Fluffy chicks may be cute, but the realities of farm life are that chickens can sometimes be brutally unkind to each other.  Let’s rewind a little, briefly.

Frodo, our young Dark Brahma male, was our bonus ‘mystery chick’ from the hatchery, that arrived with our new chicks earlier this spring.

Frodo, a gift from the hatchery, arrived shortly before Easter

He was raised with everyone else, first in the brooder, and then he moved out into the coop with the flock.  He’s been slow to mature, as is typical for Brahma males compared to other standard sized breeds.  For Frodo, the only Brahma in our flock, that became a BIG problem.

At 3 weeks, it was obvious Frodo was feathering in much slower than the rest of the flock

Everyone was mostly feathered in by five weeks…but not Frodo.

"it's not my fault!"

All the young birds were moved out to the coop together at 7 weeks.  For the first 48 hours everything was fine, until one of our Wyandotte pullets noticed that Frodo’s suit of feathers was a bit raggedy-looking.  He was different, not quite like the rest of the flock, and she decided to make something of it.  She and some of Frodo’s other flock-mates turned on him, and he took a nasty beating in the coop.  Bleeding, reluctantly, Frodo was pulled from the flock, along with a docile young female for company, to prevent further, and more deleterious injuries.

Still not feathered, Frodo moved with the flock to the coop at 7 weeks

The initial intent was just to let Frodo heal for a week or so before returning him to the flock.  For a number of reasons (slow healing and re-feathering), he was held back longer than we expected.  Not good, as chickens aren’t really gifted with long-term memories.  For them, it’s very much out of sight, out of mind.

Frodo was almost healed within 10 days, but then feathers that had grown in, were falling out again as they were being replaced by more mature feathers, and his ‘fluff’ over the saddle area fell out, leaving a large bald spot.  This resulted in us jokingly dubbing him “Frodo Finnegan”.

There was a young Brahma named Frodo Finnegan,
His feathers fell out…
…and then they grew again,
Poor old Frodo Finnegan. Begin again!

This poor chap has spent most of his first few months of life with significant bald spots in one place or another. Next time we get a Brahma, we’ll get more than one, so they all look goofy together, and nobody will care.

At 9 weeks, Frodo's fluffy feet looked great...

...his back though, still highly peck-worthy

A couple of weeks ago we decided bald spots or not, that we should just go ahead and get him back in the coop, as the longer we waited, the more difficult the re-introductions would be.

Have I mentioned before that our Golden Laced Wyandottes are not particularly friendly birds?

"next victim...um, I mean...patient please!"

I had made the mistake of going into the run in a short sleeved shirt.  I found out the hard way exactly what Frodo was about to be in for on his return to the coop with any pink skin showing.  Dr. Wyandotte’s Dermatology Service apparently offers complimentary anesthetic-free mole removal!

I’m serious…this is MY arm!  That WAS my mole!

OUCH! What the....?

It’s a simple surgical procedure…peck, pinch, twist, pull, rip…only takes a fraction of a second…and it’s over.  I informed ‘Dr. Wyandotte’ that she was still young enough make a VERY tender and tasty meal, and left the coop to clean my wound, and count to ten. (If you’ve ever cut a mole, you know they can bleed like the dickens!)

I have never, ever, had a chicken draw blood on me.  For Pete’s sake, they don’t even have teeth!  I was miffed, and decided I didn’t have the heart to put Frodo in the pen with that piranha, at least not until he was fully dressed.  He was close, maybe another week?

Frodo's saddle feathers, almost there...

Finally Frodo’s saddle feathers broke through their sheaths last weekend, at the same time his old hackle feathers are falling out again and growing in anew, but he was at least ‘covered’.  Regardless as to his disheveled appearance, it really was now or never to see if he could reintegrate with the flock.  As it had been so long, we weren’t particularly hopeful, but wanted to try.

To improve his odds of acceptance, every day we’ve had a temporary pen set up alongside the run.  The chickens have all been able to see each other, but not make physical contact with Frodo and Sam.  We’ve done this for weeks since Frodo has been separated from the flock, in the hopes they didn’t ‘forget’ each other. Everyone seemed fine.

Time to try returning Frodo to the flock

Late on Wednesday night, long after the rest of the flock had roosted for the night, Frodo, and his friend Sam were quietly slipped in the back door of the coop, on to a section of the roost not inhabited by anyone else.  There were a couple of brief mumblings from inside the coop, but then everyone quickly settled down, and went back to sleep.  So far, so good, so we went back to bed.

Early the next morning, all still seemed quiet.  Wanting to be sure that if any skirmishes broke out during daylight, that it would be out where we could see them, and supervise them, we loaded up a colander with fresh garden treats (as a distraction), and opened the coop door.  Out they filed, in their usual order, Delawares first, with the little Buff Orpington who is bottom of the pecking order coming out last…well, last except for Frodo and Sam.  We scattered the treats around, and everyone was busy scratching and pecking.  Sam finally ventured out, but was greeted at the bottom of the ramp by a Wyandotte with a nasty peck to the head.  The Wyandotte was quickly shooed to the other side of the run, and everyone seemed to calm back down.

