Since we ran low on
eggs for eating over the last year, I kept every single pullet
from our first spring hatch to turn into our new laying
flock. A baker’s dozen! The results have been
delicious…but also problematic. At first, I blamed the
chickens flying over our fences on White
Leghorn skittishness combined with overgrazed pastures, but
by the middle of August, chickens of every breed were regularly
flying the coop. I clipped
a few wings to no avail, then scratched my head over why
this year’s layers were being so ornery.
“Maybe that’s too many hens for one rooster
to handle,” Mark suggested. He believes the male in a family
is responsible for keeping up morale (since he’s always propping
up any ailing spirits on my part), and I initially laughed at my
husband’s suggestion. But then I took a step back and
decided maybe he was right, after a fashion. Surely larger
flock sizes are harder on the chickens at the bottom of the
pecking order, who have ten hens beating them up instead of one or
two. If I was one of those picked-on birds, I’d probably fly
out of the pasture too.
Sure enough, when I
delved into the scientific literature, I discovered that Red
Junglefowl (the wild relatives of chickens) usually live in
flocks much smaller than I’d thought. In “Flocking and
habitat use pattern of the Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus in Dudwa
National Park, India,” Salim Javed and Asad R. Rahmani wrote that
“More than 80% of the total observations (n=465) were of single
bird[s].” The chart above shows the flock size of the other
20% of the observations, with the majority of flocks consisting
only of pairs of junglefowl.
So I split our flock in
two, putting the rooster and half the hens in the coop recently
vacated by our older layers, and leaving the rest of the hens
behind in the old pastures. And despite the fact that the
old pastures were still over-grazed, our pullets started staying
put. (I’ll admit that I also clipped the wings of the birds
who popped out on the first day, which seemed necessary for those
wily White Leghorns.)
The moral of the
story seems to be — small flock sizes are easier on hens.
I’ve also noticed that, with just six ladies as his harem, our
rooster seems to be keeping them all close to his side, while
previously the flock tended to scatter out across a large area.
Maybe half a dozen hens per flock is the sweet spot?
the pasture makes it easy for even the birds at the bottom of
the pecking order to enjoy clean water.