They say, that Experience is your best teacher. I was never sure who “They” were but, they sure must have been really smart individuals, being as THEY knew so much. I wonder if they knew you have to be a chicken to have chickens? I did not!
When we first got our birds a few years ago, I was so bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and didn’t know anything. Little by little I learned, but it did take time and thankfully we didn’t lose any birds in that process. Well, not many…
This brings me to odd chicken behavior, and learning about the Alpha Hens. The term “Old Hen” usually isn’t used in a complimentary way, and used to describe some mean acting, old woman, who seems to have it in for others in her area. That’s the Alpha Hen mentality.
Alpha hens keep the flock in order, more or less. Their Dominate behavior assures them the boss role in the in the flock; Which, isn’t always a bad thing. We all need a leader. Some chickens, while none are really stupid, (except Chris, my stupid Orpington) do behave in such a way that you know they aren’t firing on all cylinders. Sort of like they got baked in the heat lamp… (fried Yep, that’s Chris).
I’m a hands on person with all of my animals. If they are low, then I go down to their level when I am interacting with them. Of course, they are touched and cuddled and schmooze’d over as much as I can muster. Eventually, I win over most of the hens. Well, all except the Alphas. They glare at you with their eye-balls in total disdain, dance around fluff-dancing and looking generally pouty and almost menacing (If it weren’t so darned funny looking). You know that look of hate… (I’m not sure it’s much different with People).
This ambivalent behavior had to stop. How I go about this is a tad lengthy but bear with me. It’s sort of funny, if you work with the visuals I’m going to send you.
Maw- Velociraptor – Shrugs
Those are the three birds which seem to keep control and organize the flock. None of those chickens are the “touchy Feely” types. If you bug them they peck you; bow up at you, or down right chase you. Well, not me, but others… With kids around, this behavior wasn’t acceptable.
I learned early on that chickens have what I call a “tick”. This tick reaction is to hunker down when they are suddenly approached by a Dom-Hen or Rooster who is getting ready to mount them for a ride. Hens do that as much as a rooster, but it’s not for procreation, as is the rooster. When a hen does it, it is stating who is boss. It’s also a big show for all to see, clarifying the hen-dominance game. Sort of like a dog humps another dog of the same gender. It’s their way of saying, ‘I’m Bigger Meaner, and I’m Boss’!
Along with the hunker-tick I learned, I also learned other body postures which defined the visual threat to other chickens. The shoulders bowed up around the neck, coupled with a deep stare at the perpetrator, which was surly followed by an all out fight. I learned how to do that one too.
After I learned a few more ways chickens use dominance stances and behaviors, I figured it was time to assume the ALPHA HEN role.
Maw didn’t see me come up behind her as she was getting ready to peck the mess out of another submissive hen. I stomped the ground behind her and she hunkered down suddenly. I took that time to push (firmly but not hard) on her back and do the Hen Mount. When I was sure she was in submission, I let her up. This messed with her head so badly she didn’t mess with anyone else that day. She saw me coming and moved right over, instead of giving me the EYE.
I have an area called The Outback. It is the place where hens go who are ill-behaved or just not acting right.
Maw started to chase and peck at one of my Ameraucana hens, and this mess kept up all day. Finally, I’d had enough of her mean-spirited Dom-Hen behavior, and went to the chicken yard (I can see the whole chicken yard from my living room).
When I got there I went right to Maw who instantly knew her ass was grass. She ran. I ran. she lost. Grabbing her hump of a tail nub to stop her, I put her in The Outback.
The Outback is punishment enough really. Those chickens get fed last. They don’t get the best of the goodies, get to interact with me, or other hens, and they don’t have as nice of a coop. To make it all much worse, when the other girls get to go play in the yard, and chase bugs, they are stuck in, Chicken Prison.
You’d think this is the end of the Dom-Hen activity huh? Nope… I wish! With Maw locked up and out-of-the-way, Velociraptor and Shrugs took over the chicken yard.
Velociaptor is a Black Sex-Links hen, with a perpetually mean glare and long nails. Shrugs, is a Barred Rock Hen who looks like she’s a thug on a street corner with her neck all shrunken between two hunched shoulders, just aching for a fight. Which is why I call her “Shrugs”. Maw may have had some redeemable quality, but these two are both bitches (Sorry, but it’s true).
In two days they were both in the Outback with Maw.
After their removal the flock seemed to adjust and stop being so nervous and worried acting. No more fights broke out.
Every time I went to feed the Outback girls, I’d pause just long enough to remind them, I’m Lord and Master. They were not allowed to crowd me when I was feeding, and I took a rake to keep them back while I fed. Just seeing the rake reminded them, I’d use it. Then I stood there, not letting them come any closer. When they backed down, I took my rake and left. Every so often I’d snatch a hen up and just stick her under my armpit. Carry her around while the others stared in disbelief and backed away. I’d kill time just keeping her there, being submissive. It worked wonders! After a week or so of that crap, they figured it was better to hunker down and take a mount than to be stuck under an armpit. Most of them hunkered down when I’d walk too close. The Outback is a pretty nice size enclosure. They could run, but they are too stubborn. They eventually learn to keep away from my feet and keep clear when I feed. They know I won’t hurt them but the degrading mount & carry is just more than they can deal with so they submit to my Alpha Hen Status. I am QUEEN!
So, with my Alpha Hen Queen Status established, I let them out. This took about a month.
They are so much more at peace with the others. They still hunker down when they sense I am suddenly too near to them, but when they do that now, I just bend down and pick them up gently and pet them and talk to them. Then I put them down and walk away.
This method will help the dominant chickens to see themselves as equals to the other hen, and me as their Boss (LOL QUEEN!).
yes, you ARE queen!
LOL… 🙂 And you are Owl Queen!
When you start your chicken college you can offer a PhD in Cluckery!!!!
Alpha Cluck? LOL Thank you…
Lol. Oh lord mom. Ive seen you do this more han once. XD
LOL Yep! Its a bit weird that I feel like I can strut around in the chicken yard now and know they know… I am ALPHA!! (hear me roar)…
Thank you, I’m new w my backyard chickens, I got to show her I’M QUEEN! I JUST THOUGHT SHE WAS A MEAN CHICKEN! !
Some hens are mean… 🙂 However, keep at it. When she figures out you are the main figure in her life, she’ll relax. You supply food and water. You are her life. Also, if you are new to this world of hens, then she’s new to you. In the chicken world, there are so many dynamics when they are in a group. They have to fight for themselves to get food from the others, fight for a nest, wait turns at the water, (and don’t forget it, or you’ll get a good pecking from other hens). They have to be careful whom they eat near, or end up in a fight. Hens are not tolerant of much within the hierarchy. Other hens have a lot to learn. Then there’s YOU. LOL They have to know you and what you are doing. Once they get use to you, they change. Mine use to run like crazy away from me (at first). Now, I have to shove them out of my way with my toe just to walk in the door. I’m in my 7th year now, and have learned so much. You will too. If you have any questions, feel free to ask!! Thanks for your note. Honestly, I didn’t see it till this morning!! Peace and Light… “Chicken Mom”.
I have really enjoyed this piece. I a novice (been keeping free range chickens for about 5 years) and recently reunited 2 separate flocks. My oldest original hen…a barred rock…no longer lays and is the alpha in her flock and now trying to rule everyone. Will be starting with her today! Thanks so much.
It’s a long read Fay. Thank you for taking time out to read it. Let me know if it helps…
Sending you best wishes for a fabulous Holiday and New Year!