Friday, September 8, 2017

How to add new chickens to the flock

Adding new chickens into an existing flock can be quite frustrating. The pecking order is very real and even the slightest upset can turn normally sweet tempered hens into cranky brats! It would be great if we could just drop new chickens into the flock and they would all get along, but it seldom works that well.

integrating new chickens

The easiest way is to introduce new chickens to the flock is to have one of the hens raise them for you. Mama hen will protect them as they grow and they will just sort of blend in with the rest of the flock eventually. There are very few squabbles between chickens this way but it's not always feasible.

Depending on the breed of chickens it could be fairly easy. Docile breeds like Silkies are usually pretty forgiving when it comes to just plunking down a new chicken in their coop. With most flocks though it's best to integrate new chickens into the flock slowly and keep a close eye on them. Even the sweetest hen can peck a chick to death if she see's it as a threat.

When adding chicks I leave them in their brooder till they're about 6-8 weeks old, or even older in cold weather if they still need the heat lamp. Once they can be off heat I move them into the coop in a separate cage. I call this the baby cage. Clever right? 😉 

I put the cage in the corner so 2 sides are protected in case the big birds try to peck at them. They can retreat to the far corner if they get scared. This helps them to feel safe while meeting their future flock mates.

After a week or so I let the chicks have protected 'free range' time while the big girls are out. I have a portable dog play pen that I put them in. This way they get to be outside and play in the grass while still being protected.

new flock members

Once they've used the pen for about a week I add supervised free range time. I let them out with the flock for an hour or so a day. I sit right beside them the whole time to make sure everybody gets along. The pecking order can be brutal and left to their own devices, sometimes adults will hurt the chicks. At this point the new chickens are still going back to their cage at night.

After a few days of supervised free range time I increase the time they are out of their cage each day with the flock. Of course with increased time, I can't spend every moment supervising them. I make sure to check on them frequently and watch for any squabbles. There will be squabbles! As long as nobody is being harassed by multiple flock members, chased incessantly or hurt in any way I let them work it out. After all, it's their pecking order and they need to figure out where everyone fits!

When free ranging always make sure that you have more then one set of food and water set out. Sometimes the adults chase the babies away from the water or the feeder and you don't want them to go hungry!

Sometimes tossing out treats for everyone can distract them if the older chickens start to get a little bossy. Use something you can scatter across a large area like scratch or BOSS so they all spread out and everyone gets some.
adding hens to flock

If you have a rooster you will have to keep an eye on him. He will probably try to breed any new hens/pullets immediately. If they're still pretty small he might ignore them, but the bigger girls will definitely draw his attention. The rooster is generally at the top of the pecking order and this is him expressing his dominance and 'ownership' of the new hens. If you think he's too big and is hurting the new flock members you'll want to hold off on integrating them until they're closer in size.

Once unsupervised free range time is going great, I let them out of their cage in the coop. It starts with me leaving the cage door open at night. Usually the chicks still go into their cage and sleep there but over the next few days they start checking out the roosting bars and finding other places to sleep. 

Sometimes the chicks don't start mixing in with the other chickens. If they still seem hesitant after several days I will put them on the roosting bars at night after everyone else is asleep. Chickens can be easily fooled by doing things at night, so when they wake up they're more accepting. It's weird, but it often works.

The new chicks are pretty much integrated into the existing flock by this point, but still keep an eye out for any bullying. If you do find that you have some chicken bullies use the doggie play pen for the bullies during the day so the rest of the flock can free range in peace. I use binder clips to hook a piece of fabric or deer netting across the top so the bully can't just jump out. Usually a time out resets their attitude.

Of course if you don't free range you can still use this method in the chicken run. You'll just have to watch them more closely because the chicks can't run away from the bigger chickens if they get aggressive. Providing hiding spaces for the little guys and distractions like a cabbage ball on a string can help things to go more smoothly when the chickens are contained. 

When adding adult hens to your flock you'll follow the exact same steps, except you'll want to quarantine them away from the flock for at least a month first. You wouldn't want them to spread lice or mites or any other problem to your flock.

This is a slow process and does take awhile, but the time spent is worth it when the whole 'new' flock is getting along!



~L
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