September 12, 2011

The Social Integration of Chickens

One of my concerns before we got the chicks, was how well they'd be accepted by our existing flock. A lot of folks have blogged about their experiences with this, and I've read every one of these posts with great interest. Some people experience a relatively smooth acceptance, for others, it's like World War III.

Mama Hen & her chicks in the field

The production approach to keeping chickens, is to replace one's entire flock every year, so social integration isn't an issue. As a homesteader with a self-sustainability approach, my goal is to have a few new chicks every year, to replace the oldest hens in the flock. I'm not interested in increase, I just want to maintain enough chickens to meet our needs.

I tried to give my chickens a slow introduction to the chicks. They could see them through a partition between the stalls from the beginning, but not interact. They would stand around and watch them through the fencing, as though puzzled by their existence. Eventually, the chicks started slipping out through the fence and under the gates, and a few of the hens started entering the chicks' yard. Some of these challenged Mama, but after a brief fight, calm resumed. I wondered if these weren't hens testing her place in the original pecking order.

Mama is always on the lookout

Anyone who has observed animals for a length of time, knows that their social structure is vastly different from that of humans. Humans are all about fairness and equality. Animals on the other hand, don't give a flying flip about that stuff. The proverbial pecking order really does exist, with somebody on the top, somebody on the bottom, and everyone else in between. Interestingly, in the animal world everyone knows their place and accepts it. Occasionally one will challenge another, but it is soon settled and everyone accepts the results. No one's feelings are hurt or self-esteem damaged by their rank in their species social structure.

Some of the hens would chase the chicks, some would get chased by Mama. Gradually they've started to mingle somewhat, though Mama is always wary.

The Barred Hollands

The two which continue to be aggressive against the chicks, are the Barred Hollands, Lord and Lady B. I don't know if this is a breed trait, or just their personalities. Lady B is at the bottom of the pecking order, I'm not sure of Lord B's status (the Delaware is at the top), but he is possessive of anything he thinks his ladies might like to eat. Sometimes he chases the chicks relentlessly, other times he ignores them. And when he squawks, the chicks hightail it for quick cover.

No longer chicks but little chickens

Personally, I'm ready to get Mama and the chicks out of the stall. Considering our setup, it's somewhat of a nuisance having them there. How to integrate them with the rest of the flock so I can move them into the coop carries a big question mark over it however. Any suggestions?

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Sherri B. said...

We have always had the mom and chicks in the same coop. The mom stays with them on the floor at night and then they just go about their business during the day..If anyone gets too close then mom takes care of it.

Susan said...

I didn't have any problems moving this year's chicks out to the coop with my one remaining old girl (who is at least 6!), or with moving the turkeys out too as soon as they were big enough. There was a little bit of fussing, but I let them all work it out. Turkeys ended up at the top of the order (mainly due to size I think), but they don't interact much with the chickens.

I love your comments about pecking order. For the most part I let my various animals work it out for themselve, as long as everyone understands that I reign supreme. Occasionally I get a "teenage" ram who thinks he can take me, but I lay that foolishness to rest and peace comes back. Most of the animals don't really care who's the boss, as long as they know where they stand. Makes life much calmer!

Theresa said...

Leigh, humans about fairness and equality???Really?
I think we could have discussion about that! :)
I do believe there is a pecking order in all creatures, humans included. Certainly with pack and flock animals. I don't know corn from cob when it comes to chickens but why not? I know dogs have their alpha, omega, beta and well, I've seen those in big family's too. I find more similarities in social structure than differences between the animal world and ourselves.
Smart chicks to become scarce when the king starts crowing. :)

Leigh said...

Sherri, I admit I took Mama out early on, because of our coop set-up. It's not ideal for egg hatching or chicks. For the most part things are working out, except for the two aggressive adults. A future coop will have a better arrangement.

Susan, interesting that you kept your turkeys with your chickens. I read somewhere they don't get along at all!