This is Frodo...

However, poor Frodo didn’t even make it half way down the ramp before pandemonium ensued.  Our other male, the same age as Frodo, a Partridge Plymouth Rock now named Siegfried (named after a character in the James Herriot books) clapped eyes on Frodo, and…well, by 6:15 AM I’d already broken up two nasty fights between them.

This is Siegfried, and he's NOT willing to share HIS coop!

We expected some initial skirmishes, if for no other reason than when (re)introducing chickens to a flock, the pecking order needs to be reestablished.  We knew they’d need to work out a new hierarchy between themselves.  Our job is to ensure that things don’t get too out of hand, and be prepared to intervene if necessary.  Initially, when challenged by Siegfried, Frodo would rise to defend himself.  Who wouldn’t?  After two rounds, they seemed to settle down a bit, well, sort of.  Siegfried was still mumbling something about interlopers in HIS coop.

Having put Frodo in his place, Siegfried relaxed a little, and then turned his attention toward Sam, who was again being picked on by the head Wyandotte witch pullet.  In Sam’s case though, much less drama, it was a quick peck from Siegfried, the real fight with her came later.

Twenty minutes later though, voices were raised, hackles and tails were flared, and Frodo and Siegfried were again toe-to-toe in the tango, but this time Siegfried had clearly had enough.  He started to pound the stuffing out of Frodo, and just wouldn’t relent.  It was a classic case of ‘Rooster Rage’.  Frodo was starting to bleed from his earlobe, and his comb, and had clearly given up.  Before we knew it, Frodo was smashed between Siegfried and the side of the run, desperately trying to push himself through the hardware cloth.  Anything to find a way out from underneath Siege-fried’s feet.  Siegfried wouldn’t accept Frodo’s surrender.  I was torn, continue to let them work it out?  Or call it a valiant effort, and be done.

I couldn’t stand it anymore, that was it.  I decided we had two choices.  Pull Siegfried, or pull Frodo out of the coop.  I don’t doubt that Frodo could be content to be subordinate to another male.  Siegfried just won’t tolerate another male in his midst. We could push it, be persistent, try other methods of re-integration, or try again during a different time of day, but even if miraculously that worked for a while, it doesn’t mean it would last.  As both males continue to mature, the fighting is likely to escalate, possibly even to the point of death. It’s simply not worth it.

Siegfried isn't a bad rooster, he's just doing his job

Frodo was pulled out from under Siegfried, cleaned up, and won’t be returning to the main coop, not as long as Siegfried is there.  We have to do what’s best for the flock, and for Frodo.  Although Frodo is the nicer of the two males, and I admit to briefly being tempted to ‘soup’ Siegfried, to pull Siegfried out would completely upset the coop dynamic.  Siegfried is not a ‘bad’ rooster, in fact he’s a good one, and doing exactly what he should do to defend his girls from intruders, and rival males.  He respects us, and has not been a problem with people.  I can’t punish him, or the flock, for that.

Sadly now, Frodo is alone.

Frodo

We left Sam in the coop, as this is her best chance to rejoin the flock permanently.  She was attacked by Siegfried once late yesterday morning.  He held her down, and everyone seemed to have fun pecking her.  We broke up the fight, and proceeded to spend five hours yesterday afternoon in the run with Sam, defending her from Siegfried, who was entirely over-reacting to her presence.  With some positive reinforcement in the form of treats, and communal feeding, the other girls accepted Sam fine.  Then there was some negative reinforcement directed at Siegfried, via a hose soaking, twice.  It wasn’t to hurt him, just to divert his attention, and maybe dampen his pride a little.  He finally gave in, and realized Sam really wasn’t a threat to his fiefdom.  It took a while though, and during that five hour stint in the run, it seemed I either had Sam in my lap, or more than once, she flew up onto my head as she escaped from Siegfried.

 This morning though things seemed to have calmed down a lot.   While there are ‘adjustments’ going on in the hierarchy over the next few days, we’ll continue to keep a close eye on her.

It’s plan B for Frodo though. We’ll take him out to free range with the older hens in the orchard.  Now, Ginger, the head orchard hen, has an attitude almost as big as any rooster.  We’re hoping in wide open space, introduced slowly over the coming days, that she’ll accept Frodo as a new room-mate.

Maybe Ginger and the girls in the orchard will be kinder to Frodo

He’s a fabulous, docile bird, and completely trusts us, so we’ll start by holding him during initial introductions, until we know how Ginger will react.  If we can convince these hens to accept him, it will be the best for Frodo.  He’ll have a few girls of his own, out in the orchard, with lots of room to roam.  What we don’t want is to have to isolate one or the other male, alone, for the rest of his days.  That’s really no life for a rooster.  If it comes to that, the only fair thing will be to find one of the males a better home.  Let’s hope Ginger thinks Frodo’s cute…we certainly think he is.

Be nice to him ladies...