The babies are now around ten weeks old. Can I still call them babies? They've grown very fast, and they're really starting to look like pullets. So what's the next step? When you have two flocks, integration is always on your mind. Lots of discussion posts and blogs will tell you to keep the birds separated, to introduce them slowly, and to intervene if the pecking gets too vicious. That's all great, but these are city birds in a small yard. Here are a few ways to maximize your success.
- Let your chicks grow up in safety. We moved our brooder box into its own corner of the yard (literally a small corner; ours is only 6 feet by 10 feet, and it's wedged between the garage and the fence). The kids had grass and dirt, netting overhead to protect them from predators, and a mesh door to see the other chickens when they were out roaming.
- Introduce everyone in open space. We let all the chickens out in the backyard (again, our backyard is not big by any means). They're distracted by open space and grass to eat, and there's lots of room to run away if a fight breaks out. Added benefit - an open yard is tough to claim in a turf war.
- Move the chicks into their new home at night. Darkness is a signal for chickens to sleep. It's an easy time to catch, move, and poke fun at your girls. When they wake up, all the chickens are in the new space together. Side note - this is not as unsettling as a human waking up in a new home with strangers in the bed beside them. Chickens don't think about things as deeply as we do.
- Distract the combined flock. This can be as simple as throwing in scratch (a mixture of corn and other grains fed as a treat), veggie scraps (particularly big things like whole heads of cabbage), or a new layer of straw, which always gives chickens a fun time scratching.
- Make sure there's plenty of food and water for everybody. Possessiveness over food is common, so more feeders equals more opportunity for eats. Keep an eye on the younger birds, and make sure they're eating and drinking.
- Chill out. Seriously. They're chickens. Expect pecking. This is a normal way for them to establish dominance. If you get one hen really attacking another, you may need to intervene. Otherwise, you should see an improvement in about a week.
Last night was the big night for our kids. We snuck into the brooder box, grabbed tails, dragged them out, and split up the family. Three went across the street into the new coop Donnie had just finished that day. I'll snap a few pictures of it and its inhabitants in a few weeks. The other three got thrown into the big girls' coop. Things were tense this morning. There were arguments over food, and Winnie and Rusty had a very bad landing when they emerged from the upper coop into the run. It takes time to learn how to climb ladders. To ease the hostilities, I harvested some of the half-eaten cabbages from the front yard and threw them in. You can clearly see the big girls on one side...
... and the next generation on the other. All of this reminds me of the first day of high school. The big kids are really big, and you feel tiny as a freshman. Then someone slams you into a locker and steals your lunch money.
It's pretty tough not to fall victim to my motherly instincts. I want to keep the little ones safe, and I hate to see Ursula and Raquel picking on Winnie (she has so far received at least two very sharp pecks to her back). Rusty is having some extreme self-confidence issues, and Dark Meat seems lost without her sister, Light Meat. I do understand, however, that they'll work all of these problems out in their own ways.