I agree about making sure everyone knows the humans are on top. I've never had much luck though, trying to interject in my animals' social order. They may "behave" while I'm around, but as soon as I turn my back, they're back to goat, cat, or chicken business!

Theresa, I absolutely agree with your comment. My point is that humans at least make a pretense of fairness and equality. Our social indoctrination programs are evidence of that. The reality of human nature is that we are in constant competition with one another and no one is ever satisfied with the result. Even those on top want more, more, more. Animals make no pretense whatsoever, yet are free from the dissatisfaction humans experience because of their place in the pecking order. That's just my observation, albeit not a very useful one.

Dani said...

I never knew that about chickens - just as well you warned me, before we purchase our first ones :) Reckon that is exactly where the phrase, the "pecking order" comes from LOL

Btw, I posted the spinach recipe for you...


Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

I just love the pictures of the little peeps out in the yard with mama. I keep them seperate but in view until about 6 weeks old, then I just rip off the bandaid. The pecking starts and after about a day or two every one is in their position and one big family. Although I do admit it is a very tense time for me. I just hate to see those little ones getting the business. But it has to happen sometime.

Woolly Bits said...

I have no tips about the chicks - but I am pretty sure that the pecking order is pretty much the same with humans - we only pretend to be all about fairness and such! if you look closer, the fairness is just a front people put up, in the background the status differences are still very much there - I am not sure, but maybe the way animals deal with this is more upfront and honest (if you can call it that with animal behaviour?)

Carolyn said...

I've let Momma hen & her chicks mingle with the flock within about a week of hatching, but I've also waited two months to integrate them. I guess it all depends on how "happy" the rest of the chickens are and are not bored or just looking for something (chicks) to pick on.

The Apple Pie Gal said...

I have been reading everything written about this subject too and will probably take your same approach. Small steps. Three of the chicks in our flock were raised by us for a friend. When she finally took them home to mingle with the other birds about two weeks ago, she had nothing but trouble. Her older layers were very aggressive to the new kids on the block and she still has them apart. Then again, she did just toss them all in, even tho I told her it probably wouldn't work. Well it didn't. Her yard isn't that large and she is considering getting rid of the older birds instead. One of them she already did actually. This was a great post and thanks for sharing! Good luck getting them all to come together! Keep us posted!

Hidden Haven Homestead said...

I am like you. I add a few new chicks each year to replace the older ones. I don't want to replace all of them. Have really enjoyed reading about your kitchen redo!

Leigh said...

Dani thanks for the recipe! I agree, the phrase "pecking order" definitely came from chickens. As did (of course) "hen pecked." Our Delaware sometimes gives our rooster the pecking of his life, and he just stands there and takes it!

Jane, it really does seem best to let them work it out themselves. Hopefully after that the chicks will be willing to sleep on the roosts with the "big" chickens.

Bettina, I agree with you on both points, human and animal. I think we humans could take a few lessons from the animal world.

Carolyn, good point. Boredom makes chickens terribly aggressive toward one another. I reckon it's different with every batch.

Diana, it is a concern, isn't it? Hopefully I'll have good things to report soon!

Peggy, thanks! The kitchen is going to be slow going I'm afraid. I take it you don't have much trouble integrating your new chicks(?) I admit I got more than a "few" this year, because we're still trying out different breeds. :)

Georgia said...

i don't understand why the chicken at the bottom of the pecking order always is the meanest to the new girls. i have had that experience time and time again!! i find it SO interesting though to watch the chicks :0)

Elisabeth said...

I think if you have the mom of the chicks with her, you can release her anytime. Mom will take care of them.

If the chicks are not with their mom, I would wait until they are big enough to not be killed by the other chickens and then release them. They learn the pecking order very quickly and also learn to stay out of the other chickens' way.

Susan said...

I keep mine in a separate small coop with fenced in area so everyone can get used to seeing each other. That goes on until the babes are large enough to outrun the stinkers (aka queens of the flock) and I let them all out together, although they overnight separately. Then I put them all into the main coop. A long, drawn out process, but it seems to work. (BTW - check my Winnahs post - you won!)

