Shy Hens – A Discussion On Hen Personalities

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“I love the news letter! Great information delivered with a kind sense of humor. I have a question. 1 week ago I got 3 black Orpington bantam pullets (4 months old). I already have a hen and rooster that are both Porcelain D’Uccle bantams. They all have become comfortable with each other except for 1 of the Orpington girls. I have not seen her being picked on at all. This little girl will not eat while the Porcelains are eating, she constantly looks at the ground and now she has taken to hiding in a little hut that is in their pen. She appears healthy as they all do.

She and her sisters came from a breeder where the breeder was very attentive to them and spoiled them like chickens should be spoiled. I have been just talking to her sweetly (as I do with all my birds) and encouraging her to eat. I was going to bring her to my farm vet, but I do not think she is ill. I think she is homesick and misses her previous owner. Chickens are so varied in personality and can be quite emotional. Do you think I should just give her time to adjust or let my vet take a look at her? I will include a picture of her and you can see how she holds her little head down all the time.” ~ Mary Lapara

Thank you Mary, I’m so glad you wrote to ask this question and especially enjoy the picture you sent (see below). Let me reassure you that if your little girl is eating and drinking, she’s likely healthy and does not need to see a vet.

I believe your new Orpington may just be adjusting to her new home.

Moving from one environment to another is stressful. I don’t know about you but I find moving stressful and I know what’s going on; our chickens have no idea what’s happening. One day they’re just hanging around, doing what chickens do and the next minute someone has placed them in a cage or something and they’re driving down the road to a new home. They’re whole world changes in a matter of an hour!

Shy Black Orpington Bantam Pullet
Shy Black Orpington Bantam Pullet

With a little time, most chickens adjust to a new environment. Stress can trigger an early molt so don’t be concerned if your chickens start to look pretty rough with the onset of feather loss shortly after a stressful event.

You could be right on target with the thought that she’s homesick. It will pass. Have you ever had a child call from summer camp? About a week into the camp, that child is miserable. By the second week they’re having the time of their lives.

Another possibility for your little Orpington could be that she’s just shy. Chickens have distinct personalities just like people and other animals. The way she holds her head down and stays away from the others leads me to believe she could also be naturally shy. If that’s the case, she’ll probably stay that way and that’s okay.

As long as she’s getting food and water, even if it’s not at the same time the others are eating and drinking, she’ll be fine.

You’ll find that the more chickens you have, the more distinct personalities you’ll see.

Some of your hens may be outgoing. They tend to be unconcerned about what the others are doing (as long as a chicken lower in the pecking order isn’t trying to dominate them.) These are the girls who are out front, blazing a trail for the others. They are more adventurous.

Some of your chickens may be followers, always checking to see what the “popular” hens are up to. These are the girls who are always two steps behind the outgoing chickens. They’re curious too but they let the more outgoing girls go first. These less adventurous girls can be seen searching for the others if they loose track of them.

Then there are the girls who are loners, they just do their own thing. They seem to take no notice of what anyone else is doing. They explore as the urge strikes them and don’t join in when everyone else is involved in a particular activity or pursuit. They seem completely content “marching to the beat of a different drummer”.

Finally there are girls who want to join in but just can’t quite bring themselves to get up the courage. They stand back and watch what everyone else is doing and secretly want to be a part of it. You can tell these girls because they are always a short distance away from everyone else and they are intently watching. With time they may start joining in. They may also become content being loners.

Mary, I believe your little Orrington is either adjusting to her new home or falls under this last category of being shy. I’m sure she’ll be fine.

One quick note as a reminder to all; remember that when you add to your flock, you must keep the new birds completely isolated from your existing flock for up to 1 month to ensure you are not bringing home any diseases. After the quarantine period, ideally you’ll move them to an area that is close but separate from your existing flock so that they have a chance to get used to each other before being put together.

Mary didn’t mention how she introduced the new birds so I want to be clear that I’m not criticizing her. I just wanted to pass this information on to those of you who might be new to keeping chickens and unaware of this strategy of introducing new birds to your flock.

Keep the questions coming, next week it might be yours.

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