At the end of last week, I was thinking that maybe it was time to get the new chickens sleeping in the coop with the old ones. There had been an incident in which the alpha hen attacked one of the n00bs when I tried to put her in the coop, and so I began a slow process of acclimating the two groups of chickens to each other. This involved leaving the new chicks in the run in the protection of a dog crate, and then building up to leaving the crate door open during the day so everyone could mingle if they so chose, but the teen chickens could hide in there if they felt threatened. I also threw in a hearty dose of group free ranging. The free ranging really seemed to be helping. The old guard was surprisingly tolerant of the new school when they were out in the yard together, and so I knew it was only a matter of time before they began to accept them in the coop as well. Just how much time was proving to be the big question.
After a week or two of the free ranging togetherness, I decided that this was it. They were getting along fine, or at least ignoring each other, out in the yard. If they could do it there, they could do it in the coop too. So finally one night, when the grownups were in the coop and the youngsters were roosting on top of their crate out in the run, I decided to try putting another youngster in the coop. I picked one up, hoping it wasn’t the same one who got pecked so badly the first time around, apologized quietly for what might be about to happen, and put her right inside the door. There was what amounts to the chicken equivalent of a growl, but there wasn’t an attack. Seeking to capitalize on this moment, I put another one in there. Another chicken growl, but peace. Going for the hat trick, I put the last new chick in there. Still just squawking. This was the moment I had been waiting for. Except that the chicks all piled on top of each other with their heads sticking out the coop door, rather than hunkering down inside. It was a start, anyway. They were in the coop.
My original group of chickens took under a week to figure out that I was going to put them in the coop every night so they might as well just go in on their own. These new ones either weren’t so fast to figure it out, or were too afraid of what might happen if they went in on their own. After a week of putting them in every night, I decided it was time to take the dog crate out of the run. That would get them to mingle even more with the adults, and would take away their default nighttime roosting place. So I took it out, and that night I came out and found them all roosting on one of the roosts I set up in the run for daytime use. So I continued to put them in by hand, and they continued to stick their heads out the doorway. I guess this was like sticking their heads in the sand. If they couldn’t see the adult chickens, they weren’t there, right? And if they’re not there, they can’t peck you.
I didn’t mind leaving the coop door open at night when it was warm, but it was getting colder. There were several nights in the 40s being forecast, and I wasn’t going to leave the door open for that sort of cold. So the night before the first cold snap, I put the chicks in, and then pushed them far enough into the coop so I could close the door. They made agitated noises, but the grownups were silent. The next morning, everyone was in one piece.
That day when I went to check for eggs, it was already getting dark. As I approached, I noticed that Henny Penny was actually herding the babies up the ramp into the coop. She had finally taken them in as members of the flock, and was making them sleep in the right spot. Or, sort of. They still sat in the doorway, but at least they were going in on their own. I crammed them in and shut the door again.
That Saturday I cleaned out the coop, and the youngsters came in to watch me. They were very curious about what I was doing, and then they saw the roost, and that seemed even more interesting. They all sat on it and made excited chirping noises. I think they had been so intimidated by the older chickens that they were afraid to even try roosting in there. But they gave it a shot when the grownups weren’t around, and they seemed to enjoy it.
The next night when I went to check for eggs, it wasn’t quite getting dark, but when I opened the coop door, the youngsters were all in on the roost, ready for bedtime. I sometimes want to go to bed really early too, so maybe they’d also had a bad day at work. Or maybe they were getting there early to get a good spot. Either way, after attempting a lot of different techniques for getting everyone together, it had finally worked. At last I had a happy chicken family.
(CREDITS: Theme music: Chicken In The Barnyard by Fireproof Babies, Music Bed: Little Nemo Selection by The Victor Herbert Orchestra.)