Leigh said...

Georgia, good point! I figure she's trying to peck her way higher up in the order. :)

Elisabeth, it seems to et better as time goes by. The chicks still get chased away a lot, especially from anything chicken edible!

Susan, woo hoo! Thank you! You chicken integration plan sounds like what I've been thinking. Not sure how I'll ever get the little guys in the main coop, but it has to happen one of these days!

A Wild Thing said...

My only experience I had with this is when I let a hen hatch out her own eggs she was on the second floor of the nesting box, when the chicks hatched, they all jumped(fell)off the ledge and started after mom, no one bothered them at all and next morning she was in a bottom box, but then again, they were hers from the git go. At the time I had around 50 white rocks growing up to butcher, but still no issues and I didn't lose any chicks...lucky I guess!

BrokenRoadFarm said...

While I do not have experience in this arena yet, still trying to get our other two chickens to start laying, it sounds like you have been going about it absolutely correct. I think no matter what you do, there will be some "ruffling of feathers". So it is good that you can be there to referee any situations that come up. By the way, they are so cute!!

Rosamargarita said...

Son grandes y hermosos los pollitos :)
Yo tengo malas experiencias con gallos y pollos pequeños, la supremacía... Los gallos atacan y matan polluelos :´( cuida a los pequeños
Un abrazo

Leigh said...

Sharon, I wonder if it depends somewhat on individual personalities. Yours does make for an encouraging experience.

BRF, "ruffled feathers." There's another chicken derived phrase! This just seemed like the best way to go, especially since I'd never done this before!

Rosamargarita, that's why I was so cautious! I didn't want to take that chance.

trump said...

For a min i almost thought i spotted "Monty" the rooster for a min. We have had some serous floods over in the Lebanon county area, so I'm sure those poor animals have been put out from all of this. But we are drying out now. Richard

Andrew said...

Your buffs are pretty. I can't say much about flock integration. My rooster is five months older than the hens and I still don't dare walk off and leave him with them. But everyone else is the same age thank goodness. Maybe in November he'll be socialized. Between a red-tail hawk and the nightly raids on the corn by the racoons and the rooster the girls are going to need to toughen up. Oh, one of my chicks started crowing last weekend. It's a grey version of the Blue Anduleusian (sp that). The freebie exotic that came with the order of otherwise females. I don't know that I want to have to deal with multiple roosters. Ha ha.

I hope my havahart got one of those coons last night. I didn't have much field corn to start with. They've broken down half of what's left and walked off with a third of it despite the electric net fence. Its still in milk stage, I can't pick it yet. At least two more weeks.

Leigh said...

Richard, your rooster capers must have been terribly traumatic, but at least I now know the story behind it. I heard there was bad flooding in your area. Glad things are getting back to norma.

Andrew thanks! I don't blame you for not wanting more than one rooster. Maybe the younger one would be a better choice since the girls all know him(?) Hawks are scary business. Coons are just annoying.

Me! said...

Put a piece of plywood on top of a couple of bricks, low enough so the bigger chickens can't get under it, this gives the little ones a place to hide. And lots of distractioins for the bigger chickens, like extra treats, hanging cabbages, a big pile of garden clippings to rummage thru. It takes a while, but eventually everyone will tolerate each other. Good luck!

Leigh said...

What great ideas! Thank you so much. I knew about creep cages, but your idea with the plywood seems so much simpler. I imagine hanging cabbages give the chickens quite a bit of entertainment, and the people too!

* Crystal * said...

I've been away & missed this..... sounds like a pain in the rear, but I hope it's starting to work out.

I bought a bunch of chicks....once they were feathered I put them in a large dog kennel inside the pen with the other chickens for about 2 weeks, then opened the door.... I guess I got lucky because there was only a minor squabble & then all was well with adult birds & young birds.

I can't believe how fast your lil ones have grown!!