The chooks have been at each other. They arrived on a Sunday. One child carried the first cardboard box through the house and out to the garden. The second child carried another and the third helped lift in the straw. The boxes shook and thumped. “Hey mum, look, Trifle’s back is all red!” the youngest said.
Trifle is a Light Sussex breed of chook and Sausage is a Buff Sussex. Sausage, the larger of the two, had obviously got stuck into Trifle as soon as our car left Abundant Layers in Dandenong and had kept up this unrelenting attack all the way back to Altona.
The other box contained two Barnevelders. These birds – Egor and B-Rex were small and dark – and they appeared to be quite friendly.
Everyone worked together to clean out the chook shed and the run. It had been empty for two years. We put the chooks in the shed and left them alone. Soon, a shout went up. The Barnevelders were attacking Sausage! Sausage was bleeding! Sausage had no fur left on her bum! Trifle was still red raw from Sausage’s earlier attack but the Barnevelders, working as a menacing unit, had eyes only for the biggest Sussex. Sausage, a bully only an hour earlier, was now the victim. How quickly the tide had turned.
Mike nailed up some wood in the middle of the chook shed to keep the damn birds apart but wasn’t enough. The Barnevelders flapped and hopped and their determined malice made them strong. They leapt the barrier and resumed their pecking.
Our chook shed was a voodoo blood bath.
Mike built a barrier that went all the way to the roof. The two Sussex chooks clucked sadly. Their injuries were alarming. The vampiric Barnevelders, meanwhile, paced the perimeter, looking for a way through, scheming and strutting, pecking the water tray, having plenty drink so they were ready for the next bout.
A week has passed and nothing has changed. The Barnevelders are confined to their half of the shed while Sausage and Trifle have been allowed out to have a peck around outside. They are shivery and tentative, snuffling about behind between the fence and the back of the shed, hiding away from Egor and B-Rex.
We don’t know what will happen. Will the birds learn to get along? Will the pecking order become a symbolic, bloodless sort of a system like it is in the human world? Will one chook be appointed professor, editor, judge, CEO? Will the other chooks then sort themselves into the various lower-order ranks and just get on with it? Or will the chooks refuse to comply and continue with their bloody battle for supremacy? Or will they reject a hierarchical system all together and share resources and space as equals? More important, can a hen-pecked chook lay an egg?