have as much personality as a dog or a cat. Sometimes even more than some people I’ve worked with. They can grow and change, too. A shy chicken can become a bold one, and a mean one can become a nice one.
Boss Chicken is really the case study of this for me. We got her at a week old, and she was already terrorizing the other chicks. If they were on one side of the box, she would rush over there to be in the middle. If I put treats in, she’d knock the others out of the way to get the treats first. We really worried she might be a rooster, given how pushy she was. She also often escaped from the box, leading my wife to ask me the now famous (to us anyway) question, “Were all the chickens in the box when you got home? Because one was out when I left. AND I THINK YOU KNOW WHICH ONE IT WAS.” When Boss Chicken got bigger and the chickens all moved outside, she was even known to charge my son with a rooster-like malevolence. Then, she had whatever it was that triggered her legs to go all wobbly, and she became the sweetest chicken ever, who loves to sit on laps, or if no laps are available, on a foot.
Henny Penny was the opposite. She got her name because she was just constantly flipping out when she was young. Everything seemed to freak her out, and so I ended up giving her a name I felt was kind of an obvious name for a chicken, but it fit so well. However, with Boss Chicken unable to rule, and the untimely demise of Suzy Creamcheese, Henny Penny stepped up and has become the alpha chicken. It’s been really interesting to see her have to take a leadership position. I did not see this coming.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as the n00bs grow up and find their places in the flock. At first, they tried to hide from the grown-ups as much as they could. If a grown-up was on one end of the run, they’d all run to the other. It got hilarious when the grown-ups were spread out, and the n00bs had to just keep moving to try to avoid running afoul of the upperclassmen. If I let them out into the yard, they would split off from the others, and I would watch them try to sort out their own sub-pecking order. Obviously they were all beneath the adults, but who was lowest? They’d bump chests and chase each other around, and I think they’re still trying to work it all out.
Lately, though, one of them is getting over her fear of her elders. I started giving the chickens scratch once it started getting cold, but had to spread it all over the run because the little ones were too afraid to eat it next to the big ones. I’d make one pile at one end, and another far away from the first, sort of the kids’ table of the coop. The taste of sweet, sweet scratch has helped one of the n00bs find her courage. In the past week or so, when I’ve opened the coop door in the morning, who has been at the front of the line to get out? Suzy Creamcheese Junior. Who eats at the Big Chicken Scratch Pile? Suzy Creamcheese Junior. Who seemed least likely to be the tough one of the bunch? Suzy Creamcheese Junior. I’m not sure she really stands up for herself beyond scratch time, but I suppose this is a good start. Her forebear, Suzy Creamcheese, assumed power after the decline of Boss Chicken, so maybe she’s trying to live up to her name. This assumes that the chickens talk coop history at night before bed. Whatever the reason, I get a huge kick out of seeing this cute little chicken bust out the door before I’ve even gotten it all the way open. I need to start my day with something good, and this will do nicely.
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Improvisation: Fast Blues In A by The Rev. Gary Davis)