Photos by author
The younger chickens have been spending days in the portable coop, which is parked next to the hen yard. The two flocks are aware of each other—I notice them occasionally looking over at the strangers, but for the most part, they seem to be ignoring the others. While in the portable coop, the chicks have learned about fresh air, flying insects, scratching in the earth for bugs and worms, green grass and flowers between their toes. They’ve had a chance to size up the adult flock, and the older girls have had an opportunity to check out the younger flock, too…all within the security of two sections of chicken wire fencing. In addition, the chicks have learned the sounds of the area: the occasional barking of our old Australian Shepherd, the roar and crunch of road traffic traveling up our country road, the warning calls of blue jays, crows and squirrels as well as the screams of the resident red tail hawk. I hope these sensory experiences will serve the young chickens well as they join the older hens.
Pecking order is fascinating to me. Four of the pullets are Barred Rocks. We’ve nicknamed them the “YaYa’s” because they have done everything as a group since they were tiny. Henrietta is the largest of the YaYa’s and has been the Director and Leader of the Chicks from the beginning. If a bug crawled into the baby pen—Henrietta was the bravest, and first to taste it. She’s the first to try a new roost and truthfully, the friendliest. She likes to be handled, carried around, and petted. It was not really a surprise when Henrietta was first to check out the expanded space.
The surprise for me was the interest and response within the older flock. Le-A, our tiny black Silky at the very bottom of the adult pecking order, happened to be having her lunch at the feeder when Henrietta hopped onto the divider. Le-A puffed up her feathers-making herself almost as big as the smallest pullet, and strutted around the feeder. Interesting reaction! Finally—a chicken below Le-A on the food chain!
I stepped back to see what would happen. Henrietta took a deep breath (ok, I’m making that up—but I THINK she must have), and soared out of the coop, above the heads of the Little Red Hen and Buffs. She landed right in the middle of the yard and right after her sailed the rest of the YaYas and most of the Speckled Sussex youngsters.
Whenever I checked on them yesterday afternoon, the young flock was still milling around in the teenagers’ apartment—guarded by our small white Poppyseed hen. When I shut the doors on the coop last night, both flocks were still separate—roosting in their original sections, but today when I opened the doors—the youngsters were eating breakfast in the main part of the coop.
I don’t know yet, of course, if the two flocks will ever completely merge. I’ve done what I could to make the transition easy and safe for both groups. Like a family sending their child off into the world, sometimes it takes a long time for both to adjust to the changes, but it’s a necessary part of growth. Now I need to wait and see if my preparations will lead to competent adult hendom!