Integration

That was easy!

As the new girls began to show signs of laying – their comb getting brighter, and crouching – we began to take the back off the Eglu Go, so they had to go and share the nest box in the Cube when they wanted to lay … there were a few spats, and one bloody comb (never did work out whose), but it didn’t take long before we were having an extra egg or two a day.

We put the back on at night, so the newbies still had a safe place to sleep, until one morning we realised they hadn’t slept in the Go at all. So now the back is off altogether and the Go is simply a shelter and feed station.

I suspect there are still a few shuffles going on in the pecking order (PO), primarily between Dorcas (new girl, Cou-Cou Maran) and Carey (old guard, Buff Sussex). But generally it’s gentle in the hen garden, that is until they see me coming.

The new girls associate me with treats and come running. Carey, with the wisdom of age, waits to see if I’ve actually brought something with me, before disturbing herself – she’s clearly feeling her age as she is usually settled somewhere quietly, rather than actively engaged in foraging etc.

But they will all feed from my hand – I’ve taken to wearing gardening gloves since six hens coming at you from all angles is rather daunting and one or two of them peck hard (Dorcas among others)! Even the Moppets get stuck in … as does Delilah (new girl, Light Sussex) though she is towards the bottom of the PO, perhaps even below the Moppets.

All, that is, apart from Connie, who runs the other way when treats are thrown and never challenges anyone over anything. We have long suspected she is simply not part of the PO and lives a separate, distinct existence – which may be a good thing as she is a huge bird by comparison to the others 🙂

We have finally moved one more raised veg bed. Once the frame was moved, it was a race against time to move the soil before the hens spread it everywhere by digging into the freshly exposed tilth … the photo is Delilah working away at a hole she dig all by herself – it was eventually almost as deep as she is tall!

I’ve taken the risk of raking the space over and sowing grass seed … it’s covered with mesh, but the girls can still pick at the seed if they choose, although they can’t scratch it up. Some of the seed will germinate … as I discovered when I moved the Go … so it will be worth it even if we only get a sparse covering. Once the run is pitched on one of it’s permanent sites, any new growth can continue undisturbed for a few months until the electric fencing is moved again.

I hope to have at least two if not three ‘pitches’ we can use, to give the ground a rest from time to time and to be able to keep the hens on grass most of the year. It’s much better for them than wood chip. I’m also hoping to give the girls some cover by planting some shrubs they can root around and where they can find some shade, as well as splitting one of the raised beds into smaller units for use as a dust bath.

The long term plan is to open up the garden, so that the hens can move to fresh ground from time to time as well as being more visible from the house. We’ll still have the toolstore in view which is a bit of an eyesore, and which will kill off the grass … but that’s a small price to pay for the benefits – not least the exercise we are getting with all the digging and weightlifting we are doing to make it happen!

The old girls all together, just before we moved the raised bed. 
Five down, one to go!

Integration Day 2/3 – complete!

Next day, when we were once again in the garden, we opened the gate between the two broods. I sat in a corner with a pocketful of corn, and there were plenty of greens and dandelions scattered around. There were a few spats between the girls, but enough distractions that none lasted long.

I sat there for some time, simply watching. I could see which hens gave way to whom, who decided to stand fast, and which of the girls avoided all contact. Betsy still isn’t well and kept apart for the most part. As we’ve seen before with a poorly hen, others would come and keep her company but the distractions were too appealing else they may have spent longer with her. After a while, a pecking order became apparent … four of the Five on top, in their normal order, and Camilla at the bottom (not counting Betsy) … poor Camilla.

We realised it wouldn’t be as easy a second night to separate them … so I threw a handful of corn in the Hen Run, and closed the gate on all nine hens 😮 I went out just after dark to check all was well, and found five hens in the nest box – three ex-batts, Camilla and Clare – the other on the roosting bars.

This morning, confined to the run, they are mostly content, with only the occasional, short-lived friction in evidence. So that’s it … full integration in only two days 🙂 I’m astonished.

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There are signs that Carey may not survive as top hen, but it’s all very subtle … I’ll keep watching and let you know!

Integration … day 1

Hmm … well, it seemed like a good idea at the time!

It’s a lovely, sunny day and DH & I were both in the garden, so we took the opportunity for the Vicarage Girls and the Famous Five to get to know each other a little better. With predictable results …

 

The story in pictures …

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I suspect that, as bottom hen of the Five’s pecking order, Clare intends to dominate the Girls in order to move up the hen hierarchy. Betsy was the first to get involved simply because she’d wandered away from the other Girls … she’s not in good health so is often on her own. I hope integrating the two groups won’t cause her too much stress.

It was a moment’s impulse to swap the broods round … the Five were all in the Moppet House and it was easy to shut them in while herding the Girls into their old home in the Hen Run. Hopefully they will still remember the Cube as home and find their way to roost at dark. I wonder if the Five will discover the coop as easily? I figure it will confuse them all as to territories, and might eventually make integration easier. You can hope, can’t you?!

