There isn’t a chicken on the dining table anymore. Half Pie, the six-week-old chick has been reintegrated into the flock. Who knew that minor injuries could cause such a hoo-ha? In the past when I have had a chicken separated from the flock it has either been in the big cage in front of the woodshed, inside their pen when they were getting broken from broodiness or under the carport close to the pen when Sam was sick and they could still hear each other. And then I never had one separated for as long as week at a time. Here is what happened as I sought to reintegrate the healed Half Pie back into the flock outside.
Reintegration Day 1 (a shortened copy of this post)
I set up a pen within the pen and everyone re-met each other through the fence. This wasn’t fun to watch. Frodo made aggressive moves towards Half Pie through the fence. He had been gone for a week and “Peep, peep” as he might, I fear Frodo may be done with him. The two chickens who showed the most interest in him were his sister Pie, who was always one of his good buddies and, interestingly, Legolas. I saw him have some interactions with a few of his siblings: stare-downs, a stare and peck at Blackie (girl) and a chest bump and receiving peck from Orange Feet (boy). Half Pie was one of the ones who was always in the thick of things so he’s probably not going to make this reintegration easy.
Half Pie spent most of the day in his pen within the pen and I was not satisfied with his safety to let him out at all. So, late afternoon saw him arriving back on the dining table in the safety and warmth of his cage. I thought having to watch him in a cage by himself was sad but what’s even sadder was hearing him cry ,”PEEP, PEEP, PEEP” as I herded him back into the cat cage to take him inside, while all the other chickens went off round the corner to the run and no-one cared to answer his cries for help.
Reintegration Day 2
We were out most of the day so Half Pie resided in his pen within the pen from late morning. After I got home later in the afternoon I let him out into the main pen for a bit while I supervised. He ran straight over to his siblings as if his old life just carried on. It didn’t. He was chased and pecked sharply once each by Frodo and Legolas. I intervened by shooing them away. He just wanted to hang out with his siblings but he wasn’t allowed to for very long. He had scuffles with a couple of them, the biggest scuffle being with The Dark Grey Chick (aka Scrappy), who seems to be the toughest chick, probably the alpha. Frodo broke up the fight. After a while, when Half Pie had started to get the picture of how life was changing, I scooped him up to take him inside in the cat cage for the evening. He was so tired he settled down for the night without much complaining.
Reintegration Day 3
Later in the morning when The Little Fulla had gone to sleep, I put Half Pie out in his pen within the pen with the fence propped open at the bottom. Then I sat down on the little fence to supervise. Half Pie promptly came out and got chased by Frodo and Legolas. He tried to hide behind Elrond but Elrond just stood there. Elrond is taking a hands-off approach and letting the ladies deal with the whole situation. Why are you Switzerland, Elrond? Then Half Pie ran over to me and ‘hid’ beside me. Aw, I was surprised and touched to find that the wee dude had imprinted on me. However, it’s not gonna help him to be reliant on me in the long term.
I went about my chicken chores, keeping an eye on everyone. When I was satisfied that Frodo and Legolas weren’t hunting him down as long as he kept his distance, I left him for a bit, doing things close-by outside. When The Little Fulla woke up I put Half Pie back in his pen within the pen, as I couldn’t keep a close eye on him, then let him out again when The Little Fulla had his afternoon nap. By the end of the afternoon Half Pie had learnt to stay off to the side by himself instead of trying to be equals with the others. It was sad, as he was so confident before. He suddenly has to make his own way in the world and he will get no more mothering, all the while watching his siblings hang out together and participate fully in all their daily adventures.
The silver lining is that Frodo has been making her other chicks more and more independent. She has started bopping them too: if they scrap too much, if they peck at the ground too close to her, or just because. Three of them were having a three-way crouch and stare-off, which looked just like a scene with velociraptors from Jurassic Park, when Frodo walked up and bopped one of them sharply. She hardly lets them sleep under her anymore, she doesn’t make a big announcement to them when the treats bowl appears, but instead feeds herself, and she spends most of the time walking around freely, doing her own thing. The chicks still hang out with her or near her some of the time but the distance is growing and they have to wait in line for food or be sneaky. Elrond will feed bits of food from the treats bowl to anyone who cottons on. Blackie has definitely cottoned on to this. She’s a smart wee cookie.
