Meet Maddie, our nasty hen. You haven’t heard about her or even seen her since she is not personable at all and has never been featured in my stories. She rarely leaves the coop, choosing instead to stay indoors and rule fiercely over the two old coop-bound Tweedles during the day. She endlessly forces those old girls off the roosts, prevents them from accessing food and water and scares away any other hens who come in to lay.
On those rare occasions when she does venture outdoors, other hens attack her or chase her away. She has a mean streak and is the lowest in the pecking order of our adult birds, besides the Tweedles. No one will roost anywhere near her at night as she will use the cover of darkness to lash out with a surprise peck to the comb. She has no allies and seems to begrudge her keepers for all her woes.
On the up-side, Maddie loves to sunbathe, spreading herself out on the porch in a warming beam or luxuriating in a sun-drenched dust bath. Her pleasure in these moments is so obvious. Another positive is that she is easy to scoop and will usually sit calmly on my lap for long periods, perhaps realising that she is safe from pestering while up in my arms. But she has turned on me, once pecking me right on the white of my eye, causing it to bleed which required weeks of antibiotic drops. She has gone broody only a couple of times and successfully hatched two chicks, Thompson and Thompson whom we couldn’t tell apart for months.
We kept one of the Thompsons – renamed Olive – but Maddie and Olive seem to have both blocked their previous relationship out of their little bird brains and have no memory of or connection to each other at all.
Meet Zorro, a hen so filled with character that she is impossible to ignore. If you have ever visited the Queendom, Zorro would have been right there to greet you and perhaps let you hold her.
By far, she is FM’s favourite and Zorro turns up the charm whenever FM takes five on the porch. She has Stryper, our rooster, wrapped around her little toe, so much so that he will crow endlessly if she is not in sight and will go to great lengths to ensure she gets the finest grubs around. Zorro goes broody every six weeks, no matter what the season, and she is a regular
customer prisoner in the dreaded ‘broody breaker’ but forgives us once released and shows us both love and affection all the same.
In June, we usually let her sit on eggs and she has hatched out three broods so far. She is a committed and patient mama and has lasting, although domineering, relationships with all her grown girls.
What strikes me today is that these two hens hatched out four and a half years ago on the exact same day by two different mums. Zorro and Zelda came from Sprout while Maddie and Vindaloo came from Tweedle Dum. Looking at the polar opposite ways that these two hens handle life on the Queendom, it is surprising to think that they share so much in common, including the same paternal genes.
But perhaps the difference in chickenality lies in the sort of Mum they each had. Sprout gave Zorro and all her young chicks far more freedom to roam and learn on their own when they were very small. Eventually, Sprout did kick them out of the nest but she continued to be nearby and aware of their needs, even being close to them in later years. Meanwhile Tweedle Dum kept her chicks very close, not even allowing us to get near enough for a photo, and, when she kicked them out from under her wing, she had nothing at all to do with them. They were essentially dead to her.
Another factor contributing to Maddie’s meanness could be that we removed Maddie’s brother, Vindaloo, a few months later, leaving Maddie completely alone to navigate the world. Zorro, on the other hand, always had her sister Zelda with her and the two of them gained confidence just by having each other around.
You never know what kind of mama a hen is going to be and that demeanor may even vary from brood to brood. But with hindsight, I think it is wise to put more eggs under a hen (like 5 or 6) so that the young chicks will always have a sibling to rely on through those difficult teenage years. Maddie may have been a team player in our flock if we had given her a few team members from the get-go. But since we didn’t, we can only give her a sunbeam and some space on the porch to enjoy her one pleasure.