Yesterday Wilma was kept in the coop and the three little hens in the henhouse. Having established her place at the top of the pecking order, Maude is no longer so occupied with keeping the others in line and has made firm friends with Mabel, while Goldie has been keeping her distance on her perch. Today, all three were allowed out into the larger coop while I took Wilma off into the bush, and when I brought Wilma back in Goldie and Mabel were digging about in one corner, while Maude came hurrying up to see what Wilma and I had to offer – a small pile of leaf litter as it happens, full of tiny bugs. Wilma seems to tolerate having small hens in the coop but when Maude and Mabel tried having a dustbath she felt this was just a little too presumptuous, and chased them back into the henhouse, where she let them dustbathe in peace. Goldie is still wary of Maude, and will only come down off her perch for something to eat and drink when Maude is out of the henhouse, so it is just as well Wilma allows Maude out so long as she doesn’t think she can just bathe wherever she wants. By the end of the afternoon Maude had tired herself out in any case, and flopped herself down beside Mabel on the ground.
Maude this morning was aggressive enough towards the other hens I worried they might be stressed, so I took her out of the henhouse and released her into the larger coop. Wilma took a couple of pecks at her when she ventured too close, but would probably have been fine if left alone with her, but Wilma and I had our own plans so we left Maude in the coop while we went spider hunting. Eventually I tired of spider hunting but had turned over an interesting patch of composting weeds that Wilma didn’t want to leave, so I went back to the coop without her and spent some time getting Maude used to being handled. She would prefer I didn’t and peeps indignantly when I pick her up but is no trouble to catch and settles down easily enough in my arms. The other two are far too flighty to catch. Later on Wilma returns to the coop and after a couple of pecks, the third time Wilma goes for her Maude fluffs out her chest feathers, stands on tiptoes, flaps her wings and stares Wilma down. It is an almighty display of confidence from a ball of fluff about a third Wilma’s size. Mabel and Goldie get on very nicely together when they are alone in the henhouse, showing no particular interest in asserting any kind of pecking order between the two of them. When I return Maude to the henhouse, Goldie wisely retreats to the perch. She is the only one of the three I have seen on the perch, and looks very relaxed on it, almost falling asleep.
As a solitary hen for some weeks, Wilma has been wandering around forlorn and at a loss, eventually making a pet out of a blackbird. She had been the least tame of our hens but without a flock of hens to follow she has begun following me around the garden, calling me when I go inside, standing wistfully on the deck and walking inside if the door is left open. So this morning I brought home three young hens, about fourteen weeks old, Maude, a lavender Orpington, Mabel, a Light Sussex, and Goldie, a gold-laced Wyandotte, and put them in the small hen-house inside the larger coop, where Wilma can talk to them through the wire. So far, Wilma has shown no interest in them at all, preferring to follow me back out of the coop. I took her into the bush and turned over some logs, under which we found several spiders and a worm the size of a small snake. Maude is asserting herself as the dominant hen of the three little ones, issuing completely random reprimands to the other two. It will be interesting to see what happens when she and Wilma are released into each other’s company along with the others.