Tomorrow will be another sunny day, so we’ll open the gate again for a while later in the day. In the meanwhile, the Five are now only contained by a low plastic fence … let’s see if they can really fly 😀

Planning ahead

Everyone is very happy where they are. But we can’t continue to run three separate broods for long. It’s a lot of work each morning to clean three coops and top up three different sets of drinkers and feeders. And it wouldn’t be fair on our lovely chicken sitter.

Nor can we leave hens in the greenhouse all summer as it will get far too hot. The Moppet House isn’t water-tight, nor is the wooden coop, but it will do as a summer house for a small brood who could then over-winter in the greenhouse. But exactly which hens?

Although the Famous Five in the Hen Run, and the Vicarage girls in the Hen Garden/Moppet House are neighbours with only a mesh fence dividing them (actually there are three layers … plastic mesh plus chicken wire plus shade netting), we don’t see much by way of chest bumping, although there has been the occasional show of aggression. But one of the ex-batts continues to ail (Betsy – although her feathers are slowly returning, she isn’t showing any signs of improvement in her stance) and one of them, Babs, is severely underweight. Would that be a good combination?

The Moppets are feisty birds (and by the way, the broody season has begun o_O ) so could stand up for themselves. They would pose less of a threat to the Famous Five, but I wonder whether they’d struggle to reach the Cube to roost? There’s be plenty of space since they’d almost certainly sleep in the nest box.

As they are, the Famous Five have sufficient space in the run by themselves. But add in any more birds and we would need to allow them more space somehow. The bantams really need to be on grass, but the Hen Garden is now down to woodchip and there isn’t a lot of grass left on the other side of the path, either.

If we were to lose any of the ex-batts or bantams, we still have the Eglu we can use as housing for two or three birds, just to add to the conundrum.

And to complicate it further, Carey (the Buff Sussex) is sneezing … there’s no sign of any discharge from nasal passages or eyes, and no-one else is sneezing (so hopefully it’s not an infection or not infectious), but if you pick her up you can hear her bubbling as she breathes 😦

We have told the farm she came from, but there’s no sign of infection in their flock, either. Thankfully. But we have to be absolutely certain she isn’t ill before we even consider starting to integrate the broods (if we can ever decide what to do next!). I think the next step is to worm the Five, to see if that settles her down at all. They’ve not really had time to get used to treats yet, though they have had a bowl of porridge and natural yoghurt as a first try. But they have had some cooked rice which they loved, so a little Flubenvet sprinkled on some cooked rice might be as good a method as any …

I’ll report back.

Together at last

I say ‘at last’ but really, it’s much sooner than I thought possible! The were several occasions last evening when all seven of the Vicarage Girls were in the Hen Run at the same time, but I left it until later to actually shut the gate on them. Several handfuls of corn distracted the A Team – the B Team are more interested in seeing if I have any sultanas :D I’ve taken some out to them a couple of times and fed them by hand so that they are happy to approach me and to make it easy to pick them up. Of course, it also means that they are always under my feet :rolleyes:

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The new girls seem a bit distracted to the right of the run … what are they looking at?

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Magic isn’t really interested, but they keep a watchful eye all the same.

They all found their way to bed, though I didn’t watch the process as it can last for hours! And this morning they are at peace so it seems. I’ll not let them out today, simply to reinforce that this is now home. And when I do, I shall take the back off the Eglu so they’re not tempted to use it as a nest box, but I’ll leave it there simply as a shelter – the forecast for the week is cool, breezy and showery. I need summer …

Concerned …

Both sets of ex-batts found their way to bed in unfamiliar surroundings last night :) The B Team are still a little confused this morning, trying to escape the Hen Run back to their area of the Hen Garden – they’re probably missing the compost heap etc. But one more day and we’ll put them all together, stand back and see what happens.

My concern is that, when changing nest boxes and litter trays this morning, I found a puddle of blood in the litter tray of the Cube. It probably wasn’t as much as it looked, having been soaked up by the woodshavings, but it was still rather startling. I’ve looked all the B Team hens over and can’t find any evidence of injury or prolapse? Not even a torn nail. Very puzzling and rather worrying. If it should happen again tonight, it will delay integration while I find out what’s going on, but I’m stumped.

Meanwhile, they all seem well, if a little disorientated!

Integration revolution

Day two of integration was something of a damp squib, in that it was raining on and off all day and cooled all attempts at dominance. The A Team kept under cover during the showers, while the B Team still haven’t quite mastered staying dry …

I left them together for quite a long time in the afternoon, but wasn’t outdoors much myself to see what went on – I didn’t hear anything very much from the kitchen, so I assume things were mostly peaceful.

