Since Dolley's death, there has been a major shake-up in the henhouse. Though apparently benevolent, Dolley must have been in charge of the whole operation. We never heard her squawk much at the other birds, though she did try pecking at the little girls through the wire in their separate run before they were all integrated. She died before we had a chance to see how she would treat the young pullets.
Dolley left a power vacuum that Martha was quick to fill. (Martha has always been the most skittish, so this may have been a defensive move that bore a lot of fruit for her.) She terrorizes the young birds, stabbing at their tails and chasing them away from food, water and treats until she gets bored or needs to go lay. The henhouse has been much louder lately as she squawks and bullies her way through the day.
This is all totally normal behavior (for chickens), and since no one is bleeding or hurt, we've mostly let it go. But the other thing that happens in the (brutal) establishing of a pecking order is that the big boss hen also controls the roosting bar, quite literally "ruling the roost" (some day I will write about all of the ways in which the humble chicken has influenced our language).
And Martha is such a jerk about this that she won't let any of the three new chickens (Rachel, Louisa Catherine, and Lizzy) sleep on the roosting bar at all. This forces them to bed down for the night atop the nesting boxes. Or if you're gimpy Lizzy (she's had a bit of a bum foot from Day One, but she does all right), you curl up inside the nesting box. Cozy, but also messy, since now there's always chicken poop in there and the hens won't lay in it (and rightly so).
Our biggest concern is that Martha's pushiness will leave the young hens no place to lay when they are ready (which should be within the next month). They spend a lot of time roosting outside to avoid her wrath, and we have visions of splattered, useless eggs laid from three feet in the air.
And although if Martha were a person I'd be tempted to suggest that she's just leaning in to her work of managing the chicken coop, and we should learn to appreciate her bossiness as executive vision, she's a chicken. So into a private retreat she goes:
Kirk refashioned the brooder to have a gabled roof so a big chicken would have room to jump without hitting her head, and he also added a permanent, adult-sized roosting bar:
M'lady is not pleased:
The whole contraption is in the workshop, and she scolds and flies up in a rage almost every time we go out there. She's well fed and comfortable, but keeping her isolated for the next two or three weeks should help knock her down a few pegs in the pecking order. As the other chickens settle into a new hierarchy, they won't take kindly to any unsolicited bitchiness from Martha when she finally comes back. We're hoping that this brings more peace and stability to the chicken coop.
So far, it's working nicely:
Abigail was taking a dust bath with the three youngest birds today, and Sally politely shared the groundhog-nibbled pumpkin treat with everyone. They're all still looking over their shoulders, but soon I think Sally will settle into the leadership role and things should be much quieter out there.