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FRIENDS

PUBLISHED: 10:00 04 October 2013

Group of chickens

Group of chickens

Archant

The one when domestic chickens definitely do form friendships...

Chickens are social animals and enjoy each other’s company. They may sometimes have a go at each other, in the form of a quick peck, but this is no different from brothers and sisters squabbling! I believe that friendships do exist amongst my chickens, although it is evident that some last and some do not. This is particularly noticeable when new hens arrive. They will stick together to start with but may form new relationships later on.Sometimes hens of the same colour do stick together; other times two hens of the same breed may decide they would rather not sleep side by side and even decide to roost in different hutches. My two exchequer Leghorns opted to do this not long after they arrived!When relaxing, my hens love to cosy up together and are very happy to sit in close proximity. I am constantly surprised by how big and small work well together. My big Rhode Island Red, Rowena, is quite happy to relax with Minnie, my little Friesian.

NEW HENS

Occasionally I get two new hens and one becomes sick and dies. The surviving hen does not seem to mourn her loss but adapts very quickly and joins a new group.Although we always advise to buy hens in twos, threes or fours, I do occasionally bring in a single hen to join my flock. After a period of separation to avoid spreading disease and in order for her to get used to her new surroundings, I release her and so far have had no problems. My new Cream Legbar, Lily, joined a small group and although timid at first is now holding her own against any bullies. My hens do have plenty of space which makes the whole process a lot easier.

SHARING NEST BOXES

Hens often share a nest box and happily sit side by side, maybe enjoying the companionship as they lay their eggs. I have two Silkie crosses, Sadie and Sammy, that I bought recently. They do everything together, often laying their eggs at the same time. They dust bathe together and have now gone broody at exactly the same moment. They have separate nest boxes which are next to each other. They both come out for daily food and water simultaneously. It will be interesting to see how they behave when they hatch their chicks and whether they will be happy to rear one large happy family!

ROOSTING TOGETHER

Some of my hens will go to bed early, probably to make sure they get the best spots on the perches. My two Welsummer cockerels also like to roost surrounded by their hens and always make sure they are not at the end of the perch. In general hens will have their favourite positions on the perches and the dominant hens will go on the highest roosting spots. My big black hutch is popular and any newcomers tend to eventually migrate into this accommodation.

COCKERELS

My cockerels definitely have their favourite hens. My New Hampshire Red bantam cockerel always sleeps with a little Gold Brahma bantam and looks after her during the day; he is very protective and makes sure he is by her side the majority of the time. My silver duckwing Welsummer cockerel seems to hang out with my lovely French Marans hens. My partridge Welsummer cockerel looks after the Welsummer hens and mates with them so I can breed some Welsummers each year.

MOTHER HENS AND CHICKS

There seems to be nothing stronger in the chicken world than a mother’s love for her chicks. My little Gold Brahma cross had her nest on a shelf in the garden shed (see Brahma’s brush-off in Chicken Nugget, April 2013 YC). She went broody on the shelf and has just hatched five chicks. We had to carefully move her and chicks to a safe coop and all are doing well.Some Mother Hens are so happy with their families that they look after their brood until they are almost fully grown! When eventually Mum gets back to laying, chicks that grow up together as brothers and sisters will remain close, sleeping and foraging as a group. Once fully grown, though, they may develop new friends. It seems to me, once again, that chickens are no different to humans!

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