Pecking order

Observing chickens provides an interesting perspective. When Ethel died, we wondered if Lucy would miss her. But after two-and-half years caring for chickens, we should have known better. Cherisse and I have mourned each chicken we have lost, but they simply reshuffle—and accept—their pecking order.

We assume Ethel was at the top of the order because of her pristine feathers (pecking order is literal…chickens peck at those lower down the hierarchy). Ethel must also have offered Lucy a measure of protection because now she’s losing more feathers. The most dramatic change in the flock’s dynamics, however, is in our bareback chicken. Originally at the bottom of the order, she had no feathers on her back at all, and few on her neck and wings. We now suspect she rose to the top after Ethel’s demise. All her feathers have grown in, and her personality changed. Before, she rarely hung out with the other chickens, preferring to stay close to the coop—and she was always the first inside at nightfall. Now we see her everywhere, she comes right up to us, and she’s often among the stragglers returning in the evening.

In her place one of the babies has been plucked mercilessly…because a pecking order always has a loser. Such is life in the chicken coop.

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