Chickens and the Natural Order

We’ve been raising chickens since last spring. My husband is trying to breed specialty breeds to sell in Swap Meets, and I’m a bit worried that this is never going to pay off. Why? Two factors:  1. “I need this chicken so I can make that chick, but we need another coop to keep them exclusively a breeding pair” and 2. Chick mortality.

In addition to the chickens, we have some peafowl (also lovingly referred to as “Pip-Squawks” and “Velociraptors”) and five ducklings. Most of our birds were adopted as babies, though we did pick up some adult birds here and there. We name our birds, pet our birds, and they are all convinced they are really parrots.

Chicks need to be kept warm until their full feathers come in, so we’ve kept them first in brooding bins, then in an unfinished part of what was once the garage until they are old enough to be moved outside to one of the coops. 

Our biggest coop was dubbed “Gen-Pop,” and we have a Polish coop (Auschwitz?) that also holds some chickens that couldn’t get along in Gen-Pop, and a Serama coop that holds nothing but cute little seramas. Prince should, by rights, be in that coop, but he fights with the other tiny Roos, so he’s in Gen-Pop, because he has friends there and has learned NOT to tangle with the bigger Roos.

Walking into the back aviary room one evening, I had to call Adam to see what had happened. The chickens and ducklings were “properly sorted.” The five ducklings were all lined up, the white Leghorns were clustered together, Cochins were in groups of like-colored Cochins, Mottled Java chicks were in another area, and our two adult Buff/Red silkies sat somewhere in the middle of the room. None of this was orchestrated by human intervention. It was done by the birds themselves.

It occurred to me that chickens share some of the personality flaws of human beings.

  • Chickens can be racist. They tend to pick on chickens that look different, whether that difference is color or size.
  • Chickens tend to starve out the weak when the going gets tough. Hey – why waste resources on a bird that is less likely to survive anyway? 
  • There is a pecking order that favors the strongest, but weaklings can survive and even thrive by making nice with stronger chickens.

Chickens also share some of our better qualities.

  • Chickens are inquisitive. They like to investigate things.
  • Chickens show genuine affection to other chickens and even other animals. Our chickens have befriended the duck, pig, the dog (somewhat) and the bunnies. They can’t be friends with the peafowl, because the peafowl tried to eat a couple of young silkies (and killed one) when they managed to get to the wrong side of a divide. They also can’t be friends with the button quail, because they believe button quail are food. We’ve seen chickens appear to mourn the deaths of other chickens.
  • They have a language system that sounds complicated. We’ve learned what some of the sounds mean. They also sing Babaloo. And each rooster has a distinctive crow.

Two of our funny looking Roos were adopted from the county shelter. The man who caught them and boxed them for us thought they were mean. When we got them home and held them, they became big snuggle-birds. Well, at least one of them did, the other tolerates us, but tends to evade being touched very often.

I suppose things like forming cliques and pecking orders are a natural means of survival and order. But we can all look beyond our fear-driven ways and cohabitate peacefully when we try.


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