The teens find a little safety in a corner of the run: Speckles (Rhode Island Red), Sprocket (at the back with the larger comb, an Easter Egger/Ameraucana), Betty (with the light head, a Dark Brahma), and Blue Andy (our Blue Andalusian). Life on the outside takes some getting used to!
The teens are almost seven weeks old and quickly outgrowing their grow pen. With the weather in the sunny sixties, we’ve decided it is time to start the integration with the big girls in the larger flock during the day. Despite the fact that we follow every rule in the book and all the suggestions of the most seasoned chicken keepers–the first day was not a walk in the park!
These teens have been spending days outside next to the big girls for about three weeks and have had their grow coop right in the middle of the big run for the last week and a half or so. You’d think this would give everyone the chance to get good and used to each other. But, alas…
Before we opened the doors of the grow pen, we gave the big hens extra treats to distract them and make them think it was fun time. As soon as the pullets started to creep out into the larger pen, however, the big girls rushed into the grow pen–eager to find any morsels of chick feed that might be on the ground. This forced the teens out into the wide world and they took off running and peeping.
The way the pecking order works in a flock the size of ours, the old gals on top don’t really care much about the new interlopers. They are secure in their position as Queen Hens. They do still peck, bump and dominate the other gals in the top six, but they barely noticed the teenagers in their coop. The most intense bullying, however, is coming from the two hens at the bottom of the current social order: Mavis and Dottie.
Dottie, our gorgeous Silver-Laced Wyandotte, is our current lowest ranking hen, followed by the stubborn and extremely dim-witted, Mavis (a Dominique). In the wonderful world of chickens, both of these gals have the most to gain my making sure the teenagers know their place. Plus, it is a ready-made group of underlings for them to share some of the pecks and pushes they’ve been subject to.
Mavis has the classic Hollywood bully’s combination of stubbornness, dim-wittedness, and being a bit of an outsider from the in-crowd. She does not deter easily!
This bullying is a combination of charging and posturing, and actually trying to give the teens some hard pecks. For the first half hour or so, we stayed in the run with everyone to intervene every time Mavis and Dottie tried to get too aggressive–this generally sent the young ones squawking and trying to fly anywhere and everywhere–they ended up in water buckets, stuck in fences, and clinging to the sides of trees. We needed to remind the nasty ones that we were ultimately in charge and such poopiness would not be tolerated.
For a while, things settled down–the teens kept to one end and the big gals had 2/3 of the run. There was exploring, scratching, chirping, and posturing from afar. A temporary truce appeared to be called–with the emphasis on temporary! When the teens got a bit more comfortable and started to wander and the older hens got bored exploring the grow pen, Dottie and Mavis were back for some more struts, pecks, and growls.
We know from experience that this will be a process. As the younger ones get bigger and used to life among the hens, and the pecking order re-establishes itself, things will get into a new normal groove. Some people choose to avoid these challenges all together by having a flock where all the chickens are the same age and are together from the very beginning. While this works fine for folks with farms or room for big or multiple flocks, it is not very practical for the small urban chicken keeper. We have to allow for the phasing out of the older hens as their laying decreases by bringing in some young pullets. If the teens had been raised by a mama hen, she would protect them and help them to integrate into the flock, but there would still be some adjusting and reshifting of the pecking order. We have found that things don’t get good and predictably calm until the pullets start laying–then they seem to become fully-integrated members of the flock.
So, for the next week or so, they will all be having supervised integration time as we keep an eye on everyone and make sure the jostling, posturing, and pecking does not get out of hand. After all, there’s plenty of food, treats, and space for everyone!