Friday, July 24, 2009

Hens Without a Rooster

It’s a cool, quiet afternoon; the chickens are strutting around the yard, stopping here and there to scratch back the mulch to look for small bugs. While one may wander a few feet away from the others, they are never very far apart. And when the small flock moves on to another area of the yard, instinct takes over and the stray is quick to catch up; there is safety in numbers.

When my Rhode Island Red, Penny, suddenly raises her head toward the sky—obviously hearing something I have failed to hear—I look up to see what has drawn her attention: a hawk. The girls quickly huddle together behind the feather grass; forming a group, they take on a larger profile. The hawk squawks as he flies on toward the park. The girls slowly relax and begin to emerge from the shield of the grass to continue foraging.

Penny (that’s Buffy in the background)

Without a rooster to signal the girls of impeding danger, I worry that they are oblivious to predators. Roosters do more than just fertilize eggs. They are fierce protectors of their hens and are constantly on the lookout for danger. I have heard that when you have a rooster-less flock, one of the hens will step up and take on the role of “leader.” Is this the case with Penny or was it just dumb luck that she noticed the hawk? I certainly haven’t seen any “dominant” behavior, even though she is the largest. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Letty eating sunflower seeds

Marley wants in on the fun

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