Well, so much for worrying about the Lone Ranger. And as for assuming it’s a pullet, I take it all back! Last Saturday, James and I debated how best to introduce our smaller chick to its gang of siblings. The singleton had been one of the last to hatch – with a little extra help out of its shell, too – so naturally had some catching up to do. After its fellow late hatchlings had sadly not survived, it remained in the small brooder by itself while its boisterous older fledglings tore about at an incredible pace in their larger enclosure. Once that tiny flock had grown large enough to be kept in the henhouse, we felt it was increasingly unhealthy to keep the smaller chick apart. Who knew what kind of anti-social, dysfunctional creature we would rear if it continued to range by itself. So, at the weekend, we spent some time considering various approaches for the introduction of our smaller charge. In the end, we decided to place her in a larger brooder – which James made out of a spare run extension we had stored in the barn – with one of the gang of five for a few days and then put them both back into the flock, to decrease the chance of bullying. With the new brooder set up in the dining room (which increasingly resembles a farmyard), we transferred the chick and placed its feeder and drinker at one end. The next task was to identify the sweetest looking one of the five outside in the henhouse as its mate. We spent a few minutes observing the birds’ behaviour and chose what we thought was almost certainly a female, given that she didn’t fight as much as some of her counterparts and her tail feathers pointed downwards rather than upwards (we’re really winging it here, as I’m not sure this is a sure sign of pullet versus cockerel!). Carrying her back into the house in a plastic box and wood shavings, we next placed her in the large brooder and crossed our fingers that she wouldn’t bully her new companion.
James and I sat either side and looked on as the two acquainted themselves with each other. We weren’t remotely prepared for what came next – our supposedly defenceless chick turned out to be a prize fighter: jealously guarding the chick crumb, running up to its opponent and pecking her feet and eyes. We couldn’t subject the so-far-unharmed pullet to any more violence but at least we now knew that the Lone Ranger could hold its own. So we transferred both into the henhouse without further ado and watched eagerly as the little guy, instead of attempting blend in, fronted up to all the others and cheeped away imperiously. Surprisingly, they all seemed to take it pretty well and let him strut his stuff. Having had a growth spurt, he’s now indistinguishable from his five fellow birds – just one of the six chicks that huddle together for warmth in a pile every evening when we go to shut them up for the night. And his adopted parents couldn’t be prouder.