In the early evening as the light was fading, all the chickens were in or around the coop, getting ready to settle in for the night, all, that is, except Half Pie. He was hanging out in the pen all by himself. He was happy to see me come to ‘rescue’ him. After making sure all the others were in the coop I herded him in to the run then put him inside the door of the coop. There was some squawking but he shot past the dangerous Frodo, who is still sleeping on the floor of the coop. I left the coop door open overnight, which isn’t the best, but I had it open most of the summer with the adult chickens. I just didn’t want to shut Half Pie in there if he needed to escape.
Reintegration Day 4
Half Pie had the entire day in the pen with the others. He was not so much reintegrated as tolerated. The other chickens generally moved around as a flock, while Half Pie was alone on the opposite side of the pen from wherever they were. When I went in there several times during the day he would hang out near me if I crouched or sat down. I can pick him up without too much effort. It is a shame that the friendliest chicken is a boy, an outcast and is probably destined for the pot. Oh goodness, I don’t even want to think about that at the moment. Poor wee dude. He didn’t even attempt to make any move towards the afternoon treats that I offered simultaneously around the pen: the treats bowl, sunflower seeds that I threw widely or weeds that I put in a few piles, including one near him. He was too scared. Half Pie is the little Pluto in the chicken solar system; demoted from planet status and left in his own outer orbit. I picked him up and put him by a pile of weeds while shooing the others away so he could at least have some.
As an aside, Legolas is definitely the new boss. She will eat first, go in the coop last (or almost last if some of the chicks are fluffing around too much) and her and Elrond are thick as thieves. I was hoping Frodo would take the crown, as King Elrond and Queen Frodo would have been such a lovely royal couple, but I’m sure she’ll still be tight with Elrond once she’s finished with this child-rearing business. The upside is that Legolas is the friendliest of the adults, so hopefully that rubs off on the others.
In the evening Half Pie was hanging out near the gate waiting for me. I had to put him at the top of the ramp so he’d go into the coop. Frodo shot out and chased him away. That didn’t help his confidence at all. I pushed Frodo away from the door, put him back in and he quickly scuttled into the first nesting box and everyone else settled down. I shut the door this time but opened it early in the morning, before they were even ready to come out.
Reintegration Day 5
All the chickens have settled down a bit. Half Pie is still on his outer orbit but is orbiting closer the the flock and starting to synchronise at least some of his activities with them. When they eat treats he attempts to steal some from several of his siblings. When they sit down for preening time he preens. But he will also use their distracted time to go and help himself to food and water inside the run. He is no longer freaked out and is starting to edge closer into the solar system without getting into too much trouble. He runs fast. He risks a few quick scraps with his siblings.
I have been thinking about Plan B, in case Half Pie continues to have trouble fitting into the flock properly. Plan B is to set up a fattening pen, for at least Half Pie and Orange Feet. They are both boys and seem to get along quite well. I don’t really want to put any of the blue boys in (mind you, Little Spot is the only blue boy I’m sure about) in case I might ‘need’ to keep one… I don’t really want to set up a fattening pen yet as I would like to see how the flock develops as a whole, but we shall see.
We had a busy night with The Husband getting home late and when I got out to shut the coop, The Little Fulla in tow, it was almost dark. I couldn’t tell who was in the coop without a light but I looked all around the pen and run and couldn’t see Half Pie anywhere and he didn’t come to me, so I assumed he must be in there. Assuming wasn’t good enough though, so once The Little Fulla was in bed I went out with a torch to check. Half Pie was on the floor of the coop, mingling with his siblings. Woohoo! I wish I could have been out there to see the bedtime proceedings, but never mind.
It is interesting to see the order in which they enter the coop. Elrond sometimes goes in first because he can’t be bothered waiting around while the youngsters fluff around and also because he’s not overly assertive. Frodo will go in next or first, with her babies in various position around her. She will sit right inside the doorway, looking out (so awkward for everyone else), while the chicks peck around beside her, on the ramp or nearby on the ground. They just want to stay up late and party. Sometimes Legolas, who, as boss, has the right to enter the coop last at night, can’t be bothered waiting for all the chicks to get in either. When I watched the other night it was The Dark Blue Chick (aka Scrappy) who went in last. That Scrappy is intent upon a crown I’m sure.
