Fowl Play in the Pecking Order

By Mike Welsh

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Several months ago my backyard chook house had a midnight visit from Nasty Mr Fox.  Daybreak revealed this heinous henhome invasion had wiped out  50% of my flock. I was left with two seriously traumatised and unproductive chooks who, after a couple of months , had yet to yield one single egg between them. Understandable under the circumstances but simply untennable. Life must go on. So I purchased 4  more birds of a similar hue to the survivors of Mr F’s attack and put the non producing  pair on notice. Anticipating I may have to lop the head off one or both in the near future I needed a practical method of separating them from the flock  without isolating them. Ostracising them would be cruel and it’s impossible to buy plastic leg rings in Canberra. I delicately dabbed a small dot of nail polish on one leg of one chicken and on both legs of the other. Without the expertise in tinting and tone of a nail technician, I’d flamboyantly chosen OPI’s Passion Pink.  The “girls” thought they were heading out for a night on the town. I could say they strutted around the yard like a couple of painted tarts but that may be just my imagination. Warning though.. don’t try the nail polish dab  at home kids. The new chickens began producing sooner than expected. Each day we gathered  4 small eggs and about every 5-7 days, a fifth and much larger goog appeared in the box. At this point I wasn’t sure if  the larger weekly offering was from one of the “painted ladies” or both.  With no time to observe the nesting routine of my flock…I tossed a coin. The old chook with both legs painted lost the toss and was now  “dead chook scratching”. Now back to my friend,who texted news of Pom Pom’s demise at the beak of Matilda. Unable to bear the thought of a chook losing its head for not doing what most chooks do, lay eggs, she offered to adopt my middle aged hen and retire her to the peaceful sanctuary, among a menagerie of other animals who thus far had avoided the harsh chop of life, in her vast back yard. However this is where things began to unravel. Within 20 minutes of arriving at her new  home and being christened, Matilda, the non laying hen, laid an egg.!!! Meanwhile back at my chookhouse  five red hens were seriously spooked about something. Not by Mr Fox, he’d  been denied all access in a security review after the massacre, but, I presumed from a “hen” count they’d apparently done which told them one of their number was missing. But hens can’t count, or can they?  Be interesting if they needed to use their fingers and toes. There is lot to be understood about the concept of a Pecking Order. I’d watched hens over the years follow a particular ritual late in the day. One by one they mosey into the enclosed yard from the freedom of their range. Like the procession of wigged  and gowned learned men and ladies at the beginning of the legal year, they regally enter the chookhouse and eventually choose a spot on which to perch. But this is just the beginning. Only after some aggressive flapping and elbowing(?)  do they appear to form into an orderly row on the perch. IMG_5751 I’ve only ever had Rhode Island Reds and therefore have no way of knowing if there was a particular (pecking) order and what, if any, the configuration was or the final grid position. Did the same chook end up perching in the same possie? Back to my animal loving friend and her text with the sad news of Pom Pom. I was not brave enough to ask what was going to happen from this point. You’ll note I quickly texted on to seasonal matters. Pom Pom had been with the family for a long time. My Haughty hen, Matilda, just struts in, takes over and slays the incumbent. Will there be litigation?  Was I negligent in knowingly  giving custody, to an unqualified person, of an undiagnosed “non-laying” hen. Had I mitigated Pom Pom’s murder by failing to fully prepare Matilda for early retirement and pushing her over the edge.  I have no legal training but “actionable” is one legal term which may yet interrupt my sleep. By recklessly “retiring” the wrong chook  had  I willfully (getting used to this legal jargon)  exposed the tranquil harmony of a retirement backyard to a murderous fowl?.  I simply don’t know. Nor do I need to know the forensic detail of the method by which Matilda did Pom Pom in. Although it is pretty bloody obvious , chooks generally don’t choke, stab, strangle or kick  their victims  to death. The fate of the other “painted lady”, the now confirmed non-layer? Due to legal advice I am unable to answer. The astute among you would have noted the almost total absence, in this yarn about chooks, of corny poultry puns, apart from the headline. There is a reason for this rare discipline. A serious and sensitive treatment of this tragic tale may be my saving grave should this case get to a court of law.

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