My children got attached to one of the red Freedom Ranger hens from the last batch of meat birds. I’m not sure how it happened, because those chickens all looked almost exactly alike, and they were kept way out in the pasture where no one ever played with them. However it was, at harvest time all the children were all standing around, checking on each chicken saying, “Don’t do Little Red Hen! We can keep her, can’t we?”
Every single chicken had to be held up so they could see if it was Little Red Hen or not. So now we have added one Freedom Ranger rooster to the flock (because Barley only counts as half a rooster), and Little Red Hen. It was good timing to add new chickens, because the Dudley Farm corn is now tall enough that the chickens can be out around it without damaging it. Instead of tractoring them around, we let them out to free-range, and pen them in again at night when they come back to the coop to roost. It is always easier for new chickens if they have room to roam, especially if they look different. Ethan is fond of observing that chickens are racist, and we’ve found it’s true that they are nicer to each other if everyone looks alike.
Apart from a few pecks, Little Red Hen and the new rooster, called Tomato, have integrated very well. They were accustomed to living among a large group of birds, and the egg chickens don’t seem to mind them. I was predicting a big show-down with Tomato and Barley, but despite his size and heft, Tomato is a big coward, and prefers chasing after the ladies to challenging Barley, who is a bantam chicken and has a Napoleon complex. We were a bit disappointed, because we were hoping that Tomato would put Barley in his place a little, but instead Tomato’s presence has seemed to turn Barley into a tiny, feathery attack machine.
It’s all well and good for those considerations, but it wasn’t until I started letting the chickens out in the morning that I realized what a brick Little Red Hen is. As soon as they see me coming in the morning, all the other chickens gather mob-style around the door to the coop. Barley crows, strokes his ego, and prepares himself for a launch-attack on the dog, who has invariably come to accompany me on this chore.
I fumble with the difficult latch that Ethan has invented, and the chickens start trampling each other. As soon as the latch is released and the door (which Ethan as designed to open from the top, an infuriating design that he alone finds functional) flies open, and all the chickens come stampeding out (don’t get your foot stuck underneath!).
All the chickens, except Little Red Hen. She is wandering back in forth along the side of the coop, somehow unable to see the wide-open door that all the other hens have rushed out of. Instead she is looking at them clipping the grass and finding bugs, and wondering how on earth they got to the other side of the chicken wire. I’m too busy to wait and see how long it takes her to figure it out every day, but eventually she finds her way free.