Coco Joins the Flock

It’s always a challenge introducing a pullet to an established flock. Because my chickens are different sizes, ages and breeds (and currently in different phases of molt), there’s a lot of jostling establishing pecking order. It’s not as easy as introducing the new hen and saying, “play nice girls.”

I have two flocks that live separately, except for when they roam the lawn together, and even then they don’t mingle much. The hens in the big barn are more assertive. In my experience, Barred Rocks and Wyandottes do not tolerate bantams, and that observation rang true this week. I let all of the hens into the yard and put Coco into the big barn’s fenced run. Alma got a glimmer in her eye, ran over and chest-banged the fence. Coco half-heartedly flapped back. Alma never settled. She did not want this newcomer in her space. The Barred Rocks also came over, fluffed up and challenged Coco. One pecked at Coco’s comb through the fence and drew blood. The big girls paced and did not relax their assertive stance. I knew from this that Coco would never be safe if I put her into the big barn to live (which had been my plan, since that barn has a lot more space.) So, instead, Ginger, who used to live with some of these hens in the big barn was switched over. I felt bad for her, kind of like when the teacher in school makes the good kid sit near the bullies, “to be a good influence.” Anyway, Ginger can hold her own, and didn’t even get a feather mussed in the transition.

Yesterday I put all the chickens out on the lawn again, but this time I put Coco in the Hencam barn run. I made sure that she knew what the inside of the barn looked like and where the roost was outside. This time it was Eggers (another little leghorn) who challenged Coco. They flew up and chest-butted each other through the fence, then lost interest. Alma caught sight of Coco and charged at the fence. Alma was so annoyed at this interloper that she attacked the only white hen she could get at – Betsy Ross. Alma pinned Betsy down and pecked at her head. She was not simply asserting pecking order. She would have killed her if I hadn’t intervened.

Today, I tried again. This time Eggers huffed up when she saw Coco in her run, but then decided that it was more interesting to scratch in the leaves. None of the big hens from the hencam barn cared about this third little white hen. Alma was off in another direction. Things looked good. So, one by one, I put the hencam girls back into their run. Eggers chased Coco, but not aggressively. Marge tried to pin Coco down, but I shoved the big brown hen away and she lost interest. Coco, not used to flock dynamics (having been a show bird) quickly learned to watch for body language and avoid birds bent on telling her that she is lowest in the pecking order. That status seems fine to Coco. She’s enjoying the pumpkin, curious about the bunny, and investigating this wider world that she’s been dropped into.

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