Pecking order 101:
You've probably heard the phrase "pecking order" and possibly have seen it in action. Any memories of high school coming to mind? But let me tell you that pecking order is a big deal when it comes to chickens and something that every chicken keeper needs to be up to speed on to maintain a healthy flock.
There is a lot of information out there, but here is a brief overview. A healthy flock will have a definite leader. This hen is the one to get first dibs on the choice food or treats. She will get the best spot on the roosting bar at night. And if anyone challenges her authority in any way, she will give them a solid pecking. If you're not sure who the top hen in your coop, one easy way to tell is, who is the prettiest? When you're at the top of the pecking order, no one else will dare to peck you. All of the other hens in a well-functioning hierarchy will fall in line. And if everyone toes the line, you will have peace in the coop.
However, when birds get stressed, many spiraling effects can happen. I know, we, unfortunately, had a rough spring and got a crash course in crabby chicken chaos.
Stress on the farm:
We kept seven hens over the winter in an enclosed coop and run. It's situated in our front yard and sits beneath a lovely group of trees. We decided that was a good spot because it was close to the house and we thought the trees might offer the hens a bit of protection from airborne predators. It also offered the ladies shade for hot days. It seemed to be the perfect little coop, but then the days got longer, and our hens went from happy, healthy egg layers to barebacked, mean, egg eaters.
Cue fight club:
For real, they were getting downright mean to each other. Our once pristine fully feathered flock were now looking rather mangy. And remember that pecking order thing? Yeah, you could tell who was the head bird because one Silver-Laced Wyandotte, in particular, was still beautifully feathered. The rest? Well, one lady was sporting a 2x3 inch bald spot on her rump. Unfortunately, when chickens see bare skin, they are drawn to it and peck it more.
When left alone, pecking can turn deadly. Open wounds can lead to infection, and well, you know where I'm going. It was time to take action.
Enter Chicken Saddle:
A while back, I was roaming Pinterest and came across chicken saddles, a.k.a. chicken apron. It's a simple little cape that is worn by the hen to protect her skin and allow it to heal.
I dusted off my sewing machine, retrieved a pair of ripped jeans I had in my fabric bin and started sewing. It's a pretty basic pattern, and even with my beginner sewing skills, I was able to whip one together pretty quickly.
We went to the coop that evening after the hens had roosted for the night, and retrieved little Jackie from the coop to try it on. It fit! She was not pleased with her new accessory and stood outside yelling in the evening dusk. It was pretty hilarious. She was so confused and even had a hard time flying back up to the roosting bar. Not to worry, the next morning she seemed to be unphased. I could tell it was still annoying, but she wasn't fighting it.
I decided, that because I had extra denim, and the rest of the hens all had varying degrees of feather loss, to make six more saddles. And with my one pair of jeans, I was able to make all seven saddles.
It's been a few weeks now, and two of them are currently wearing the saddles. Jackie was the hen I was most concerned about since she was utterly featherless on her back. While she hasn't regrown many feathers so far I am pleased that the skin looks healthy.
We are still pretty green when it comes to raising chickens and are just taking challenges as they come, so I'd love to hear from you if you've tried using chicken saddles or even what you've used to help your hens regrow feathers.