I really, really do not like mean girls. Oh, I know, they are legion and that in real life they will continue to maraud with impunity, but I will not tolerate them in the coop. I guess our sweet Summer must have been the linchpin in flock harmony, because everyone got along so well until she was plucked by a predator.
Since then, it hasn’t been pretty. Miss Ginger, our EE (Easter Egger or mutt Ameraucana for the uninitiated) has gone rogue and has started picking on Pippa. Yes, Pippa, who gave several long weeks of her life to raising Ginger and her sisters. I just won’t have it. No, no, no, you may NOT pick on Pippa.
I was there, and I can tell you that Ginger had an idyllic childhood. Pippa was a magnificent mama to her adopted chicks so this is not a Mommie Dearest situation. Like Tulip in the former flock iteration, Ginger was the most skittish of the chicks, and in both cases the least confident bird turned into the most aggressive one. (Any behaviorists who can attest to this in human populations?)
Pecking order is a fact of barnyard (and real) life, so I generally don’t involve myself in hen squabbles, but when I came out to the pen last week and saw Ginger peck Pippa so viciously on a foot that Pippa was limping, I instantly went from laissez-faire to wrath-of-God. I believe I may have thrown something at Ginger, whose vulture-like appearance, by the way, does absolutely nothing to promote her cause.
Breed does not necessarily dictate aggressive tendencies. Our other two EE’s, Coco and our beloved Autumn, were both gentle souls. Most likely, Ginger is simply taking advantage of the destabilization of the flock and is making a run at being a dictator.
Yeah, well, she’ll have to get through me first if she wants to be Mussolini.
If you have hens, you know that sundown is a key moment in their social behavior. There is a reason for that phrase about “who rules the roost”. On high alert after the foot-pecking episode, I stepped into the coop as the girls settled in for the evening and, sure enough, Ginger went after Pippa. Worse – and sadly, another corollary to human behavior – the other hens followed suit, even Luna who has long been Pippa’s soulmate.
What to do?
Conventional wisdom directs that the caretaker resist intervention except in a “potentially lethal situation”, but some of us cannot resist a penchant for social engineering. The most effective technique is probably to put the head hoodlum into time out, separating her from the rest of the flock for a week or so until the dynamic has shifted and she has to re-enter the group on a lower rung of the social ladder. But I was in no mood that day for long-term solutions. When Ginger pushed her way past Lola on the roost to get at Pippa and peck her so hard that Pippa yelped, I chose the more immediate shock and awe approach: I smacked Ginger hard enough to knock her off the roost.
Unperturbed, she jumped back up and did it again. Okay, now it was personal. Again, I thwacked her off the roost. Same result. She’s apparently working from Vladimir Putin’s playbook. It took two more thwacks before she got the message and retreated to one end of the roost and the four hens settled peaceably for the night.
I would like to say that a few thwacks did the trick, but while I am determined to win the war, there are still some ongoing skirmishes. We have temporarily decamped to the frigid East Coast, so Ginger may get to be a mean girl for another fortnight. But I’m putting her on notice with this quote from Dwight Eisenhower: “We will accept nothing less than total victory!”
Oh, and this one from The Terminator: “I”ll be back.”