Changes in the Chicken Coop

Courtesy of Natalie Honan
Courtesy of Natalie Honan

Changes in the Chicken Coop 

By Natalie Honan

Many students have realized in passing that the chicken coop has been looking a bit more crowded than usual. Recently, a group of new chickens were introduced into the current chicken habitat south of the Grove House.

Six chickens, who originally lived off campus, were about to become homeless, when Teddy Menard PZ’16 volunteered to house the chickens at Pitzer. To make room for these new birds, members of the Garden Club built a chicken coop which was located in the grove and backed onto the fence surrounding Harvey Mudd’s field. 

During a Garden Club meeting, Jim Miller PZ ’18 and Gabe Elliot PZ ’18 spontaneously volunteered to assume some caregiving responsibilities for the new group of chickens.

 “Our basic duties were just to make sure that they had food and water and to collect their eggs. We also wanted to spend some time with them because even a little human companionship can brighten up their day,” Elliot said. 

The new chickens were content in their original home in the orchard until one night, when a creature made its way into the coop and ate one of the chickens. Apparently, a long tree which extended over and around the coop allowed for an unknown animal to enter the chickens’ habitat.

After the first attack, Miller and Elliot decided to confine the chickens into the physical structure within their coop to try to keep them safe. Once the chickens were inside, rocks were placed against the exit as to keep the chickens in and the killer out.

However, after two days had passed, one morning students discovered the rocks had been moved and another chicken was found dead.

Miller and Elliot are guessing the creature was either a raccoon or a bobcat. The creature was nimble enough to remove all the rocks out of place, pointing to a raccoon. However, bobcats are physically stronger and could slaughter a chicken a lot easier than a raccoon might have.

“We’ll just call it the creature,” Elliot said.

Menard also speculated that whatever the creature was, it had to be able to climb a very tall fence, strong enough to kill a chicken, and agile enough to break into the hutch.

“To get up the fence, the creature would have had to climb seven or eight feet and then climb down the tree into the hutch. So maybe it was something small, like a fox,” Menard said.

Many animals have been wandering towards more urban settings as a result of the drought wiping out food sources in their natural habitats.

To keep the remaining chickens safe from the creature, the Garden Club decided to relocate the chickens into the original chicken coop. Miller and Elliot explained that the group did not initially want to combine the flocks, due to the dangers of discord and disease within the two chicken populations.

“They grew up separately, they each have their own defined pecking orders and by putting them together, we were worried that they would fight to try and establish dominance over each other,” Elliot said.

“There’s also the issue of disease. One flock of chickens is used to a different set of germs, bacteria, and parasites than the other. So when you introduce them together, there’s the risk that one group will not have built an immunity that the other one has,” Miller added.

Regardless, the creature was a more direct and guaranteed threat to the safety of the chickens than the risks that came with combining the flocks. Left with no other choice, the Garden Club moved the four remaining chickens of the newer flock in with Pitzer’s original flock.

Upon first introducing the two flocks to each other, the chickens were met with some disagreement. The chickens did not socialize with each other and chased each other around when they were fed.

“There were definitely cliques formed, they did not get along. The original chicken flock would hang out closer to Mead and the other one would stay in their separate corner,” said Miller.

Miller and Elliot stated they believe the main reason for the preliminary conflict was limited space in the small tree in which most of the chickens sleep.

“There were complaints from people in Mead about all the noise the chickens were making because the chickens were fighting in the morning,” Elliot said, “This probably had to do with them all getting out of the tree in an orderly fashion.”

With time, the chickens are slowly growing more comfortable with each other.  According to Elliot and Miller, they chickens have started mingling with each other. Menard reported not seeing chicken feathers (an indication of chicken violence) or hearing as much squabbling.

“I think overall it was a good transition, I think they’re safer and hopefully happier. Although, they are missing two of their comrades,” Elliot said.

Currently, members of the Garden Club are planning to expand the size of the coop as well as the housing structure to eventually have the capacity for up to 20 chickens.

Miller and Elliot both said the chickens play an important role in “bringing joy to the community.” They like to think of the chickens as the celebrities of Pitzer College.  Menard added that the chickens “give students a special chance to engage with their campus.”

“They’re a very unique and interesting opportunity to express responsibility. The opportunity to have a relationship with the chickens is also important” Menard said.  

Moreover, the chicken coop adds visual appeal to the grounds. The chickens are a highlight of the admissions tours and to school visitors.

“It’s a lovely space. The chicken coop is very old. It’s on display and very visible, so I think aesthetically it plays a very important role,” Menard said.

They also provide eggs for the Pitzer Food Collective and other Pitzer students.

Elliot and Miller wanted to dedicate this article to the first chicken who was slaughtered, “R.I.P. Mona.”

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