Moving Hillary, Aileen and Lulu out of their brooder and into the coop with our big girls started stressing me out several weeks before the actual event. I knew the establishment of the pecking order might be pretty rough and I had visions of my babies not being allowed to hang out with the established flock and totally getting their feelings hurt. So, I started doing research to find out how to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone.
I’m a big fan of research. I research everything. I seriously just spent the better part a day researching the best blow dryer to buy after mine broke on vacation. Research is my friend. Except for when it isn’t. As I searched articles, community pages and Facebook posts it became abundantly clear to me that I had way bigger things to worry about than my little girls not being allowed to be part of the in-crowd. I had to worry about things like them not being allowed to eat and drink. Or not being allowed to sleep in the roost.
Or being viciously attacked and getting their eyes pecked out by the other girls. What the what?
I was not okay. I started rehearsing how I was going to tell my boss I needed a week off work so I could make sure the introductions between my chickens went okay and I’d be home to intervene should it morph into a mean girls situation. I even started giving the babies pep talks and telling them they were small, but mighty, so they needed to stick together and stand up to the older girls. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a little nuts.
Then it occurred to me: The big girls still didn’t like the new coop and the baby girls would have to stay in it for a few days so they would know it was home. I’d seen articles that suggested letting the old and new chickens see each other but not be able to get to one another to help with the transition, so maybe locking Hillary, Aileen and Lulu in the run for about a week would help ensure no one lost an eye.
My husband and I moved the babies into the coop on a Friday afternoon and we watched and waited. Other than a few glances to see what was in the building they sometimes walked through, the big girls paid the littles absolutely no attention and the littles were so busy exploring their new home, they couldn’t have cared less about the big ones.
But, I didn’t count it as a win yet. The littles were going to have to come out to free range and eventually everyone was going to have to share a coop. We planned the introduction to free ranging together for the following Saturday when we had a lot of yard work to do and would be with them all day. I held my breath when we opened the run to let them out and the older girls sauntered over to check them out. Other than the occasional peck or scolding if one of them got too close to something a big girl had or had something a big girl wanted, it was largely uneventful. No one lost an eye and everyone was allowed to eat and drink, so I was a happy chicken mama.
A couple of weeks later, we tore down the old coop and forced them to live together. That has really been the most challenging part of the merge. Because Hillary, Aileen and Lulu fully understand they are at the bottom of the pecking order, they won’t go up through the same door at night as the big girls. I have to open a side door that leads directly into the roost and they climb a little ladder and get in the corner where they sleep. Sometimes I hear some arguing as they all settle in for the night, but I have managed to stop being a helicopter chicken mom enough to just walk away and let them work it out.
I’ve also noticed that the little girls are starting to get more brave. Like, when we bring treats for everyone. They used to not even try to grab a worm or some watermelon because they knew they would be run off. Now they get in the fray and do a pretty good job holding their own — even if it’s just taking off running with whatever is in their mouth until they can hide and eat. I guess maybe being at the bottom of the pecking order isn’t so bad when you’re younger, thinner and faster!
Read this editor’s letter about her new chickens and their lively personalities.
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