Miracle or Nature?
by Rebecca Bresnick Holmes
Being the impatient and sometimes impulsive person that I am, I immediately went out and got two more chicks after we had to give away Shasta and Cascade – the two budding roosters. This time I got what would grow to be regular-sized chickens. Even though they were only eight weeks old, they were almost as big as Harriet – the youngest silkie. I was told they are “barred rock” chickens. One is white with black stripes and the other is black with white stripes. We named them Ruthie and Pearl. You can guess which one has which name.
I had already learned that you can’t just throw a new chick in with a flock of hens – you have to introduce them slowly or the new ones can get beat up. At first, since they were still pretty young, the chicks slept indoors at night. In the morning, I’d take them outside and put them in a dog crate so that the grown up chickens could see and smell them but not be able to harass them. After about a week, I started to let Ruthie and Pearl out of their dog crate to explore the world and mingle with the hens.
Ruthie and Pearl were joined at the hip. They explored the yard, pecked for bugs, and hid behind trees together. If I picked one up, the other one would peep like mad and jump up on me. Once they were both on me, they’d just settle down and take a nap.
Little by little, they spent more time outside the dog crate with the other chickens, who pretty much ignored them. I was able to leave them outside in their crate at night once they were big enough.
After a few months, it was time to get them into the coop. As usual, I did a lot of on-line research about this and found a lot of varying information. As usual, it was too much information. I decided to ditch that and go with my instincts.
First I put the chicks into the empty coop from the top (where the lid is). They immediately ran out, but I figured that at least they had a look at what was in that big white box where the other hens disappeared at night. I did this a few times, then graduated to putting the chicks into the coop while it was occupied by the hens.
This was a mistake. The hens started screaming and tried to peck the newbies. Ruthie and Pearl didn’t need much encouragement – they ran out as fast as they could.
I gave up on putting them in this way. Instead, I just let them all roam during the day, and they all went to their separate quarters at night – the chickens to the coop and Ruthie & Pearl to their dog crate. I figured that eventually, the hens would accept them and the chicks would go into the coop.
Again, feeling impatient, I couldn’t wait it out very long. It was taking too long for me.
I tried again, this time putting Ruthie and Pearl into the occupied coop after dark, when all the chickens were settled and calm. Apparently, chickens don’t see well in the dark, so I figured I’d trick them into acceptance. I thought that maybe in the morning, they’d think that the chicks had been there all along and weren’t anything new to get upset about.
In the morning, when we opened the coop, the chicks came running out first, but everyone seemed to be ok.
I did the same thing the following night and the next after that. The third night I went out to put the chicks into the coop and couldn’t find them. I started to panic, but then thought to peek into the coop. It was a miracle (or maybe nature?)! The chicks had gone into the coop on their own!!! My forced integration of chicks and hens had finally resulted in acceptance, albeit perhaps reluctant.
Ever since, even though they still sometimes get picked on in the yard, all seven hens voluntarily enter the coop at night and seem to get along in there.
Meanwhile, Phooey the aged mouse lives on and has acquired a new roommate – another white mouse named Mollie. Our hope is that they will groom each other and Mollie will help cure Phooey. Unlike the chickens, however, we just put the new mouse in with Phooey and they met without any fanfare. So far, so good.