Despite nearly 4 1/2 years in Louisville, I’m still getting used to the climate differences from my home state of Michigan. The warmer, shorter winters are great, but the summers are far too long (for me), way too hot, and there’s nary a thunderstorm in sight late summer when everything turns brown and dies long before the temperatures turn cold enough for autumn to do its own job. So, choosing the right chicken breeds was not easy.
Last July, when I ordered my chickens each for their laying ability, I attempted to find breeds to fit Kentucky’s unpredictable cold snaps and heat waves. After declaring my choices, my husband decided he wanted to choose one, too, and thought my choices were rather … boring.
Hubby wanted a “crazy chicken.”
Going back and forth between available breeds, I succumbed to his calling to make a Buff Laced Polish his little backyard buddy – a girl who will lay small eggs if she lays at all, and runs around erratically because she can barely see.
Sadly, the Buff Laced Polish draws the genetic short straw with every hatch.
As a day-old chick, Sookie was a born alpha. She was the tallest chick (in part because of her rad chick ‘fro), and the bossiest little thing I’d ever seen. She pushed the other chicks around, and her body type differed so much for a while that we thought she might be a rooster.
Three months later, poor Sookie is the runt. Her body is thin compared to the other girls. Her “hair” is so big and pouffy, not only is she mostly blind, but she easily loses her friends when out to free range, leaving her in a honking panic.
Mabel, the Red Star and our flock’s head hen, often comes to Sookie’s aid, running to her and gathering her. But, the other hens don’t seem to give Sookie a second thought.
Except, someone’s been pecking at Sookie. We found her missing some head feathers, and all four of her foot webs were bloody. So, I brought her inside, and cleaned her up with peroxide and Neosporin. She spent about 3 1/2 days back in her chick brooder.
In just one day, her feet were completely healed, and I suspect the cold rather than pecking for the problems with her feet. As it turns out, we’d neglected to double check that the Buff Laced Polish is cold-hardy. Unfortunately, it is not, so we will need to be extra vigilant to protect her from cold snaps.
But, her vacation in the brooder kept her extra warm for a few days, giving her some time to rest and heal. Her scalp is missing feathers in an area roughly the size of a nickel.
(Note Sookie’s missing toe in the photo. She came to us this way, from the hatchery of hard knocks.)
Mabel, who happens to be the friendliest and most social, was actually the first suspected offender, simply because she’s also the most aggressive. But, any one of them could have done the pecking. Our theory? As Sookie’s feathers sway with her every twitch, the other girls may go after the moving feathers like it’s a game; however, since they’re missing from one place, we think it’s happening at the feeder where Sookie is forced to eat sideways.
We check Sookie closely every couple days, and so far, she’s only improving. The pecked-out feathers are slow to come back, but they’re on their way. If pecking resumes, she may need a new home. My hope is that as time goes on, and the hens solidify their pecking order (preferably without pecking), Mabel will continue to take Sookie under her proverbial wing.
If you’re considering backyard chickens, do know that the breeds you choose are important, as are the combinations of breeds. But, who’s to say that we could have prevented all of this by choosing one different breed, or by fate, being sent the sister hatching to the left? Regardless of the breeds, or the personalities you end up with in your flock, there’s going to be a pecking order, and one of them will be at the bottom. The establishment of that order may be more fierce that you’d expect. After all, chickens are animals, and survival of the self – and of the fittest – is always priority one.
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Photos: Rachel Hurd Anger