Over the past almost two years, I have acquired quite a few animals. Aside from the first to arrive, that has required integrating them with the existing animals. It’s always a battle. Animals, like humans, are territorial.
Goats will ram and head butt each other until it seems they will crack their skulls open. It’s violent and painful to watch. It’s even more painful to hear as it sounds like the crushing of bone. Regardless, it’s necessary and they work it out among themselves eventually, settling into an order of dominance. Babies are bottom of the chain and are often head butted into a corner until they give up.
Chickens are worse. You cannot toss them together and let them work it out. They will fight to the death. They will fight for dominance. They will fight for food. They will fight out of sheer boredom. It doesn’t even have to be another full grown chicken. If you put little chicks in with them, they will summarily pick them off one by one like a bunch of blood thirsty carnivores. They must be separated in a way they can not get to each other but can see each other for quite a while before being introduced. Babies must grow as large as the adults first. And even then, I often have to introduce them with a water hose and high powered nozzle in my hand.
Turkeys and ducks aren’t as bad as chickens but still need human intervention during introduction to ensure they all survive.
Dogs…well, they are the worst. I usually must pin them and force submission. In doing so, they see me as the alpha dog and once they submit, see themselves as part of my pack. This ensures they never act of their own accord but instead, behave according my will. It’s a quicker process than chickens or goats but requires physical strength, knowledge, skill and fierce determination. Especially when some of those dogs are as big as I am.
But, I’ve learned there is a difference between new animals being introduced by me and new animals born into the fold.
Take goats for instance. Last kidding season I discovered very pregnant goats would start challenging each other trying to obtain a higher status among the herd so their babies would receive that same status. And the babies did receive the mother’s status. If the mother was at the bottom of the dominance chain, so were her kids. If she were somewhere in the middle, the goats farther down the chain would show deference to the kids while those higher up the chain would not. This year, I got to see something I find absolutely amazing. Tori, my Oberhasli doe, gave birth to a set of twin doelings. Tori happens to be the top of the goat chain. She is the boss. There is not another goat, buck included, that will challenge her. They all show her deference and respect. I wondered how the twins would fare. I don’t know why I was surprised, but they also were born with their mother’s status. They walk around like royalty. They can climb all over the buck while he is sleeping and he doesn’t so much as get up and walk away. If another goat is standing on the coveted “big rock” in the yard and one or both of the little ones wants up there, the bigger goats obediently step aside. The girls can run through the food trough while the rest are eating and no one stops them. It’s just mesmerizing to watch.
This year I have also had ducklings and chicks hatched by their moms for the first time. I was curious to see how the other birds would react. From previous posts, you know that setting birds are beyond protective of their eggs and I wondered if that would continue once they hatched. It did.
A duckling can be left among a flock composed mostly of drakes while it’s mom flies around stretching her wings and it’s never disturbed. That would not happen if I dropped a duckling in the middle of them. The duckling can cry out and the drakes will actually back up fearing repercussion from the much smaller mother.
It has gone similarly with the new chick. This tiny chick can run and play between the legs of any other bird from hateful roosters to huge turkeys without harm. This morning, I watched my almost 50lb tom, Jack, stand aside while the chick played in his food dish. When the chick’s 5lbs mom came out to check on it, that huge turkey backed up even farther to avoid her wrath.
I’ve learned a lot from watching these animals but the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that unless I have no other choice, I will allow the animals I have to continue to populate this homestead. It’s less hassle and heartache than doing it myself.