When I opened the way between the two broods today, the A Team headed straight for the Eglu. I remember reading somewhere that one way of integrating two broods is to swap them into each other’s territory. And somewhere else I read that integrations are easier if you are adding a greater number of hens to an existing flock. So without too much hesitation, I shut the Eglu, chased the B Team into the Hen Run, put the fencing in place, and then released the A Team into the Hen Garden. In case you are totally confused, quite simply, the two broods have changed places! :o It’s generally a better arrangement, in that there are now three hens in the small Eglu run instead of four. And the B Team can get used to the woodchip of the Hen Run. So there they are, and there they will now stay for a day or two.

Although I don’t want to be impatient about integrating the two groups, I am anxious to get them together. After our fox attack in January, I am wary about leaving hens unprotected, but don’t like confining hens to the Eglu run for long periods of time if we’re out. However, on two occasions now, we’ve unwittingly left doors/gates open overnight – so we’re relieved to still have a full complement of birds. I don’t want to put temptation in the way of, for example, a vixen needing to feed her young cubs. The Moppet House is sufficient space for the bantams, and the Hen Run should be adequate for seven ex-batts as long as they have regular access to grass/dirt (once the grass is gone!). So sometime soon, we’ll combine the two ex-batt broods and leave them to get on with it. Hopefully, swapping them over for a couple of days will help …

We’ll soon see!

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The A Team meeting to discuss tactics … but they weren’t expecting today’s move!

Integration – first encounter

When I went out to the hens first thing yesterday … one of the B Team came down the garden to greet me :o DH had gone out the night before to find all the hens in bed already – or so he thought. We’ll have to remember to do a head count before closing up! She was wet but happy (as far as I could tell) :whew:

Yesterday evening I opened the way between the two sets of ex-batts … they’ve only been neighbours for a couple of days, so perhaps it was too soon?

I stopped filming to interfere and break it up … but watching it over in slow motion, one of the battles was already over, Mandy victorious with a mouthful of feathers and her opponent retreating to the safety of the Eglu :( It’s hard to watch, but it will eventually ensure peace and harmony, once order is established.

This is how it’s meant to be …

The new girls retreat when approached by the established brood … and everyone’s happy. It’s not all done and dusted, there will be other attempts to adjust or enforce the pecking order, but they understand each other, even if we find it hard to watch.

One last video, this time with commentary!

Shortly after this, I separated them. Enough is enough. We’ll have another go later today.

Integration – first steps

The B Team outside the back door have been out of sight of the Hen Run and Garden. The A Team girls have heard them, of course, but had no idea they were in the ‘same space’ as it were. So in order to begin to integrate the two broods, we had to move the Eglu into the Hen Garden, into a space separate but visible from the Hen Run …

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But it was a long, logistical puzzle to get there! First of all we had to find a ‘holding pen’ for the B Team … so I fenced off a small area around the compost bins. Picking up three of the B Team was easy since they crowd around my feet expecting treats! The fourth hen, the one with the largest comb (let’s call her Betsy), won’t come close, so that was a two man job … but she’s not too bright, so it wasn’t difficult.

Next, DH began to empty the black compost bin, while I moved the netting around the Eglu. I used it to fence off an area for the Moppets …

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… and then spent some time cutting the grass while DH continued to work on moving the compost. That job too had several stages, since he wanted to put some of it in the front garden, which meant digging up an old sage plant to create a space for the bay tree which is currently in a pot (and has been for some years). These things are never simple, are they?! He was working alongside the holding pen, so had a lovely time feeding the girls slugs, worms and other grubs from the compost. I’m so glad they like slugs – our previous girls wouldn’t touch them :o

Once that was done, we moved the Eglu, and released the girls from the holding pen into their new space. To allow the A Team to get a better view, I put a wire fence panel across … and stayed to watch what happened next.

At first, all three of the A Team crowded out to see what was going on. As did the B Team … all except Betsy, who now had the area round the compost bins to herself. I’d like to think it was a conscious choice to stay and take advantage of the situation, but I suspect it was simply that she really didn’t realise what was at stake!

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In these situations, it soon becomes clear who are the top hens from each brood … all the B Team drifted off except Bertha (I’ve really no idea how we’re going to tell them apart when they have feathers again) …

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… and eventually, Molly.

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There were a few skirmishes, but Bertha kept wandering off – after all, she was the one in new surroundings, with plenty of things to do and eat and places to explore. Molly however, stayed on guard, alert and focussed, and of course, Bertha kept coming back to see if she was still there.

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Eventually, she stood her ground as top hen of her brood …

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Click on the picture for a video of the encounter …

With the fence in the way, nothing was resolved, and Bertha soon wandered off again to explore. In the meanwhile, the other girls from the B Team had discovered the compost bin …

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… and she soon joined them! With four of them in there they were all soon covered as they were pelted with soil and grass cuttings as the others dug down for slugs and bugs.

So I decided that for tonight, enough was enough, and shut the A Team back into the Hen Run …

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… they didn’t seem too happy about it, but there’ll be another opportunity tomorrow …

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