How the Hen House Turns: Peace and Quiet Comes to the Hen House

How the Hen House Turns:
Peace and Quiet Comes to the Hen House—Another Cautionary Tale
Column by Carolyn A. (Cary) Neeper, Ph. D.

What a beautiful morning it was—after the two-inch rain Friday—the first rain in how many months? There were blue skies, no wind, and quiet in the Hen House pen!

The noise has been driving husband Don wild. (He’s trying to write a serious blog. (There are such things.)) I couldn’t hear the noise because my office is on the other side of the house.

What noise? It was the noise of one male duck, Mr. Campbell. at the divider fence in the Hen House pen, in the face of two female geese on the other side of the fence, honking their heads off, all morning long, every day.

Why quiet now? I gave Mr. Campbell a nice new home with a friend living on a rancho in Santa Fe. I wish the duck luck. We—Ms. Khaki and I—do miss him, but I don’t miss his “fencing” the geese and the squabbles with Mr. Kiebler, the miniature Mallard. Mr. Campbell also kept chasing his only daughter, Puddles, out of the marital pen. I don’t think she misses him.

Now, there’s a thought. Maybe the dividers in the Hen House pen are not such a good idea. Maybe ducks and geese can get territorial about their chicken-wire enclosures. Yep. Sure enough, now the females were squabbling about sharing the open space.

So I put Lucy and Bobbi goose back in their favorite pen and the female ducks in their usual spot. All was quiet with everyone in their “own” pen.

Forty years of experience tells me that the birds could pay a high price for sharing open pen space, if I kept it that way. Pecking order is a powerful force of nature. It probably is related to the power of testosterone. Both help in selecting for good breeding—the Selfish Gene and all that.

I’m not sure if it’s pecking order or simple curiosity that caused Turkey Two, after 11 peaceful years, to take a whack at Bobbi goose’s left eye. Once bloodied, Gwendolyn chicken discovered the injury and wouldn’t quit pecking at it. I found Bobbi in the nest room, hunkered down, her head buried as far into the equipment pile as she could go, with the hen on top of her working her over. Why Bobbi wouldn’t defend herself, I can’t say. She’s three times the hen’s size.

Bobbi is okay now, the eyeball undamaged, but her is face bruised and the beak knob etched. Until it healed, I couldn’t let her free with turkey and hen. It was sad. They had gotten along so well for so long. Turkey really misses hanging out with the geese. When separated, she cries her pitiful ascending “where’s my flock?” chirp.

Happily, the eye did heal, with just a little evidence of attack, and turkey and the hen Gwendolyn showed no more interest in worrying Bobbi’s wound. They spent all day yesterday grazing together in the yard on new grass.

I tell this tale for two reasons. Maybe it’s fair warning for bird lovers to be watchful. The power of the pecking order can wreak havoc for no obvious reason. As for the testosterone problems, I’m afraid we’re stuck with it. The rutting season it’s called for some species, mating season for others, and “serious problems” when things go wrong with humans, who have no mating season. The problems span the entire range of life on Earth. That’s why, in my novels, my aliens have mental bonding hormones, not the kind of physical mating hormones that raise so much havoc on Earth. It makes them truly alien.

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