Natural Perspectives: Finally, there's harmony in the henhouse

It's been a few weeks since Vic and I updated you on our adventures in keeping chickens. And, yes, there have been developments in that regard.

When we last left this story, we had acquired a new barred rock hen to replace the late Henny Penny. Late as in "deceased," not late as in "tardy."

And it was from natural causes. We didn't eat her.

Sometime after Henny Penny's demise, her two teammates, Chicken Little and Henrietta, quit laying. Egg production was way down. I was looking forward to eggs from our new young hen, but she ceased laying two days after we got her.

We soon learned why. Like Henrietta, she's molting her feathers. It will be a couple of months before she's ready to lay again. Is there no end to our chicken woes?

Fortunately for the new gal, she has a winning personality. Not that chickens have much personality. The extent of her charm is that she allows me to pick her up.

She's a very friendly girl, I suspect, because she was petted by children at Centennial Farm at the O.C. Fairgrounds, where she came from. She has such a sweet disposition that I wanted to name her Sweetpea. Vic vetoed that name.

Vic and I owned another barred rock hen about 25 years ago and called her Rocky. But our new hen was too sweet for such a tough name. I began to free associate with her breed name, barred rock, to see if I could come up with a name for her.

The first thing that popped into my head was Little Rock, Ark. The second thing was Hillary Clinton. But I didn't really want to name my chicken after our nation's former First Lady and present secretary of state.

But then Hurricane Hillary came up from Mexico, bringing us some sprinkles. At about that time, I read the book "The Help," which had a character named Miss Hilly. These things seemed to be giving me a sign. I put it all together and came up with a name for our new hen: Miss Hillary.

Chicken Little took an instant dislike to Miss Hillary and harassed her mercilessly. To solve the problem, I built a second enclosure for the new girl. But the new pen was just a fenced area, open on the top, and didn't protect her from the elements or the night critters. It didn't take the possums long to figure out that they could get to the chicken feed in the new pen.

I placed a pet carrier into the pen so Miss Hillary would have a place to sleep at night. But one night, a possum apparently stuck its nose into the pet carrier where Miss Hillary slept. It scared the bejesus out of her. I heard a horrible racket coming from the hen yard late at night.

When I went out there, the possum was fleeing for its life, albeit at a snail's pace. Miss Hillary had flown out of the fenced area and was cackling away on top of a stack of upended Rubbermaid trash containers. Lacking construction skills, I had used them as one side of the enclosure.

I caught Miss Hillary and put her back into the pet carrier, locking the door. This new development meant that I had to put her to bed every night and let her out every morning.

One night I just didn't get around to putting her to bed for the night. The next morning I found her on the roof of the chicken coop where the other two hens live. She had flown from her pet carrier to the stack of trash containers to the chicken coop roof. From there, it was only a short hop to the fence surrounding our yard, and then down into the neighbor's yard on the other side.

They have dogs. This would not do.

I decided that the chickens really needed to learn to get along so they could all stay inside the original coop, which is roofed and completely enclosed in hardware cloth. I began by putting Chicken Little and Henrietta into the open enclosure during the day with Miss Hillary, and separating them at night.

Finally, I put Miss Hillary into the coop with the other two hens. By then, they had gotten accustomed to one another. The only issue was bedtime.

Our chicken coop consists of a run and a large elevated box with nests and places inside for the hens to roost at night. We call the box the henhouse. There is a ramp leading up to it from the run below. Miss Hillary was used to roosting at night at Centennial Farm on elevated tiers of 2-by-4s, not going into an enclosed henhouse. She would go up the ramp to the henhouse, and then go right back down.

Chicken Little, being the dominant hen, wanted Miss Hillary to get her big fluffy behind into the henhouse at night. She wanted to be the last one to go to bed and would try to herd Miss Hillary into the henhouse.

Nightfall brought a lot of squawking, clucking and maneuvering as Miss Hillary and Chicken Little argued over who was going to be the last hen into the house. It was utterly hysterical to watch them. Henrietta stayed out of the fray by going to bed first. She had a favorite perch and headed for it at the first sign of darkness.

Since Miss Hillary wasn't taking well to the henhouse, I got her a roost for the enclosed run. Here my lack of construction skills was no problem. I simply bought a pre-assembled sawhorse from Home Depot. Miss Hillary loved it. The sawhorse immediately became her favorite place to hang out.

Chicken Little had always preferred standing on top of the watering container. But the sawhorse was higher than the watering container. In the world of chickens, being on the highest perch imparts status. Naturally, Chicken Little wanted to be on the sawhorse. And where Chicken Little was, Miss Hillary wasn't. She joined the molting Henrietta down below, where they both take dust baths.

The girls seem to have worked out their differences, and there are seldom any altercations in the coop these days. All three are getting along fine in the enclosed coop, where they are safe from hawks and night critters. And they even go to bed nicely without fighting.

At last we have harmony in the henhouse. Now all we need are eggs.

VIC LEIPZIG and LOU MURRAY are Huntington Beach residents and environmentalists. They can be reached at

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