On Friday, October 21, I wrote about our neighborhood fox taking off with nearly half of my chicken flock, leaving one hen injured. All the remaining chickens were quite traumatized and had essentially stopped laying eggs. They were rightfully fearful, since four of the ten original hens had become fox dinner. Every visit to the coop became a somewhat sad event, as all I could think about were the hens we had lost, the condition of the fearful survivors, and the eggs they were no longer laying.
During the next weekend, October 29th and 30th, we pulled apart our sheep breeding groups with the help of Josh and Emilly Brodeur of Brodeur Farms in Springville, Iowa. They knew that, for various reasons, we couldn’t add chicks to our flock, and when they arrived on Saturday, they parked near the chicken coop and immediately unloaded four “volunteers” from their own large flock. To increase our flock numbers, they brought three adult hens (two black and one brown — all laying brown eggs) and a very young rooster. I was thankful at the time, but I didn’t realize how much this would turn things around for me.
Almost immediately my visits to the coop became anything but sad, and I began to once again look forward to my visits. No longer did I focus on my physically and emotionally injured chickens as much as I looked forward to seeing how the two flocks were getting along and beginning to merge. I knew that — eventually — this would be a good thing!
Yet my original chickens were not convinced. To them it seemed as if the fox attacked them before and now the invading chickens were “attacking.” The new chickens are a different breed and a bit bigger than my hens — a good thing, since it prevented them from being picked on (literally “hen-pecked”) as newcomers. In a surprising turn, the new chickens immediately decided to claim the turf in the front corner of the yard, behind the lilac bush — the exact territory that my own flock considered home.
The first 24 hours brought a multitude of battles — – the home flock vs. the invading flock — that we ended up calling “The Chicken War.” For the first day or two, we’d hear nearly constant squawking as the battles raged and feathers flew. Finally after a couple of days, things settled down and the war was eventually won by the invaders, who claimed the lilac bush area as their own. The original flock was relegated to the area behind the coop. There was no love lost between the groups as each flock stole furtive glances at the hens in the other group, and it was obvious that the peace between them was tenuous at best.
I continued my original routine, spreading scratch grains every day in a single area for both groups. Over the ensuing days, the two groups began to eat near each other in separate flocks, and they eventually mixed with the other group. By this past weekend, I truly thought that the two separate flocks had merged into one. Hens of both groups congregated behind the lilac bush during the day and shared the same roosting pole at night. There were friendships developing across the earlier divisional lines, and it seemed that the attempt at merging the two groups had been successful. But that was before I painted the chicken coop this past weekend.
On Saturday, I decided to attack a project that has been on my to-do list for some time. Rick had rebuilt the coop over the previous weeks, and I needed to finish the job by scraping the old siding and then priming and painting the entire exterior. The chickens were all used to my presence, so that was not an issue, but I didn’t realize quite how stressful the specific activity would be to them.
I got my first look at it as I began to scrape the siding. The noise created definite fear among the chickens, and they squawked and ran for cover as soon as I began. When I looked up from my job to see where they had gone, I was surprised to see that both groups had once again separated and run to their respective corners: new chickens behind the lilac bush and original flock to the back of the coop. Like before, they now cast suspicious looks at the other group, no longer trusting their new friends. I wasn’t sure what was going on — were they thinking that the other group had caused the ruckus? Slowly over the hours that I scraped, the two groups once again came together and began to mix, realizing that their new friends were not the source of the noise. Perfect!
Yet as soon as my work shifted to painting and I set up a yellow fiberglass ladder, the same thing happened: the two groups once again split and went back to their own corners, suspiciously eyeing each other over this new yellow-ladder threat. Time healed this distrust, too, but each and every time I moved that ladder to a different spot, the groups divided — and came back together with time.
Although my newly increased flock looks to be fully merged, the actual process will take much longer to accomplish. Suspicion obviously runs deep — and in each group’s eyes, any threat must have been caused by those others. After all, they look so different — and who knows exactly where they came from?! Yet I also know that with time and togetherness, they will merge. They are more alike than different, and with greater familiarity, that fact will become obvious, even to chickens.