The Pecking Order

Oct 11, 2012 | 2 comments

Yesterday I decided to spend some time with the girls so, in the middle of the afternoon, I shrugged on a jacket, grabbed the can of scratch and hied myself to the chicken coop.  Nyel still has a bit of finishing up to do on his gate-and-fence project before the garden is secure enough for  free-ranging but, if the girls get tired of being cooped up, so to speak, they haven’t mentioned it.  Still, I miss seeing them.

Whether the feeling is mutual or not, I don’t know. They clustered near the gate as I went  into the run,  but I think they were just happy to hear the scratch rattling around in the can.  There is one of those old throw-away pie pans near their water trough and I dumped some of the scratch in that before upending a white bucket and settling down for a visit.

Immediately three of the girls began peck-peck-pecking at the scratch.  They looked and sounded exactly like one of those old-fashioned wooden folk toys called “The Pecking Chickens.”  It took me right back to my teaching days at Ocean Park School when a family group out of Oregon put on a “Pioneer Living Experience” in the gym.  Each class had a half hour or so of hands-on experiences – churning butter, “shaving” with a straight edged razor (holder only, no blade), panning for gold and playing with old-fashioned toys and low-tech games. We all loved it.

Meanwhile, back at the coop… the fourth hen, one of the Ameracaunas stayed respectfully out of the pecking circle and waited until bits of scratch flew out of the pan onto the dirt nearby.  She was careful to stand back from the others and would quickly thrust her beak toward the scattered morsels when they were busy.  Even so, one of the Wyandottes seemed to monitor her every move and often pecked at her threateningly, occasionally connecting with a ‘good one.’

I tried scattering some scratch elsewhere, well away from the peck-peck-peck activity.  The Ameracauna, however, didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.  In fact, she seemed to wait until all the others had checked out the new offering before she ventured over there, timidly looking for the leavings again.  Even her stance was subservient.  She held herself lower to the ground, neck and head down, no eye contact with the others.  Talk about victim mentality!

Again, I thought of school children and the play yard and of bullies and their victims.  I tried to determine what, besides her attitude, was different about this cowering Ameracauna.  She looks identical to her sister Ameracauna – perhaps just a tad thinner but, after all, she’s only getting the leavings.

In my best teacher/counselor mode, I talked to her about strategies she might try to protect herself and, even though she seemed to listen, I doubt if she really heard me.  Perhaps being last in the pecking order is an inherited trait.  Or will the order change if we add more girls to our flock?

All in all, it was an interesting visit with the girls, though not very uplifting. The hard realities of life seldom are


  1. Nancy

    Sydney: Because my daughter is on vacation, and not posting to her blog, The Coop Chronicles, I enjoyed, more than usual ,reading about your visit to the hen house. Sarah often writes about the personalities of her girls and some of her observations and comments are similar to yours. Your final sentences are statements I will carry with me today: “All in all, it was an interesting visit with the girls, though not very uplifting. The hard realities of life seldom are.

  2. Kathleen Shaw

    I had a friend who had three dogs: a St Bernard, a yellow Lab, and a basset hound. The lab was a former (read: failed training) guide dog named Rosie. The three dogs used to stand together in a formation that had the St Bernard drooling on Rosie’s head and the basset drooling on Rosie’s front feet, and instead of moving Rosie would just stand there, looking up pitifully at the humans with big brown eyes. Obviously she was the lowest in the pecking order. Do you think failing guide dog training damaged her self esteem? 🙂


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