Flock Integration: Adding New Ladies
The new ladies aren’t really ladies. They are girls. The B Squad. Beyonce, Belinda, and Britney. They are girls because they are smaller, younger and not yet producing eggs like the Ladies I am oh-so proud of. This diminished stature makes them the B Squad to the Ladies. For me, it makes for a little bit of a headache.
When we got our chicken surprise, I knew flock integration was not without it’s concerns. Chickens have a pecking order (Ha! No, really.) And can be quite nasty when imposing that on smaller counterparts. This is advanced chicken wrangling. For reference, I was formerly operating at novice level. We are currently in the midst of a steep learning curve, and just trying not to slide back down it.
I did some things right.
Choose Carefully. I had the advantage of getting to observe all seven of the girls for almost two weeks before I chose which three would stay. Knowing the bossy boots that is Lady Gaga, I looked for the more demure girls of the bunch. Beyonce may be crazy, but she is not assertive. I passed over the 2 other Barred Rocks who were much much pushier, choosing the friendly and curious Belinda. Both of my Silver Laced Wynadotte options seem to be calm, cool, and collected. I picked the girls I thought would best fit in.
That is serving me well. There are no few confrontations. The B Squad stays out of the Laides’ way. Almost too much so. To the point of not being in the same area they are in. And looking very nervous when they have to be.
Start Slow. While the girls were still in temporary housing, we let everyone free range together. Plenty of room to run. Keep the interactions brief. And positive. The Ladies love getting out of their run, even if there are interlopers present. We did this several evenings in a row, until the Ladies were basically ignoring the girls.
Integrate at Night. When we did finally add the B girls to the Chicken House, we did so at night. When the Ladies were already roosted and out of it for the evening. Then everyone wakes up together and viola! New chickens! Not quite that easy, but it made it pretty anti-climatic. I tucked them in at 9pm and checked on them at about 5:30am. No fireworks. No bloodshed. Nobody there but those chickens.
Have Plenty of Space. Our coop is big. Our run is big. We have a separate tractor for daytime excursions. And we still allow for free range time. Our chicken infrastructure can easily accommodate this many Ladies and Girls, plus some. Which is good. I would not attempt integration if space were tight. As I said, the girls can stay far far away from the Ladies. They can spend most of their days separate, but equal which keeps everyone’s stress level at a low roar. That’s important, because more than a week post integration. All is not one big happy flock.
Here’s what I did wrong.
Equality in Size. I chose the girls based on personality, but they are still just girls. At two months younger, they are at a size disadvantage. They know it. This has them running scared. They don’t even try to hang with the Ladies, and I can’t say as I blame them. Gaga isn’t the problem. The Lady Bullies are Little Bird and Joanie. The most insecure of the current flock. This is both surprising and not. In retrospect, I should have gotten Ladies, not girls. Not that I had much choice.
Slower Still. Everyone free ranged together for about a week prior to joining the flock. That wasn’t enough. I knew it wasn’t enough, but I was going on vacation and had to rush things a little more than I should have in the interest of petsitter sanity. The Ladies were ignoring the girls, but the girls weren’t ignoring the Ladies. The quick integration has been harder on my smaller chickens.
Not Dogs. At pack integration, I am old hat. Foster dogs come and go. Meh, so what? Chickens, however are not dogs. They do not live in my house under my nose. I can’t micromanage all their interactions. They also are not as likely to respond to my encouragement and verbal reprimands. Not that that keeps me from offering them. For these rooster-less flocks, when conflicts arise, you have to ‘play rooster’, bossing all chickens around to get them on the same team (when you can).
Update: Since writing the bulk of this post, there’s been a development. Two actually. Blood has been shed. Pop star blood. Beyonce’s. I found our funny headed girl, sans some top feathers one fine morning. Happy as a clam after her attack. Beyonce is currently spending her days in the tractor separate from the flock, and her nights in a cat kennel in the coop. To keep her safe while she heals. More hassle. The second development…Beyonce might be Jay-Z. In a (???) moment of separation and distress there was a bit of a cockadoodle. Just one, but its got us looking at Beyonce in a whole new way. We don’t keep chickens as pets. This could be unfortunate.
Not to long ago I thought I had this chicken business mastered. Then I went and rocked the boat. Now, I’m struggling to level up and counting the days until these new girls grow up.