Flock Integration: Can’t we all just get along?

Poor little Katniss and Primrose. They’re beautiful, certainly, but sometimes that’s not enough. They seem to be inadequate at being chickens. They aren’t comfortable with basic chicken skills like “scratching and pecking at the same time” and “perching on a stick.” There are certain chicken behaviors that I believe(d) to be inherent to “chicken-ness” but these two are continually teaching me that in fact not all chickens have survival instincts.

But we’re fed up with having chickens in our house and I started to have nightmares about them starting to lay while they still lived in the brooder, so they got booted out to the coop. We’ve been nervous about flock integration. The “pecking order” is a very real thing, in that chickens actually peck each other to establish a social hierarchy, sometimes injuring or killing each other. It turns out that our concerns were not unfounded.

Lenora, queen of the roost, could not care less about the little chickens. She’s got a really busy calendar and so much to do. She can’t be bothered with some little newbies and simply ignores them 99% of the time.

But Pepper is another story. My theory is that Pepper is second in the pecking order, and she has more to lose with the integration of new birds. She definitely doesn’t want to play second fiddle to younger, smaller, dumber birds. Or maybe she just can’t respect them in their inferior chicken-ness. I’m no chicken sociologist, but either way, this is the face of our bully bird.

She chases them and tries to peck them; they cry desperately and run. No one has drawn blood yet, so we’ve been trying to stay out of it and let them work it out themselves. It’s painful to watch, though. I want them to cuddle up and sing Kumbaya, you know? Until we get there, we’ve been free-ranging a lot to distract Pepper, and Krista built some hideouts for the Littles to escape to.


Unfortunately the Littles don’t seem to be smart enough to hide inside the boxes yet, but they learned to stand on top when Pepper gets aggressive — which is progress! Two days ago they flapped and squawked and tried to fly through the fence when she came at them. Keep your fingers crossed for some peace in the hen house soon.

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17 Comments

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17 responses to “Flock Integration: Can’t we all just get along?

  1. I had no idea trying to make chickens get along was so difficult! There go my dreams of having a coop in my backyard.
    I love the names, especially those of Katniss and Primrose. Are you a die-hard Hunger Games fan too?

    • Jo, this kind of struggle normally isn’t as magnified. The reason it’s happening here, is because of the introduction of smaller pullets in with larger and established hens. If you start your flock with all the same age, the integration is much smoother, or if you need to buy replacements or cycle new birds in, finding them as close to the same size as the ones you already have helps a lot. As does the free ranging option until everyone learns their place and starts to get along. Don’t give up on chickens!!

      • Actually, the struggle is magnified by the blogging, not the age of the pullets. The actual ass-kicking is pretty mild.

        It’s funny that you mentioned getting pullets of comparable size. At 24 weeks, the orpington pullets are at least as big as our leghorn, if not bigger. They’re well-matched in size, but not in intelligence/confidence. We waited until they grew out of their “baby talk,” but everyone’s jostling for the best spot on the roost. It’s just life.

    • We are totally die-hard hunger games fans! How could you tell?? :)

      In all honesty, I don’t think the rumbling of flock integration is a reason to avoid getting chickens. There are a lot of challenges about keeping chickens – keeping them safe and healthy, mostly, and dealing with it when they aren’t – but I do think it’s worth it a hundred times over. They are my favorite pets (don’t tell the dogs and cats).

    • Oh no! Don’t give up on the idea of chickens! I’m with Jess– they are worth it (and also my favorite pets, don’t tell the dog!)! The difficulties of integration are not when they are all same age and raised together– they just start establishing it as babies and have it sorted out.
      Integration past then can be tricky. For some flocks it is smooth sailing, and others it is rougher. But, when you integrate a new chicken– pullet or full-grown hen- into a new flock it requires some monitoring.

      • And especially if the new hen(s) are polish hens, right?

        • totally. Poor Lady Guitar II. RIP. The polish ass-kicking I get. The flouncy head. The poor vision. But then our older polish is pretty much top chicken of all 9 of them. Then it is so random…our barred rock and her now-forever-bald head is now a loner (understandably) and is your bully. Mellow buff orpingtons terrorizing the others. I have no idea.
          But they are all fantastic =)

          • It’s funny how so many chickens are exceptions to the “rule” of their breed. They are really so much more interesting than anyone gives them credit for.

            (Crazy Chicken Lady alert)

  2. Pecking order is pretty intimidating stuff! I hope the girls can work it out. It’s times like this when chickens are more like dinosaurs than the clucking mother hens from the cartoons…

  3. annie

    That picture of Pepper is amazing! I totally just gave her my lunch money.

  4. Loving the Chicken Pics – Happy Monday!

  5. Great pics & beautiful ladies! Some chickens are certainly excel less at being chickens than others. It is fascinating to watch their order and ways…but I’m with you…where is the kumbaya ladies?

    • I do feel reassured knowing that your orps are dumb, too, though. Maybe they can make it up to a minimum standard of chicken-ness…. someday.

      • Smarter than the australorps though. One of ours still has to be routinely shoved in the coop at night and seems to be unaware that she is going to lay an egg until it pops out wherever she happens to be…by the waterer, under the ramp, etc.=)

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