Reintegration Days 6-8
Half Pie is like a little spaceship, sometimes in the vicinity of and in sync with the other chickens and sometimes off on his own journey. Legolas treats him no differently from the others and he has realised that he can be near her instead of running in the opposite direction, as long as he respects her right of first food passage. Elrond is still Switzerland. Half Pie’s siblings are accepting of him, and he is sorting out his place in the pecking order with them. And Frodo? His jolly mother has been the most problematic. She takes many opportunities to chase him. She’s not getting to peck him nor is she hunting him down, but she’s still having an impact on how close he can get to the flock as a whole. He tries to keep away from her and is quick to run when she moves in his direction, but he just wants to be a part of the flock. Why does Frodo chase him? Partly, I think she sees him as a threat to her babies, being a ‘newcomer’ and knowing that her babies are still vulnerable, and partly, or mostly, I think it’s because she is the lowest in the established, adult pecking order, so he is a threat to her position. Yes, chickens are weird. If I am in the pen and I see Frodo move towards Half Pie, I will move towards her, chasing her away to show that her behaviour is not acceptable. I am thinking about setting up a bully pen to put Frodo in for short periods when she chases Half Pie to help her learn not to, but the weather has been stormy and all over the place so it’s a bit difficult.
I haven’t been able to view the whole bedtime proceedings due to their awkward current timing of around 5:15-5:30pm, which is right on The Little Fulla’s dinner time, so I don’t know how Half Pie is making it into the coop, but he is!
Reintegration Days 9-10
Half Pie is now a planet too. Yay! In other words, I consider him to be a proper part of the flock now. He moves with the others and participates in the same activities, and will hang out in a group of siblings so that I have to look harder to tell which one is him. Frodo still chases him occasionally, but he is very aware of her and moves as soon as she starts to move with intent in his direction. If I’m in the pen I will still chase her if she moves towards him. I think Frodo is treating him as if he were one of the adult chickens, and reinforcing to him that he is below her, at the bottom of the pecking order. She will often peck at her other babies now if they try and feed at the same time as her, but she is still mothering them slightly. She has not fully chased them off yet. She is moulting, which is not ideal over winter, although she seems to be coping with it much better than poor old Sam did, so she is probably enjoying the extra body heat of snuggling near them. They have all been getting an extra mineral and probiotic powder in their food to help them through this stressful and cold period.
Here are a few key things I have learnt about reintegration:
- Family ties mean nothing.
- Even if it is a chick you still have to go through a reintegration process after time away from the flock.
- It always pays to play it safe when it comes to the safety of the chicken being reintegrated.
- You need to invest time sitting with your flock through the process, to supervise, protect and reinforce.
- The other chickens need love too, so treats and chats all around are helpful.
- New or moved things to distract and explore around the pen are helpful.
- Observation and interpretation are key. I didn’t have to use the pen within the pen for too many days or spend much time among the chickens in the latter days because I accurately judged the level of danger that Half Pie was in. There is a fine balance between protecting the returnee and allowing the others to teach him how life works. Initially though, there was the possibility that Frodo, and even Legolas, could have seriously harmed or killed him. It sounds extreme, but it’s just how chickens work. They must defend their flock family and defend their hard-earned position within the flock. I’m fortunate that my chickens are on the docile side of the scale (even considering Frodo’s intolerance of Half Pie), but many other chickens would react differently and could take much longer to adjust. I’m also glad that Half Pie was quick to learn that he had to start over.
This reintegration has been an interesting journey, with extremes from the warm fuzzies of getting to handle Half Pie and have him trust and come close to me out in the pen to the sadness of having to separate him and watch him struggle to understand life as his mother rejected him and he had to find his own way back into the flock. I’m very proud of my little flock at the moment and so relieved that the reintegration has worked out. Long may the non-eventfulness last!