Red, the little red hen in our flock, is having a truly miserable life and I feel for her even though she is not by any means a friendly chicken. She is the last one molting, and her sisters pick on her incessantly. The only peace she gets is when she huddles in the back end of a nesting box, and even then the other hens sometimes hop up and pick at her exposed tail feather stubs till they bleed.
It has gotten so bad that I fear they are going to murder her. I had the rest of the flock free-ranging yesterday and Red hopped out of the nesting box door onto the ground. In a flash, several other hens raced over and jumped on her in a tussle of feathers and beaks. Cooper, the rooster, tried to break up the fight, but Red still had to run for her life out around the back of the barn. This just is not working at all. Even her feathers that are trying to fill back in get pecked out an leave only short hollow tubes.
I spent the night mulling over ways I could construct a protected run just for Red to build up her strength, but every idea had a flaw that made it impractical. Today, though, it occurred to me to make her a little nest box in the fenced vegetable garden. The only dangers would be getting too cold all alone or having a hawk fly in and carry her away. I decided to take my chances and give her a week of safety to recover her sanity and feathers.
We don’t trust each other. She pecks me at every opportunity and is terrified of everything. I carefully scooped her up and carried her in a bushel basket that will become her nest, and set her up in the garden. She tried to escape right back out the gate so I had to be quick. I put some cracked corn in the basket to draw her in but I haven’t seen her sit down in it yet. It’s probably a relief for her to be able to stretch her legs, but I do want her to understand that the nest box is her safe place if a hawk drops in.
When the other chickens came by and saw her, she ran far from the fence and stretched her neck to watch for dangers. The flock figured out pretty quickly that she was inaccessible and left her alone. As I stood and watched, Red came close to entering her new nest, so I am hoping this will work. Notice her bare tail and new feather sprouts trying to grow in. Let’s cross our fingers for Red’s survival. There is snow in the forecast and I’ll have to take this one day at a time.