I don’t know who came up with the idea that to be a ‘chicken’ is to be easily frightened. Most animals will get out of the way of perceived danger. That’s not being scary, but using common sense. Chickens are prey of many things so it’s natural for them to make themselves scarce when bigger animals are nearby. Contrast that with the dodo bird who had no predators, and thus had no fear of people when the Europeans first landed on Maurtania. They didn’t last too long.
What I mean to say is chickens aren’t ‘chicken.’ They’re survivors.
They’re also vicious.
The pecking order is no joke, and I do believe some of it is based on race or breed, or perhaps which breed is in the majority. Turns out that the our 15 New Hampshire Reds, are at the top of the social order. Next, come our two white Leghorns, and bottom on the rung is “Bantam Babe,” our one and only Easter Egg Bantam. Apparently, she got mixed up with the other white chicks and no one noticed. As she grew, we noticed she had green legs and did not have the head cone. Instead, she grew a feather beard. Strangest of all, Bantam Babe lays green eggs, proving that Dr. Seuss’s famous book was not pure fantasy!
Being at the bottom of the pecking order, Bantam Babe is not allowed to eat until the others let her. If she has something they want, they make her drop it. She has learned to get along by keeping her distance, and waiting her turn. She is the loner who will, instead of hustling in the mob for food, will circle hoping that we have extra food we can give her without the others noticing. When we do, she takes it and runs to a corner of the yard. Usually, one of the reds will see her and run to snatch it from her. She will not attempt to get it back. By the same token, some of the reds have been put in their places. Some have missing feathers, feathers that have been pulled and hang awkwardly as well as broken cones that flap with no support. They did this to each other (Chicken on chicken crime?)
Big Red is queen. We’re not sure if Big Red is one specific hen or the latest winner in daily, weekly, or monthly battles to establish who will be in charge. However, it seems to me there is only one Big Red. She is not the biggest, but she is the loudest. She is the one who meets us at the gate and escorts us back out.
In the mornings, Big Red is the first one out of the coop, the others trailing behind her. During fajr, she is the one who comes to the window and peeks in. She is the one who has the loudest ‘CAW’ (she alerts the others to the hawks that visit on occasion).
When the hens first moved into the yard, they held community meetings. One chicken would caw and cluck the loudest, another one or two responding in kind; call and response. Their talk sounded both argumentative and cooperative. They were LOUD. This went on every day at 9:00am, lasting sometimes an hour. If we went back there, or yelled “what are you doing?” through the window, they’d get quiet. It was if they forgot we weren’t supposed to hear. Maybe they were conducting prayer sessions as my husband said—after all, we know Allah says all animals pray. My son figured they were planning either an escape or an attack.
It turns out they were planning escape.
The next day, Big Red and three others were outside the fence. They had used what little flying power they had and jumped/flew over it. Muhammad threw them back into the yard, only for 5 to jump right back out when he went into the house.
It was the beginning of a month long contest..
Within days, all the reds and one of the Leghorns jumped the fence at will. At first, they stayed near the house rooting for bugs. Then we caught Big Red, walking down the driveway.
Muhammad hammered thin pieces of wood to increase the height of the wooden part of the fence they would jump up onto.
This worked for a day.
Another chicken meeting ensued and we found them on the other side of yard the next day. They had wriggled their way through a space they discovered between the gate and the fence.
Muhammad placed two bricks to block the space.
The following day, they dug a hole under the fence and resumed their foraging on the other side.
So, Muhammad filled in the holes and put more bricks around the fence where they dug.
Two days later, they were again outside the fence but we couldn’t figure out how.
Our neighbor said she watched one of the reds (probably Big Red), take a running jump onto the trashcan and jump on the thinnest, wire portion of the fence, found her balance before pushing off and over. Soon, the others followed her lead.
Ebraheem taught Muhammad how to clip their wings, which kept them inside until they grew back. At which point, it all started again.
It was time to compromise.
Now, every two weeks, Muhammad opens the gate so they can forage near the house. Most times, they return on their own, especially if it’s in the evening when they stay close to home. Chickens are sun timed, rising and sleeping with fajr and maghrib.
When the chickens get out on their own (mostly Big Red and maybe 2 others), we leave them alone. They no longer venture past our yard. Me thinks the hawk visits and possum sitings have clarified just how vulnerable they are. Or as Muhammad says, they’re just dumb. I don’t think so.