Worrying articles about established flocks attacking and sometimes killing new additions had us slightly concerned. Of course, the chicken ladies are very lovely, and have never shown any aggression toward us, but one can never be too cautious. Especially when the newcomers to the flock are the chicken babies, Doodle Doo, Bebe and Cecille.
It has been a few weeks since I have said much about the poultry contingent. The chicken ladies have been doing chicken stuff, and have, except for the stuffed crop incident, been pretty much drama free. Did I not mention the exciting Sunday we spent massaging Cordelia’s chest and feeding her olive oil from a syringe? It was all to do with her pigging out on lush, long, new grass, and nearly ended with her popping her clogs in my arms. Massage, cuddles, olive oil and desperation won the day, and now you would never guess that she has danced with death.
The chicken babies spent a few weeks making mess and suffusing the house with a farmyard aroma, as they could not be put outside until they had enough feathers to keep warm. Presumably, had they been with their mother, she would have tucked them to her motherly bosom and let them get on with it, but that was not an option for us. As the weeks went by, they became bigger and fluffier, and the girls are now almost the same size as the ladies. Doodle Doo is taller, and has developed some of the curly tail feathers and impressive wattles that show his extraordinary manliness.
Once spring poked a cautious nose over the hills, Rosemary and our neighbour, Rich, built a chicken baby outdoor palace, using bits and bobs we had around and an old kitchen cupboard. Our penchant for cable ties and irrigation pipe as building materials was easy to discern, as was our “every expense spared” modus operandi.
For the first week or so, we carried the chicken babies down to their palace every morning and back to the indoor cardboard castle every night. It was a bit of a palaver, but they had come this far, and it would be a shame to have them catch a cold and die. We were not at all confident they could sleep in with the ladies.
We started putting the ladies’ moveable run next to the baby palace, so the two sets of chickens could see each other and trade insults, without being able to actually fight. That seemed to work rather well, so after a couple more weeks, we cautiously inserted the babies into the coop under cover of darkness. The idea was that we could monitor them all via the chicken feed, and if it was dark, it was unlikely that the ladies would attack the interlopers.
All was well, as long as we removed the babies from the coop first thing, and put them into their palace. Unsurprisingly, it was Parmesina who was the biggest bully, and Cordelia who didn’t attack if one of the babies sidled up for a cuddle during the night. However, the ladies were definitely not willing to share their food. The babies would sit on the perches, watching as the ladies stuffed their faces, too afraid to jump down and try to join them for breakfast.
This week, we tried letting all six chickens free in the garden, so they could forage freely, with enough space for everyone to do their own thing. Most of the time, they ignored each other, and there were only occasional flurries. Nobody seemed seriously intent on bullying anyone, but we could not leave them loose in the garden all day long, so we decided to make them a larger enclosure.
We had a length of chicken wire that had completely failed to keep the teddies contained, a tarpaulin on loan from next-door, rope, the remains of the mast from the agave that Juan cut down at Christmas, cable ties, and the blocks and bricks we have used to weigh down various things at diverse times.
The sun was beating down on the wild-flower meadow that has sprung up in the lower garden area as we collected together the things we thought we might need. We commiserated with each other on our lack of head-wear and set to work.
The tarpaulin was easy to cable tie to the fence above the garden, and would define the area of shade we would then try to work in. We decided that if we laced it to the rails of the steps, that would only leave one free corner, and we could use the agave mast and some rope to prop and tension it.
Ten minutes later, we had the “roof” of Camp Chicken more or less in place, and a realisation that we cold not stay out in the heat for long. Fine tuning could come later.
The Chicken Baby Palace needed only slight modification to make it into one end of Camp Chicken, with one of its ends turned into a wire gate to allow us access. At the other end, we roped and cable tied the mast to the Palace, and then fixed one end of the chicken wire to it.
More bricks and a pole, more cable ties and the fire-guard held the chicken wire more or less upright, and finished enclosing the space under the tarpaulin. The fire-guard is handily hinged, so we now have two access points.
We suspended the mattress protector that had been in the teddies’ box by a very sophisticated system of knots and ropes, to stop the chicken babies jumping on the roof of their palace and escaping. It was all looking surprisingly functional, even if it was not very elegant.
We rounded up the chicken babies and launched them over the fence into the lush weeds and flowers. The chicken ladies followed soon after. We had expected the babies would need to be able to hide in their Palace, but there were surprisingly few signs of bickering.
Multiple water and feed containers dotted about gave everyone plenty of opportunity to eat and drink. A couple of nest boxes were available for anyone who felt the urge to lay.
I have to say that it has proved a triumph. Introducing the babies to the ladies so gradually has paid dividends, and they seem to be co-existing very nicely. They are not really an integrated flock yet, but there are only very minor skirmishes, and not many of them.
Parmesina continues to be dominant, and the ladies are not responding positively to Cecille’s cautious overtures, but for the most part, they do their own thing quite peacefully, before settling happily back in the coop together for the night.
We suspect that once Doodle Doo reaches maturity and starts to want to woo the ladies, the pecking order will adjust itself, but he will have to be feeling very brave before he tries it on with Parmesina!