Chickens

Merging Flocks

Although I began incubating my Ameraucana eggs only two weeks after the first group had hatched, the five-week old chicks were far too old and far too large for the tiny fluffy butts that hatched.  So, the two broods grew up apart, the five-week old brood moving outside to the four-by-four coop when the Ameraucana chicks hatched and took over the bathroom.

When the Ameraucanas were four weeks old, they were so active that they would constantly break out of their brooder and poop all over the bathroom, which, suffice to say, I did not appreciate.  Fully-fully feathered, they were prepared to live through the warm nights of mid-June without additional heat.  So, the big chicks moved into the new eight-by-eight coop, the little coop was cleaned and disinfected, and the little chicks moved outside.

When out in their runs, the two groups were separated by a chicken wire and rabbit wire fence.  They could see and hear each other and occasionally peck a bit through the wire, but no one could really effect any harm.  After a few weeks, the little chickens were allowed out to free range along with the big chickens.  Both groups stuck with their buddies, but occasionally big chicks with lower statuses, like Grey the blue Easter Egger roo and Henny the Specked Sussex hen, would give chase and peck the little guys.

Across the fence

Interacting across the fence

Observing across the fence

Still, no one suffered any injury – that is, until little Willow flew over the fence into the big chicks’ run.  Because she was alone and an intruder, she was pecked quite badly but recovered in a few days.

Poor, pecked Willow: That night, too tired to eat

Finally, when the little birds were ten weeks old, the day came for them to move into the big coop, the territory of the big chicks.  We let everyone out to free range for the day, in part to tire them out.  I spent the day cleaning the coops and changing the set-up.  When two groups merge, the biggest conflict is the fight over the feeders and waterers.  While I didn’t want to add another waterer, I decided to hang another feeder in the big coop which would allow more feeding room and give the little guys something that the big guys didn’t feel that they already owned.  I also took the opportunity to add nest boxes for the older chicks.  While I have read that it is best not to stress the chickens by making too many changes at once, I thought that changes within the coop might throw off the territorial behavior enough to ease the transition.  Also, the three lead cockerels had been sold off at the poultry fair that morning, so the pecking order was disheveled already – I thought this would be a good time to add the little birds, before the new pecking order was established.

Lazzie and co. checking out the new feeder and nest boxes

Lazzie and co. checking out the new feeder and nest boxes

Everyone returned home to their own coops to roost for the evening at dusk.  With some light left, we moved the littles into the larger coop, my husband and I working as a team.  One of us stood in the big coop to supervise and prevent violence while the other fetched the little guys one by one.  With the big chicks roosting together on one end of the eight-foot roost, we placed the little chicks on the other end.

An uneasy start: Supervised merge on the roost

There was some pecking.  Some chicks hopped off the roost and paced the floor in protest, the little guys trying to escape out the door.  But, no one was hurt, and eventually everyone settled down and went to bed.

There was some squawking in the morning, but because the run and coop are also large for the number of birds I have, the new chicks were able to get away from the big guys.  For days, they seemed to be two flocks in one run.  They would alternate, one group outside in the run while the other group ate and drank in the coop.  Now, after two weeks, they are beginning to merge.  They all prefer the chicks they grew up with, but they are now able to eat sometimes side by side, and, at night when they roost, there is some mixing.  They are becoming one flock united, with the unlikely Lazzie the Speckled Sussex boy with such an unlikely start in the world as the top roo.

A week later, laying down together

Isn't Rosie just fabulous?

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