I actually started this project a bit earlier, when we officially introduced Peggy and Tina to Lisa out in the yard. Here she is staring at the little peepers through the wire on the chicken tractor.
We let them peer at each other this way for a few days. Just getting Lisa comfortable with the idea that there were other chickens in the yard. Then, we opened the door to the tractor.
The idea was to let them all free range together. But, initially, that's not how things played out. Instead, this happened:
Lisa just sauntered right inside the tractor and started eating Peggy and Tina's food--much to the younger girls' horror. If you look closely, you will see Peggy and Tina frozen in fear towards the back of the tractor. Their main strategy to deal with Lisa at first was to huddle close together and stand perfectly still. You could almost hear them saying, "Just don't move and maybe the big scary chicken won't notice us. And whatever you do, don't make eye contact."
Once they got out into the yard together, their interaction was more varied. Some of the time they happily ignored each other, and other times Lisa would chase them or even peck them a little bit. Interestingly, Lisa mostly pecks Tina. I think this is because Tina is much bigger than Peggy and clearly the dominant bird of their pair. So, by establishing her dominance over Tina, Lisa was also putting Peggy in her place (as the number three chicken). I'm not sure why Lisa even felt the need to peck Tina at all. Lisa is so much bigger, and Tina is clearly afraid of her.
Here they are hanging out on the steps together.
Anyway, the point of all the introductions and group outings was to get the three girls comfortable(ish) with each other before we tried getting them all in the coop together. So, this weekend, the Frieda Farm Chicken Integration Project '08 reached it's final phase.
On Friday evening, I started experimenting with putting Tina and Peggy into the run while Lisa was out free ranging. I stood in there with them while the examined the new spot. Then, I brought Lisa in and the four of us hung out in the run together for a bit. Mostly, Peggy and Tina tried to perch up high out of Lisa reach. They made a point of avoiding her whenever she came near, jumping into the tunnel or on top of the waterer, if necessary.
Saturday was everybody-in-the-run day. My plan was to get to a point where I could leave them in the coop with the door closed and walk away. I started with a fairly long free range in the morning while I did some gardening. Then, I put them all together in the run, pulled up a chair next to the coop and watched what happened.
For the most part, Lisa stuck to physical intimidation, with fairly few pecks. At one point, she did seem to grab Tina by the back of the neck--almost like you would a kitten--and hold on with her beak. I ran in and broke up that fight, although Tina didn't seem to be hurt at all, just scared.
Lisa's main concern, at first, was keeping Tina and Peggy away from the food--both her feeder and theirs. She spent a lot of time rushing over to startle them when they would tentatively peck at their feed. I had expected this issue, as Lisa is a bit of a greedy girl. But, eventually, she let them eat their feed while she pecked at her feeder across the run. Further progress came when all three chickens drank from the waterer at the same time. I was psyched.
Finally, after several hours, I walked away and came back to find all three chickens eating from Lisa's big feeder. Success! This seemed like a very good sign. So, I decided to push it and see if they could handle a sleepover. It was dusk and I took my station up on the patio to watch their behavior from afar.
At first, Lisa seemed unwilling to retire with strangers in her run. But, after a lot of pacing and false-starts up the plank, she did go to bed. The two younger girls weren't sure what to do after that. They kind of wandered around for a while, and then snuggled down in the dirt in one corner. I went down after a while and shoved them in the coop door. Moment of truth time!
Dakota and I got a flashlight and stood outside the coop listening for signs of Lisa attack. But, none came. Peggy and Tina were doing a lot of their "I'm scared" peeping, but that eventually died down, and the three of them settled in. Lisa in the nest box, Peggy and Tina on the floor nearby. We went out for dinner with friends, and when we came back everyone was still fine, so we left them for the night. (Of course, I did set my alarm for 6 am so I could go down and open the door early in case Lisa woke up cranky.)
Today has been pretty low-key, chicken-wise. No big altercations, although the pecking and intimidation continues. I assume Lisa will bully them for a few days more, at least. But I'm hoping that eventually they'll all get used to living together and be a happy little family.
Here they are today. Note Lisa having a snack at her feeder while Peggy sneaks a nibble at the smaller feeder behind her back.
And here they are coexisting in a semi-comfortable manner his evening.
Tomorrow they'll spend a whole day unattended. Fingers crossed they don't get in any big squabbles while I'm at work.