Integrating Mama Hens Together

When Ruth and Eve both went broody a month ago we were happy to have them set at the same time.  At the time, Ruth was living in the upper coop with all the other hens and rooster and she went broody in one of those nests.  Eve happened to be living in the Mama Hen Pen (MHP) with her four chicks she previously hatched (who were 8 weeks old), plus several other young pullets.  Ideally, we wanted Ruth to hatch in the MHP with Eve, but because it was her first time setting, and because she is a hen that is low on the totem pole and a little anti-social, we were worried that all those pullets being in there would cause her too much stress and she would quit.  There was nowhere for the pullets to go at the time, but we knew that by the time Ruth hatched they would be moved out because we would have butchered the cockerels taking up space elsewhere.  So we decided to let Ruth do her setting in the little broody coop all alone and then we would attempt to move her and the chicks to the MHP to live with Eve.

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Ruth, our Cochin mix hen, and her chicks.

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Eve, our white Silkie, sitting on her chicks.

After they both hatched their chicks, and they were all stable and eating and drinking (at about 2-3 days old), we decided it was time to do the move over.  We set up a feeder and waterer on each side of the pen, so there would be no need to fight over that and so neither of them could bully the other.

There are four things about this situation that made us feel like it would be ok to integrate them together.

#1 Eve and Ruth know each other.  They have lived with each other for over a year, except for when Eve was in the Mama Hen Pen setting and raising her first chicks.

#2  Even though Eve has been living in the MHP for the last 15 weeks, and thus they haven’t lived together that whole time, they have shared a chicken wire wall, so they have seen each other and interacted through the wall.

#3  Eve and Ruth are both hens that are low on the pecking order and laid back.  They are not dominant hens prone to bully other hens.

#4  The MHP is large (88 sqr ft) and has plenty of space for two hens and their chicks.  And we set up two feed and water areas.

I am not sure we would have attempted this had these things not been true.  We would have been too worried that there would be bullying or fighting to the point that the chicks or mamas would be hurt.  We have done a LOT of integrating of chickens over the last year and have had both excellent integrations and horrible ones that didn’t work at all and had to be separated lest a chicken get seriously injured or killed.

So we took Ruth and all her chicks (it took 4 of us to carry them all) and we put them into the MHP in the opposite corner from where Eve was sitting at the time.  Then I sat down, ready to wait it out for hours if necessary to see if they would be able to make it work.

At first they both just eyed each other and sat there, chicks underneath them, puffed up showing how “big” they were.  Then Ruth decided to eat and drink.  She took her babies to the food/water area nearest her and they ate and drank.  Eve watched her carefully, and Ruth kept an eye on Eve the whole time.  Then she resettled in her corner.  Next Eve decided to eat and drink.  So she and her chicks went to the area closest to them and Ruth watched from her corner.  This rotation went on for about an hour and a half, with them alternating sitting on their chicks resting and then eating and drinking, and neither doing it at the same time as the other.  They also both stayed on their own side of the pen.  In this photo, Eve had slightly moved over near Ruth’s feeder, but they still were not interacting with each other, just eyeing one another.

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After about an hour and a half there finally came the confrontation.  Eve had taken her chicks to her side feeder and was calling them to a yummy morsel the way mama hens do, and Ruth decided she needed to see if the food in Eve’s feeder was better than the food in her feeder.  She approached all puffed up, and when Eve realized Ruth was coming over she puffed up.  They did one jump in the air chest bump, at which point chicks kind of ran everywhere, intermingling with one another.  Then both mamas backed down and went back to their sides of the pen – no big deal at all.  Meanwhile, the chicks were running all over trying to figure out where their mama was.  One of Ruth’s went under Eve and then immediately ran back out like “That’s not my mama!”  It ran over and found Ruth and went under her, no worse for the wear.

After that little tiff, and subsequent chick mix-up, I was pretty confidant all would be well with the integration.  So I went back to normal life, but checked on them every couple of hours that day, and a few times the next.  We are now about 5 days out from the integration and life in the MHP is pretty amazing.

Eve, Ruth, and all their chicks are now constantly intermingling and sharing the pen.  They share both feeders and waterers.  At any point in time it can be hard to know which chick belongs to which hen – but the chicks and hens definitely know.  Whenever one of the hens calls her chicks to a piece of food, only HER chicks come running.  And when it is time for a nap, only the chicks belonging to each hen will go under their mama.  And neither hen is being aggressive towards the other hen’s chicks, nor trying to steal them or anything.  They are all living together in harmony.  It is REALLY cool to watch.

100_1241 100_1243 100_1242 100_1244This was our goal with the MHP – to have it be a place where broody hens could set and hatch their chicks and then live with their chicks in safety from our barn cats until the chicks were big enough.  And we wanted them to do it all with other broody hens in there when necessary.  We are so excited that this worked out and that the hens are happily raising their chicks together in harmony!

3 thoughts on “Integrating Mama Hens Together

  1. I wish my integration went so well. My chickens still are in a divided run because one of the hens was bullied by the rooster (her brother) and now runs and hides in a nest box whenever I try to put them back together. I’m not sure how to get her over her trauma. The chickens (5 hens, 1 rooster) can see each other and get close to each other as they have a single run with chicken wire down the middle but they know what it means when I move away that wire!

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      • It seems impossible. The rooster and 2 hens (that he’s separate from now but beat up on re-integration) are siblings. They grew up together from eggs. They were only apart for a couple weeks when he took a disliking to his sister. To be fair she had no feathers at the time (his fault, over-mating) and now she’s got feathers and he seems more inclined to peck her to show her who’s boss than to beat her up but she remembers….

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