Michelle Dunn’s birds are outside at last

Not since the time the cockerel stole a whole pack of sausages from my shopping bag has there been such rejoicing amongst my chickens. The restrictions on keeping chickens inside are eased! Not entirely, but enough that my chickens can leave the barn and once again enjoy scratching around on the grass. And what a lovely time of year it is for them. April seems particularly beautiful this year, and the chickens are making the most of the abundant insects around. Despite the fact that they were well fed and much more protected from the weather than is usual in their free-ranging lifestyle, they are a scruffy, sorry looking bunch at the moment, but they seem to be getting sleeker and glossier with every day they spend outside.

The miserable months under cover have also affected the chickens’ behaviour, and not always in ways I would have predicted. For example, although the chickens became aggressive towards one another in a way I have never seen before, they were far less nervous of me. Perhaps because I was the only source of food and stimulus through the long boring days?

The cockerels had a rough time of it. When the restrictions began we had one boss cockerel and two young cockerels, all of whom had got on well enough when they were ranging freely. In the first week of the restrictions, however, scuffles became skirmishes which turned into fights, and we had to despatch the two younger cockerels. Even then things did not go as we had thought – the boss cockerel began to lose influence over the hens. They no longer needed him to protect them from the unwanted attentions of the other two cockerels, and he was unable to find titbits of food for them. The hens became less and less tolerant of his attentions, and some of our feistier hens actually had a few scuffles with him. I’m not sure he will ever regain his authority, and he is certainly vulnerable if another young cockerel should come up through the ranks. That’s unlikely this year, though, due to another unexpected behavioural side effect of the restrictions – none of my hens went broody. Usually I would have one or two giving it a go by now, but this year – nothing.

I just hope the whole lot don’t all decide to go broody at once….

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