My newest chickens, Doris and Linda, have been integrated into the flock since June, and, sadly, things are not going very well. Linda, the Langshan, is being pretty brutally bullied by the older hens. The weird thing is, they lived together fairly peacefully for the first several months. Then, in early October, I came home to find that Linda's head was bleeding.
Over the next couple of days, the older girls managed to give her a pretty nasty wound on one side of her head, just behind her left eye. We added some additional perches to the run and put a second feeder up high, so that Linda didn't have to eat at the main feeder with the older girls. And we tried to free range everyone as often as possible. But, they kept picking on her. Her injury started to look really bad and I was very worried--although, happily, she didn't show any signs of distress beyond a general (reasonable) fear of her coop-mates. (I was worried about them pecking her brain, but she seems to be mentally okay--as far as I can tell.)
Our eventual solution was to let Linda and Doris out of the coop on their own every morning. I put out food and water for them in the yard and they free range all day, while the mean girls stay inside the run. Then, everyone free ranges in the evening after we get home from work. This method has allowed Linda's wound to heal somewhat, although it's still vulnerable to bleeding if one of the big girls gets at her.
Linda seems okay, though. She's even laying brown eggs, which is great. But, the daily segregated free-range doesn't seem like a perfect long-term solution since it leaves my garden completely vulnerable to Doris and Linda's sharp claws and voracious appetites. Plus, when it rains this winter, they're going to want to go inside the coop. And I don't know what we're going to do next time we go out of town.
I'm not sure what I can do next, beyond expanding the run so everyone can spread out more. I think part of the problem might be that they older girls don't want to give up any of their space. A bigger run would definitely help, but that takes time and hard work from Dakota. I don't know when he'd be able to get around to a project like that.
Tina is getting kind of old, so I imagine she'll die of natural causes pretty soon, and that will help with the space issue. Her death might also reshuffle the pecking order a little. Linda and Doris are big and hearty. If they would just stand up for themselves, I think the other girls would stop bullying. But, unfortunately, I can't give a chicken the "punch the toughest guy in the prison yard" pep talk. Maybe she'll figure it out on her own.