Miss Emmylou (Harris) came to us in June of 2018. She and Bonnie (Raitt) were the last remaining hens in a small, aging backyard flock. The night before Emmylou moved in, hen-sister Bonnie Raitt passed away. It was a good time to transition lonely Emmylou into a new home. The weather was pleasant, the aviary mud had dried into scratch-able dirt.
“Pecking order” is a very real activity in the henhouse, and introducing a new hen takes care and time. I isolated Emmylou in the “Bully Pen” where she could observe her new flock from the secure side of a sturdy fence. She had her own food, water, and shelter and adjusted quickly.
Her owner inquired after a couple days and I reported the following:“Emmylou is very content. She’s enthusiastic about the treats and has found a nice place to roost in the barn*. She hasn’t yet had contact with my hens but they aren’t too concerned about her so I should be able to introduce them- supervised- soon. Usually, one of mine will take an interest in the newcomer and I’ll put them together so Emmylou will have an established friend. I’ll keep you posted. I’ll be writing a blog this week, and she’ll get a mention there. I’ll send a link when it’s published.”*An isolated barn area, away from the main roosting area
Emmylou was an Orpington. My previous Orpingtons have been buff, a buttery yellow color, so I was surprised to welcome another “brown” hen to the flock. Still, she was a beautiful not-quite-brown hen, colors grading from yellow to gray. She had that friendly, confident Orpington personality, though, and was eager to explore the entire aviary.
Emmylou was never intimidated by my flock. Norman is big and loud, but he is a sweet and gentle gander. He checked out the new hen and never challenged her entrance into his territory. My favorite introductory trick is to serve up the treats on both sides of the fence so they have to approach each other to eat as a flock. As I watch their interactions, I can usually spot a “friend” and will put the friend in the bully pen with the newcomer. Then when they enter the flock they have someone to show them around.
Emmylou had her own idea. On about the third day, she hopped onto the fence and then over into the flock. Everyone ignored her, except for Conchita, my boss hen. Conchita had recovered from her broken leg and had reassumed her position at the top of the pecking order. They had a couple of quick tussles and Emmylou conceded. All the other hens were satisfied with Emmylou as Number Two hen. I have never seen a new hen adjust so quickly. She got along with everyone. It’s a good thing, because there was no way I could keep her from jumping over the bully pen fence.
Emmylou checked out the food, water, and the best dust bath spots. She would hang out with one little group of hens, and then another. She was very active, one of my more athletic hens, for sure.
Roosting is a prime indicator of pecking order. The boss hen takes the primo location and decides if she’ll share it. The three fat hens roost in a heap on top of an old cage, though Windy now prefers the ground. Conchita and her sister roosted on a branch hanging right smack dab in the middle of the barn. Newcomers Angel and Coffee Bean kicked out the cats and roost on/in their heated cat carrier. They’re not fools. Princess was “over there” until she came indoors. Samantha hunkers down on her heated pad, safely locked up in the infirmary. Miss Emmylou? She chose the tip top of the ladder above the three fat girls, a fantastic location overlooked by all. Emmylou was probably the only one able to get up there.
I didn’t accidentally write this post in the past tense. One day, Emmylou was dead. Not the “pretend dead” like Samantha, who was subsequently diagnosed with Lymphoma, but the final irreversible variety of dead. I was crushed, but there was nothing to be done. If there was something to see or do, I would have done it, but sometimes the Grim Reaper is swift and sure.