August 28, 2013

New Chick In The Coop

One of the reasons we started this blog was to document and share our experiences in raising our flock of backyard chickens - with high hopes of helping others. Well, introducing a new chicken into our established flock has been a MAJOR learning experience.

What we thought would happen and what really happened...

Our local community chicken FaceBook page had a post from one of our neighbors stating they needed to re-home their chicken. They were down to one chicken and, because they had a new baby themselves, they wanted to find a good home for her rather than add to the flock at that time. After much conversation Liz and I decided to go visit her. She was gorgeous and I was really surprised at her size! Her name is Claudine, a very friendly, 2 year old buff Orpington.

Meet Claudine!
It was a Saturday afternoon, so we decided to take her back down to meet the our flock and have a short play-date. We set up a play area for Claudine (a small wire fenced area) and placed her and the box we carried her down in in the middle. We let our girls out and they ran over to welcome her. Their welcome was in the form of a stare-down and the old evil eye. After a relatively short time the welcoming committee ran off to do their thing - leaving Claudine looking terrified!

Who's that?

Well, we thought THIS will be easy!  Our only concern was Tallulah, a Welsummer, who is the self-appointed leader of the flock. The other girls were so sweet how could they NOT love Claudine!

Julie giving Claudine the once-over!

We removed the fence and let Claudine roam around in the yard on her own. Again, a few of our chicks came over and checked her out and then went about their business. Then CARMEN, our Polish Crested, who is the smallest and maybe the lowest ranked in our flock came over to greet her.

Being blonds, we thought they'd have a lot in common and could be best buddies...right! At that point Carmen became a different bird. She was like a transformer changing into battle position with fluffed feathers and extended her height almost doubling her size. Claudine basically said oh crap and froze in a bowing (submitting) pose  - like she was trying hide her head or whole self!

Back off chick!

Carmen (who had obviously gone to the dark side) positioned her head and beak over Claudine’s neck and dared her to move. They held this position for a minute or two. When Carmen jumped ON her and it was time the humans to break it up.  Of course all the other girls ran over to see the what excitement was and it was then that everyone knew Claudine was not aggressive and would be easy to take advantage of.

Where's that 'cloak of invisibility' when you need it?!

Claudine was relieved to go back to her own yard that afternoon. That night we would consider whether we would try it again. We researched blogs and websites to learn how to introduce a new chick onto the flock. However, most said it was not an easy task and introducing one was even more a challenge. I couldn't help but think this chicken is twice as big as ours and she will stand up for herself and find her place!

 My big concerned was whether or not she would go up and roost with the our chicks that night and she needed a place to stay. Claudine’s coop was an EggLoo, a plastic molded coop from England that sits on the ground with a small wired run. Since she was use to sitting closer to the ground I decided to make her a small alternative roost/nesting box to put in the run. I took an old wooden drawer I saved from a butler’s pantry and attached some plywood panels on the sides and back. Inside the drawer I installed a 2 x 2 perch. She should love this!

For me?
I placed this portable nesting/roosting box in the open area under the coop in the run. Certain she would love it and use it.

Coop furniture in run under coop
After finishing my coop/run furniture we brought Claudine down for a second try. We let her out into the backyard and it was like the movie Christmas Story with the bullies chasing her down the alley!

These chicks are crazy!

Later we tried putting her in the run with the others and she had to escape to the highest perch in the run to keep everybody from picking on her.

Home sweet home!

The biggest chicken (in size)  and well, a big chicken, we decided it would take time, and us working with them, for everyone to get use to each other. Claudine's original owner let us have her coop (portable, thank goodness) and we brought it down to let her stay in it for a few days until everyone became friends - so we thought.

A couple of weeks went by and it looked as if most of our girls were getting use to her. She would wander around the yard, a bit further from her coop, everyday.  However, there were constant setbacks, as Carmen continued to challenge her and then everyone else would join in. Claudine would head for the highest spot she could find, usually the top of her run!

Well, I'm in the coop, Now What?

By week 4 it was time to try an overnight stay in the main run (we still had a micro speck of hope...)! At dusk, we took Carmen out of our run and put Claudine in it with the others they - barely notice her. Carmen spent the night in Claudine’s coop - NOT a happy camper over her time-out!  Claudine did not use the box I built but actually went up into the coop and roosted on a log in the coop. The next morning she came out in the run but escaped to the top perch and refused to mingle with anyone else. We took Carmen out of time-out and put her back into the run and the drama started all over. We thought the separation or time-out would knock Carmen back down in the pecking order and it did, for a few hours.

Don't turn your back on me!

We finally came to the conclusion that this was not going to work. We needed to re-home her for her own safety. Within a day or two we found another home for Claudine a few blocks over and she integrated into the flock with no problems -even going up to roost all on her own without being terrified someone wanting to take her out!  The big difference was that they had multiple generations of chickens, from young to old, and they also had a Roo to keep order. We visited Claudine recently and she looked great! Her new chick mom, Leanne, said she had already worked her way up a couple of notches in the flock order! So she's evidently doing quite well in her new home.

Lessons learned: Listen to what other experience folks tell you about introducing new members into the flock. Also, we have a one-generation flock that has been together always with no other chicks and we do not have a Roo to keep order.

Please read more, from Liz, about our adventures with Claudine at Community Chickens!