Penny's Plight: How She Won the Battle to Rejoin Her Flock.
There 's a wealth of information on introducing new chickens to a flock, but most resources warn that it's next to impossible to introduce a single chicken. The rare success stories use free ranging as the key. Having only a few chickens living in a small coop/run , lack of free ranging access and only one hen to reintroduce made this task seem overwhelming. But Penny proved it can be done and I hope this will offer some help to others faced with a recovered sick or injured chicken and the challenges of getting her accepted back into the small backyard flock.
These are the lessons I learned from Penny"s Plight.
Lesson 1 - Be Prepared.
When Penny took ill, I had no idea how difficult it would be to get her back to live with her flock mates. My 2 year old hens have been together since only 3 days old and had never demonstrated serious aggression towards each other. I thought I could just place her back in the flock with close supervision, but that was my first mistake. She was immediately attacked with vigor by all 3 hens. And thus began Penny's Plight and a 2 month adventure.
Having a large dog cage or other means to comfortably separate the hen is a must. I was not prepared with a means for her return to the outside and Penny's introduction was delayed several days awaiting delivery of a 2'x4' dog cage.
Lesson 2- Add Creative Space.
Although my coop/run has plenty of space for the flock, the addition of a large dog crate had shrunk the space. There was no possible way to fence off a section for Penny to allow her time out of her cage without everyone being way too close.
I added an outdoor area with temporary fencing to entice the other 3 hens to disperse. They began exploring the new territory as soon as the door opened, and this allowed Penny some daily time out of her cage while the others were investigating their own new adventures.
Lesson 3 - Identify and Defuse the Bullies
Everyone in the flock is considered a bully until proven otherwise, so be ready to intervene quickly. At some time during Penny's battle, she experienced aggression from each of the other 3 hens.
(Tweedie & Road Runner ) ( Lillie)
I started with a can of marbles and at signs of aggression a shake of the can would stop everyone in their tracks. It was effective, but didn't meet the need to defuse a particular bully. Mutt Farm's advice of using a water squirt bottle ( AKA Bully Blaster) was Penny's salvation. One squirt at a bully immediately stopped aggression and allowed Penny a quick escape. With time, just holding the Bully Blaster or setting it where all could see it was enough to avoid major conflicts.
I placed a small dog crate in the run for Lillie who was showing the most consistent aggression. When she acted out, she was placed in jail until Penny's visitation time was over and she was safely back in her own cage. Once the Bully Blaster was in use, Lillie learned a blast and jail would follow. The jail was needed only for a short while but did come in handy.
Lesson 4 - Shake Things Up.
Adding , removing or just moving things around seemed to divide all fowl attention, and defuse the 3 hen's ownership of the place.
Very late in the adventure I had given up hope of a reintegration and bought a small chicken house with plans for a permanent separation. Placing the new house just outside the run really got their attention. By the second day it was present, Penny rejoined the flock.
Lesson 5 - Listen to the Hens.
Listening to Penny would have shortened the battle. Initially, Penny came out of her cage only when enticed by seeds and dried mealie worms, stayed close to the cage, and would run back in for lock up. As time progressed, she came out without coaxing and ventured further and further from her cage. 3 days before freedom, she became increasingly reluctant to re-enter the cage at all. The first evening that she was not forced back into lockup, she went directly up to the coop and jumped on a roost.
Listening to Lillie would have prevented some of the early Bully Blaster interventions. During the first month, she was constantly focused on Penny in her cage. She would run up to the cage and kick sand at her. She jumped on top of the cage several times a day to sit or just walk around. As time went by, she showed signs of acceptance and would just sit by the cage and during times when Penny was out for visitation, demonstrated less aggression.
Lesson 6 - Listen to Those with Experience and Ignore the Rest.
When Penny's Plight began, I posted a question on whether chickens would act the same with or without human presence. And the answer is undeniably yes. If they are going to fight, they will do so even with you standing right there.
Penny's Plight would have been much shorter had I listened closer and earlier to :aart's advice
- Patient repetition of co-mingling can work
- It's all about territory and resources, they fight over roost space, feed and water...so multiples of those always help...and more overall space is good for getting away from an aggressor, hiding places 'out of line of sight' and/or up and away
- even in a small coop/run add a second feed water station.
- when treating - spread it out to disperse the gang.
- I'd just leave her crate open of an evening as see where she goes......I'm betting eventually she'll roost in coop.
- Slowly but surely...let her stay out of cage until roost time and see what happens?
- They may be more apt to squabble going to roost than in the morning,
- if she can overcome getting up there, she should be fine in the morning.
The major mistake I made was not reading the posts carefully and let Penny out of her cage early one morning. All 3 hens tried a group attack, but luckily I was ready and intervened before anyone was harmed.
IMO, there's some advice we need to ignore. Some folks recommend just placing them on a roost at night. That might work for a very large flock housed in a large coop, but would likely end in disaster in small quarters with only a handful of hens.
Lesson 7 - Don't Give Up & Be Patient.
At the onset, I expected Penny's reintegration to take only a couple of weeks. But Penny's Plight lasted 2 months!! I nearly gave up on getting her back with her flock although all the signs of success were right in front of me. DH and Penny added the patience to the quotient and ultimately they both should get credit for this success.
Lesson 8 - Let the Pecking Order Happen.
The surprise of how aggressive a bunch of hens can be was quite a shock. Before this battle began, I had only witnessed cute chest bumps, funny stare downs and minor pecking in this flock. But these sweet hens displayed fighting skills I had never imagined possible. Early on intervention and separation was necessary. But as integration was actually becoming close, I developed a no peck tolerance. DH had to take over as Master of the Blaster and convince me to let them work out the pecking order on their own.
And at the end of two months...I had finally learned the lessons.
She was once again a member of the flock and Penny's Plight had ended with success.
Penny fought a hard battle to be accepted back by her flock mates. She is free at last and is getting more and more secure in her role every day. There are still evening scuffles in roost position, but she is persevering and holding her own in the coop. She started at the bottom of the pecking order and still remains there in the flock, but now has me wrapped around her little finger toe! .
Here's the link to the thread with discussions that helped us with the success: post #1
Penny and I want to thank all who gave advice and encouragement to help us accomplish this success and send special appreciation to those who played key roles:
My DH - for your patience and time invested in sitting with the flock and taking charge of the Bully Blaster. And most important, for not letting me take her out of the coop the first night back in when I heard and witnessed normal roost position spats.
aart - for your sharing your experience and advice.
Mutt Farm - for the water spray idea and training advice.
TwoCrows - for your advice and encouragement to document Penny's Plight.
NorthFlChick - for your input and shoulder to cry on.
Blooie - for sharing your experience in supervised reintegration and encouragement.
Here's another member's success story: post #1 . Congrats to @azygous .