Sunday, 3 July 2011

Our new chook, one week on

So adopting a lonely chook... most people said it would never work, that an established flock would never accept a newbie, but a few things I read gave me hope.  With patience and careful monitoring I was fairly sure we could defy the odds and have four happy chooks.

The best piece of advice that I read was to roost the girls together from day one, take the newbie out every morning and then separate them in the day until they got used to each other.  Roosting them has been a fantastic success.  Never mind what has gone before, you put them in the coop and the girls act like angels; complete (when you check on them to make sure the silence really is peaceful) with the that slightly hurt look of surprise that says “don’t you trust us?”   It makes me think (what a strange place my brain can be…) of a good Mafia movie, stick all the Don’s together in a room and they’re courteous gentlemen and then, five minutes after they’ve walked out the door, they’re right back plotting each other’s demise and the shooting inevitably starts!

What has been less successful, certainly for the new chook; was the separation.  She hated it; as soon as we put her in her half of the run she would scuttle up to the wire separating the two sides and sulk for the day.  We couldn’t get her to eat or drink either which was worrying me.  As the week has progressed she fussed more and more as I lifted her out the coop; it’s as though she knows that she has to go through this and she doesn’t appreciate me delaying the inevitable!  So for a couple of mornings before work I left her with them for an hour or so.  Certainly the girls can be bullish, they have an order to establish and a routine and territory to protect; but they haven’t been overly vicious about it.   And when all else fails, I send in the dobe who instantly restores order!  

Etta (our fat speckled hen) is proving to be a right a trouble maker but, at the sight of Megs, runs and hides, is back at the bottom of the pack and no longer feeling like causing trouble.  Blue, our second chook just walks off, she's far too level-headed to be bothered by Megs; and top chook and the newbie (interestingly both little red hens) interact perfectly happily with her.  Fly, the top girl, bosses the dobe constantly; she's the only chicken I know who can make a dobe sit or lie down, Megs has learnt to respect her authority.  Newbie tolerates lots of licking and enjoys the confidence boost of having a dobe for a friend!   

Yesterday morning, having woken to the sound of clucking (a bit of a shock as the coop door should have been shut to keep them in and therefore not risk any accidental fights!) I decided to see if the two sides of the run could be joined.  It was a beautiful morning, sat in the garden at 6.30am the sun was warm, so no hardship to sit with a book and keep an eye on the girls for a few hours.  People say that chooks are stupid and, in this situation, can be cruel, but I have to disagree.  What they are is regimented and strict; but not incapable of tolerance or change.  The impetus for everything that happens seems to sit mainly with newbie; she is slowly testing the boundaries and when she does get put back in her place she backs off and is left in peace.  Mostly she goes back in the coop, where “Mafia Rules” still apply and I have watched her nesting quite happily with all the girls even if the reason she’s in there is because they’ve had a scuffle before.  None of the scuffles have been the vicious, bloody, fights I was told to expect, the majority of the time it is purely a show of dominance, rather like with dogs; I am starting to think of my girls as feathered dogs!

So, after a pretty uneventful day, I decided to take a chance, which explains why I found myself like this:

All too slowly I tin-snipped the wire away and was rewarded, at the end of the day, with a flock of four co-existing chooks who all trotted off to bed together and slept in a right mixed up pile of feathers!  This morning, the pattern is repeating.  Lots of treats keep them all a little distracted, but they are acting just as they did yesterday.  I'm hand-feeding the new girl to make sure she eats and drinks, but I also see her feeding herself and she's cleaning and preening too.  I think she might not be entirely well, or has mites, as she's closing her eyes and shaking her head... I've read nothing definitive and it could just be stress, so we'll think of plan for that tomorrow.  In the meantime, I'm just happy to hope that we're on the right path.  A week into a six-week timeframe, I think we're doing well.

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