Our one rooster and several hens comprise various breeds – Americauna, Partridge Rock, Barred Plymouth Rock, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Blue Laced Wyandotte, Jersey Black Giant, and Minorca. There are at least two of each breed except for the Minorca. We ordered the baby chicks from McMurry Hatchery, and when we picked them all up from the Post Office, found that they had all made it safely except for one of the Minorcas. Only one little Minorca hen survived. You wouldn’t think that would be much of a problem since she was surrounded by other chicks. You wouldn’t think so unless you know some chickens personally. I’m really no expert myself but over time have come to realize why so many sayings come from the henhouse or chicken yard. Expressions like “pecking order”, “hen pecked”, “cock of the walk”, “ruling the roost”, etc. Our rooster, a large Blue Laced Wyandotte, has “ruling the roost” down to a fine art, crowing loudly throughout the day, making sure the sun comes up and everyone knows he’s in charge.
As the weeks went by, all the chicks matured and graduated from the brooder in the garage to the small chicken run in the yard, then to the larger chicken house and finally the large fenced-in enclosure where they could eat grass and catch bugs and moths to their heart’s content. Except some of the hens were not content unless they were making life miserable for the little Minorca! We began noticing that the other hens, led by the Rooster, were taking turns pecking at the neck and comb of the Minorca, soon making both painful, bloody spectacles. The other hens were not pecking each other – not to any great extent at least – only the little black Minorca. Now it is well known that chickens will peck at one another to establish a hierarchy of status and privilege – a “pecking order” – reminiscent of first graders in the school yard. But it seemed that this little hen was receiving way more than her share of attention. If one peck is too hard and blood becomes visible, pecking can spiral out of control very quickly since they are naturally attracted to and peck at anything red, quickly enlarging a small wound into something various serious, even to the point of death if the henpecked chicken is not separated from the flock.
In the beginning, all the hens got along well, mostly flocking together, trying to avoid the rooster and his frequent and often brutal amorous advances. Over time though, the hens began to establish their natural pecking order of the strongest and bossiest hens down to the most different or timid ones, and the little Minorca landed right at the bottom rung of the pecking ladder. She was the only Minorca in the group, and was the only one not only of her breed, but also of such a dark black color. She was a hen just like the others, yet different from the others, pure and simple. And so the isolation and persecution began.
In the mornings when the chickens would be let out of their coop and into their enclosure to run, eat, and take dust baths, the little Minorca would be the last to exit the coop, slowly stepping out of the doorway, only to be pounced upon by some of the other hens, pecking her neck and running her back into the coop. There was food and water in there, but the hens would peck at her mercilessly even inside the coop. So not only could she not enjoy the open space and bright sunshine and fresh air the others, but she was being denied access to food and water. When she first became a laying hen, she was laying one little white egg on average every day or so. In fact, she was the only white-egg-layer in the flock, all the others laying either brown, blue or greenish eggs. In a short time, however, she began laying fewer and fewer little white eggs, laying only the rare small one every few days.
Wes had naturally become aware of her desperate plight and decided he needed to isolate her from the rest of the flock, for her own good. He put her into the smaller enclosed chicken run where she had started as a small pullet. This safe haven had its own door, a covered nest box, plenty of fresh hay, and food and water just for her. Her neck began to slowly heal. She was getting healthier. She was no longer pecked and persecuted. She began presenting us with an egg a little more frequently, but still was not laying as often as her breed would ordinarily. She was still alone and isolated.
The day came, after a few weeks in exile, that her neck was healed enough that Wes thought he could release her back into the larger coop and yard. He hesitated, mainly because he didn’t want her to be henpecked again, but since she was now healthy – and larger, we agreed that she deserved the chance to try to enter the flock again, now that the bloody red wound was not there to be a neon target for the other hens. With the door opened wide for her, she gingerly stepped back into the wide open expanse of the large enclosure. This time, as she began eating her way across the back yard, the other hens only rushed at her curiously, but didn’t attempt to peck her. She began laying regularly again – with more frequency than any of the other hens – and the small white eggs soon became grade A, Extra Large white eggs with nutritious bright orange yolks! I smile now very time I place a white egg into the carton.
I wish I could say that the little black Minorca said “I think I can, I think I can” a la "The Little Engine That Could" and lived happily ever after. But I can’t. After feeding the chickens one morning this past week, Wes reported that one other hen – an Americauna – began to peck at our little black Minorca. He reflexively kicked the offending hen out of the way, scolding her firmly. The only thing injured being her pride, the Americauna set into loud, angry cackling, waddling and stomping up the hill. For our little Minorca, Wes the Food-Feeder is now also Wes the Protector.
Now, although she is still the last one to leave the coop every morning, the little Minorca comes to greet Wes as he throws out scratch and feeds the two retired bunnies also waiting patiently for their food. And she settles into eating her breakfast, knowing that, although her world will always have hen-peckers, her Feeder-Protector will be watching out for her.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? ... So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." (Matt. 6:25-27; 31-34, NIV)
Just ask the chickens!