November 29, 2010
Chicken flock

Courtesy Audrey Pavia

Bobbi Jo, on the far right, is now lowest in the pecking order and is forced to eat away from the rest of the flock.

It wasn’t easy getting Bobbi Jo over her bout with fowl pox. Unlike her niece, Baby Jo, it took her more than a week before I felt she was well enough to return to the flock. I waited until her eyes were fully open and the pox lesions were round and dry (as opposed to open and oozing) before I turned her loose.

When I had returned Baby Jo to the flock a couple of weeks earlier after nursing her back to health, it was no big deal. I let her loose in the morning while I was tossing scratch to the group, and she blended right in like she had never been gone. The other hens ignored her and let her eat among them.

I expected the same reception for Bobbi Jo, but the hens had other ideas. Bobbi Jo’s two sisters, who are identical to her in appearance and grew up with her from the moment they hatched, tore into Bobbi Jo the moment I set her down on the lawn.

Taking turns attacking her, Billie Jo and Betty Jo sparred with Bobbi Jo, bloodying her face. I had taken such care to gently spread antibiotic cream on her face every night I had her in the house, and now I was helpless as I watched while her sisters pecked holes in her cheeks.

I was not the only one who was upset by this turn of events. Mr. Mabel, the dominant rooster, tried several times to break up the fight. He got in between the hens repeatedly, separating them with his massive body. But the minute he turned his back, the Bully Sisters went after Bobbi Jo again. Mr. Mabel finally gave up.

I was tempted to rescue Bobbi Jo and put her back in the house, but I had to make a judgment call. She seemed healthy enough to be back outside, and I knew separating her from the flock would only postpone the inevitable. Eventually, she had to work her way back into the group. 

It’s been two days since I returned Bobbi Jo to the flock, and the situation has improved. She isn’t constantly being chased and beaten up, but she’s also not allowed to eat in peace. She has replaced Baby Jo as the low hen on the totem pole and now gets chased off whenever the other hens are eating. I am careful to make sure the bullies are distracted with food before I toss anything to Bobbi Jo. They still stop eating sometimes just to harass her, but I keep an eye out to make sure Bobbi Jo is getting her fill.

Meanwhile, the rest of the flock seems to be have been spared the fowl pox. My sister vaccinated the four that did not show any symptoms, and perhaps that is why they haven’t been afflicted by this nasty disease. All I know is that even though none of my chickens died as a result of the fowl pox, there was one casualty: Bobbi Jo’s former place in the pecking order.

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