So it took two weeks for Mabel and Ava to meet and greet Florence, Jemima and Dottie through the fencing, first of their coop, then of the small run.
The first time Florence set eyes on the two new girls peering curiously out of the wire mesh, she launched herself aggressively onto their coop, flapping her wings.
Not what I expected from the once docile, sweet Flo.
Jemima did the same.
Not what I expected from the lazy, often broody Jemima.
And Dottie? Who was bossy and used to peck Florence when she was a youngster?
She ignored them.
To be fair, most of the time everyone ignored each other. There were curious glances but otherwise both groups of chickens got used to the other gang being in the vicinity. As long as they were kept apart from fencing, that is.
After a week of ‘quarantine’, where Mabel and Ava got used to their new surroundings, they were allowed out in the small run. The older hens roamed free in the outer garden. I worried that the youngsters would try and sneak through the flimsy netting and (typical of my worst fears) get pecked and eaten by a three-strong gang of tough pekin bantams.
Well, maybe just the pecking although I have heard of cannibalism in chickens…
It went smoothly but, because of my concerns, I continued to keep close watch while they were out.
They were often in full sight of the other chickens.
Then it was deemed time for them to wander the full length of the Hen Garden. I closed the other chickens in, and Dad and I cleared the garden of anything that could possibly be a danger. We also closed off any potential small areas of escape. I worried they would fly away, squeeze under a tiny hole or eat something they shouldn’t.
None of these things happened. They loved their new-found freedom.
Then it was Meet and Greet Day. One by one, in the comfort of my living room, Ava and Mabel met Jemima, Florence and Dottie. All went well except Florence pecked Ava (where was the nice Flo?) and oddly, Mabel pecked Dottie.
Originally, they were all going to be introduced that night as I heard bedtime was the best time to introduce chickens. But after the two pecking incidents, I, well, ‘chickened out’ (!) Instead, every day for the next fortnight, all the chickens went out in their designated Hen Garden but slept in their respective coops at night.
At first, there was chasing by Jemima (well, at least it woke her from broodiness) and Florence. No harm done but it did make Mabel and Ava wary of the mean girls.
There also seemed to be segregation, with one group at the top and the other at the bottom of their garden. And vice versa.
But gradually, over the fortnight, Mabel and Ava creeped over towards the group, little by little, step by step. Still a little chasing went on, usually by Jemima, and I caught Dottie peck Mabel (was this revenge?) but generally, they slowly, surely, accepted the two youngsters.
When Mabel and Ava wandered over to the older hens’ coop and pottered around, eating grain, there was an air of acceptance.
I was nervous when the big moving in day arrived. At 5pm, when it was twilight, not dark for us humans but bedtime for chickens, Dad and I took out Ava and Mabel from their perches and placed them on the perch in their new home.
A couple of times I sneaked towards the coop, hovering by the door, waiting in anticipation for any noises.
All quiet on the chicken front.
The next morning, they were all as one. A little bit of bickering went on about corn (well, if you can’t argue about corn, what can you argue about?) but otherwise…
I left them in their coop, to their own devices, while I went for a walk. When I got back, I found Florence had laid an egg (good girl, Flo!) and she had been followed into the bedroom by Jemima, Dottie, Mabel and Ava.
Over the last week, the once segregated groups have integrated into one, bigger group. It took patience, anti-pecking spray and nerves – and a few weeks – but it looks like Ava and Mabel have made themselves at home and made new friends at the same time.
Most importantly, they also learnt very quickly where they could beg for mealworms!