Miolea Organic Farm

  (Adamstown, Maryland)
Organic Farming from a City Boy's Perspective
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Superordinate Goals

In group dynamics there is a term that describes how you can get the group to be a cohesive entity.  Sometimes in groups you have a “them” versus “us” mentality not a “we are all in this together”.  If that occurred, the reason the group is together in the first place gets lost and productivity suffers greatly.

I know you are asking yourself what does this have to do with farming.  What we have read is that you cannot integrate an old flock of layers with a new flock of layers without taking certain precautions.  One method is to make sure you have a greater number of new hens to old.  That way the old hens are somewhat intimidated by the shear number of new birds and not as likely to attack.

That turns out not to be as true as logic dictates.  There is a pecking order in the flock.  The alpha hen literally pecks at the “perceived” offender until the offender runs away.  Every so often, one will stand her ground and feathers are ruffled.  If I am around I yell with a deep timber and loud tone and that usually settles things.

Recently, we introduced our newest flock to the hens in the horse trailer.  Coadee and I spent the day off and on policing the transition.  The older hens did not take kindly to the intruders and made it quite clear.  Coadee for her part has learned to identify the sounds of aggression versus egg laying.  She does not like when harmony is not balanced.  When needed Coadee polices and keeps the peace.  Once she jumps into the pen the only thing the chickens do is hide.

Still as one day turned into two the behavior was about the same.  The group was distinctly divided with the old layers occupying the trailer and surrounding area and the new hens were off in the trees far away from them.  A peculiar phenomenon, we found early on, was hens like drinking water out of bowls.  It is not due to thirst, they have plenty of water in drip buckets all day but when my wife fills the bowls with water it is a stampede.  It is an animal activity that brings a smile to your face.

The new hens saw this and slowly came over to see what was happening.  One by one, the older hens would drive them away, until I had had enough and went in to scatter the old hens and let the new ones get a drink.  Day two turned into three and four and behavior was slowly changing.  Not much but I saw some integration.  Day five was the turning point.

A superordinate goal is a technique used to bring two opposite groups together in order to achieve a common goal.  Common goals take on many forms basically boiling down to the groups uniting because they both face the same issue.  As an example, take that of an office environment divided.  Both parties are working against each other.  Suddenly a new boss is brought in, one that is terrible.  Both sides of the office face the same situation now, a terrible boss.  Not soon after, the groups unite to fight the terrible boss.  A kinship develops and the whole office works toward a common goal, getting rid of the terrible boss.  How does this apply to hens?

Friday night, the end of day five there was a terrible, wind, thunder, lightning and rain storm.  We had at least twenty trees come down.  Some trees came close to the trailer others in the corn, string beans and driveway.  The storm lasted for several hours and knocked out power all around the region.  It took us two days to clear things and we are still cleaning up a week after.  I wonder what it was like in that trailer with all this noise, lightning and trees breaking and falling around the hens.  Did this storm give them a sense that they all survived something together?

This is merely observation on my part but when I turned my attention to the hens, they no longer separated into old and new.  They were co-mingling, scratching and pecking and when the water was poured in the bowl, there was much less pecking and more of a mix drinking at the same time.  The other thing that changed was that the new hens were getting into the trailer sooner; some were even on the top rung of the roost with the older women.  I observed a stark behavioral difference with the flock.  It is not Shangri-La but there is a lot less pecking and more intermingling.

I thought maybe having lived through such a terrible night that might have brought them closer together.  Yes, I am anthropomorphizing but over the years, I have had flocks that have taken weeks to acclimate.  Yet here they are together within two weeks of introduction.  Besides, I have learned that nothing brings unity quicker than superordinate goals.  

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