What to do about a bully

Bunny.pngBunny

Bunny arrived with a reputation as a bully.

That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has had chickens. Even the mildest hens sometimes remind us of Velociraptors, or middle school girls. And that bad rep wasn’t exactly her fault; she was the last survivor of her original flock and she probably just felt it was her job to put the new girls in their rightful, cowering place. But Bunny’s owners were tired of the disharmony, the endless pecking, the ruffled feathers and the terrified young pullets. One way or another, Bunny’s days in her original home were numbered.

Bunny might have been on her way to the stewpot, that ultimate destination for wayward chickens, but fortunately she made a stop at CLUCK the Chicken Store. We figured it would be worth a try to re-home this Ameraucana hen, providing we could discourage her tyrannical behavior. Once we saw her dazzling blue eggs and her gorgeous gold and black feathers we hoped we could figure out a way to integrate her into our own store flock. She is an undeniable beauty.

If you’ve ever introduced a new hen to your flock, you know it has to be done carefully. The results of an abrupt introduction can, literally, be deadly. With Bunny’s rep for aggressiveness, we figured the best course would be to match her with our toughest hen, a similar size black and white Ameraucana named Mini (named for her hometown of Minneapolis). Mini was scheduled to move to the store for the summer anyway.

We started out just keeping Bunny in a large cat carrier inside the chicken coop, complete with low roost, food and water. Once she was familiar with the environment, we added Mini to the coop’s run area, where both hens could see each other but with a protective grill between them.

Day three of the getting-to-know-you phase was the girls’ day of reckoning. We opened the coop so the two hens would have plenty of space to air out their differences, and let Bunny out of the cat carrier. That’s when the feathers started to fly.

Bunny marched out with the strut of a prize-fighter. She leaped at Mini and thumped her. Stunned with the interloper’s audacity, Mini glared, shook her head and went on the attack. Three quick blows and Bunny retreated. That might have been lesson enough for some chickens, but not for Bunny. She charged again. Whack, Whack, Whack! Now Mini was really annoyed, and this time she looked like she took Bunny seriously. She didn’t appear to be using deadly force but she was systematic in her attack and when Bunny scurried away, Mini shook herself proudly. But Bunny wasn’t quite done.

Bunny thought things over for a while as Mini munched a little grass and pecked at a bit of scratch grain. With Mini’s back turned, Bunny launched a last great assault. But this time Mini’s counter-attack drove Bunny into a corner of the chicken yard, and this time Mini didn’t quit. She kept up her whacking and pecking until Bunny scrambled up and ran for her life. Satisfied, Mini walked away, dusted off her wings and hopped up on the roost to survey the situation.

There were mussed-up feathers, it’s true, but there wasn’t any other discernible damage. Best of all, there were no more challenges from Bunny, and Mini appeared content with having a companion who recognized her role as boss lady. Chickens may be bird-brains, but they’re downright clever about things like pecking order. That night the two hens cozied up to each other on the roost like the best of friends.

After another day or two it was time to take the next step and introduce two more hens, Mini’s “sister” Paula (a white Ameraucana named for her hometown, St. Paul), and Grace, a gentle, friendly Lavender Orpington. Would Bunny try to bully them? We put them out together with a lot of room to run and stood ready to intervene if things went badly, but fortunately, Bunny had learned a powerful lesson from Mini. She was no longer a bully. All four hens now get along beautifully, with only mild, infrequent squabbles over a special treat, like mealworms or the occasional handful of shredded cheese.

Everyone came out a winner. Bunny has a new, happy lease on life. Our friends Tim and Candy now have peace in their coop. We acquired a beautiful and productive addition to our flock. And all the chickens are getting along just fine.

We can’t say that we would have had the same result with a different chicken. All chickens are individuals. But some of the principles could work for anyone. Acclimate your new hen carefully. Introduce her slowly to a companion who matches her personality and aggressiveness. When you put them together, give them plenty of room to run. And hope for the best.

You can visit Bunny, Mini, Paula and Grace at CLUCK the Chicken Store.