Sunday, June 3, 2012

playing by the rules

It has been a wild ride as we've attempted to integrate the chicklets with the big girls.  The chicks are now almost 3 months old and have had their own enclosed area at the back of the run for about a month now.  Eric has built several versions of chick gates to allow them to come and go at will while keeping the big girls away from the chick feed and their refuge.  What would I do without my handy and handsome husband?!

Ray patrols the chicklets' refuge
For the past few weeks we've let the babies co-mingle with Ray, Winnie & Stella for about 45 minutes before sunset.  The fun starts as the big girls go up to roost for the night and the little ones romp around feeling safe and giddy.  When the chicklets are ready to call it a night, they head up the ladder, dodging pecks and ugly stares, and attempt to find a spot to sleep.  For the first few nights the babies ended up sleeping in the doorway of the coop, with Winnie & Stella keeping a close eye on them from above.  Ray, who normally sleeps on the ledge with Winnie & Stella, asserts her Alpha status by going inside the coop and perching on the roost.

the babies sleep under the watchful eyes of Winnie & Stella

The chicklets are feeling more brave now, and often sleep on the roost or on top of the nesting boxes near Ray.  I'm surprised that Ray allows it, but sleepy chickens are pretty mellow and maybe she figures she can keep a better eye on the young whippersnappers if they're close by.

At various times we've let the chicklets have supervised visits with the big girls during the day, but this often ends with me shrieking and flailing my arms as the hens go after Little Redder and proudly strut around with their beaks full of her lovely red feathers.  When things get really bad, the little ones fly up onto our shoulders (or my head) to escape the nastiness.  I know it's the way chickens work out their pecking order to ensure their survival, but it's icky. 

A few weeks ago, Eric saved the day when Redder & Chirpy tried to join Ray in the nesting box.  They wanted to snuggle in there with her, but Ray was not having it!  Eric explained the rules to the babies and relocated them before Ray got too stressed out.  Laying eggs is a private matter, as the young ones will soon learn. 

On Wednesday night, things were rather unpleasant as Redder was cornered a few times and more of her sweet little feathers were extracted by Winnie, Stella and Ray.  Winnie (sweet gentle Winnie!) is the meanest of all.  She's the lowest in the pecking order and has the most to gain or lose with the introduction of new chickens to the flock. She is also awfully fond of chick feed and will squeeze her buxom body through the chick gates to get at it. 

I left the next day for a vacation with a friend and came back yesterday, having spent a few sleepless hours wondering if we would EVER be able to fully integrate our flock.  When I got home I asked Eric if we should try letting the chicklets out.  We did and it was incredibly harmonious.  Hour after hour, the little ones roosted, ate, drank and pecked away at straw, as if this was how it had always been.  The big girls did their own thing and when they got too close to the wee ones, the babies would fly up into the coop and hunker down for a while.  This continued all afternoon and into the evening.  It was amazing!!  It seems that the big girls have finally asserted themselves enough and are now satisfied that the babies understand the rules and how things work in THEIR yard.

Redder & Chirpy enjoy some peace & quiet in the coop
I expect there will be some bumps along the road, but for now we're one big happy family!!


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