The time has come…to take the final steps to blend our old gals with the “teenagers,” as we like to call them. It’s been a process and we’ve attempted to take some care so that they could all get used to each other. The teens are really outgrowing their corner of the coop and they can all fly up into the tree branches and onto the top of their little house. The separation was getting somewhat insecure, anyway, so the time came to take down the temporary fencing, mediate the inevitable tussles, and see if the young and the old couldn’t find some intergenerational peace?
Chickens are not the slightest bit interested in living a life of cooperative consensus. There is a very definite hierarchy. We like to joke that it is pretty much exactly like working for a modern company, but, in fact, chickens are far better at being chickens then conforming to our human expectations of people-like behaviors. It took us a while to come to understand that and now we know that if we can provide for their needs, give them plenty of space, and appeal to what we call their “chicken-ness”–the chances are we can get this reorganized version of our flock behaving like a unit–it’s just going to take a while.
As we mentioned in an earlier blog, the two older hens at the bottom of the pecking order are the ones who are most interested in bullying the teens. They have the most to gain and lose by the addition of the newbies. If they can keep the teens below them, they will actually move up the line or get a promotion, if you will. There’s little chance that the top gals are going to be usurped, so they have no worries about the lanky teens bopping around the coop. Meanwhile, the teens do have to learn how the hierarchy works and where they fit into the flock. It isn’t always pretty and when we first started our chicken-keeping adventures, we were determined we could teach them to be sweet to each other, but we’ve learned and evolved and now, while we watch out for overly aggressive behaviors, we do let them work out their chicken world on their own.
The first day or so, post-fence, there were some chases, pecks, and flying feathers. The teens spent a fair amount of time sticking together in corners and moving out of the way when the big ones came near. We’ve been making sure there are plenty of feeders and waterers (currently two big feeders and four waterers for 10 chickens) and lots of healthy treats. We’ve been supervising the treat distribution to make sure everyone gets some of the corn, cabbage, rice, or whatever. We don’t know if there’s any science to it, but it seems to us that the more time they spend eating things they love as a group, the quicker they get used to each other and the less “scarcity” aggression acting out.
So, a few days have passed and the tussles are getting fewer and farther between. They are still sleeping in different coops but the teens are being allowed to roam more throughout the coop. They also still stick together for safety and support. We are letting them all out into the same chicken yard together in the morning and crossing our fingers that reasonable peace will transpire throughout the day. Yes, the big gals are in charge. We’ve learned from experience that the teens probably won’t take their full places among the flock until they start laying, but it is always interesting to watch how the blending goes down. We’ve learned so much about chickens just by watching how they build and behave “in community.”
Meanwhile, we keep our eyes on things and focus on keeping everyone healthy and safe–and giving them plenty of space to get used to each other while being able to get away if things get a bit heated. At 11 weeks, the teens are growing bigger by the day and will soon be able to hold their own with those plump, old hens!