Sunday, 22 August 2010

What to do for the best?

I had forgotten quite how stressful trying to integrate chickens can be.  It's stressful because I so much want to do what's best and least stressful for them,  and it's very difficult to balance the needs of the differing "flocks".

In the garden I've got my established flock of 4 girls.  Geriatric (but still gorgeous) Delilah;  loopy Milly,  who has decided to stop laying despite only being a couple of years old;  and the hyperactive Lily and Daisy, who are about 18 months old but because they've been bred to lay, they are likely to have a fairly short life.  There was a lot of trouble when Lily and Daisy joined the flock, as they were rather impervious to manners and etiquette.

In the other Cube I've got 4 girls that we hatched this year.  Two of them are planned to be long term garden residents,  the other 2 will join the breeding flock at the allotment.  These four girls have grown up together and so have established a pecking order without any real hassle.

After much discussion and debate, I decided to combine all four newbies with the oldies, even though 2 of them would be moving on later.   The deciding factors for this were that four to four was a better introduction rate,   and I felt that going through the experience here would equip the two breeding girls to cope with the rigours of being introduced to their new flock better.   Tehy would also be older, possibly laying, and so not be as nervous.

So. I started by moving the Newbies run and coop close to the Oldies.  For some time, we ran them in adjacent pens, separated by netting.    We put Delilah in with them occasionally whilst free ranging,   as she was least likely to be able to terrorise them, but would at least give them some experience.  Then we let Milly and Delilah in with them occasionally.

Eventually we removed the partitions, and opened all the doors on both coops and runs so that there was no where for a scared bird to get cornered.      It's been like this for a few days.  The two flocks ahve mostly been keeping to themselves,  when the paths cross, the Newbies move rapidly out of the way.

Yesterday afternoon I had to go out, and DH wasn't here, so I had to put everyone away.  What a blinking palaver.  It took forever.

The Oldies have been hogging the Newbies food area (the Newbies are still on Growers and will be for another couple of weeks).  I couldn't get Milly and Delilah out from underneath the coop.

Of course I managed eventually.  We had a similar situation in the evening.  I decided to shut the Oldies away, so that the Newbies could enjoy the whole outside area without any interference.   Lily and Daisy went in easily. Milly and Delilah didn't.   In the end, I shut them in the Newbies Cube run.

A bit later, I managed to get Milly into her own run, but Delilah wasn't having any of it.  So I left her to it.

Much later,  she deigned to come round to one of the Run doors so she could go to bed.  The LIttlees stayed up for another half an hour or so.

So the next decision

I read somewhere that it can be a good idea to completely swap houses and runs before trying to integrate chickens.    I can see the positives of this - in theory - the Oldies are not on their home turf;  the Newbies can get a feel for their new house and feel a bit of ownership.   I can see that it might hep the Newbies, rather than taking the drastic step of moving them into the new bed at night.   But what about the stress on the Oldies?   Is it fair to stress them out?  What about when they want to lay?  And would they really forget that their old home was their home?  I don't think so.   

Roo and Mrs have been in temporary accomodation for several months while Rose and Ruby have been healing.  Yet they've settled back into their old house, as if theyve never been away.     I don't think they forget.

So does it mean that I will be stressing everyone (including the Newbies) for no real reason?

But is it kinder than just shoving the Newbies in one night?

Oh, I don't know. 

And then I've been wondering what the heck I am going to do when it comes to taking Roobarb and Custard down to the Allotment!   I'll share that with you later.

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