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Introducing New Chicks to a Flock

 
Paul Cereghino
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I am learning about the dark side of chickens.
Any suggestions about adding some new chicks to a flock?

I have three ladies.. 2 golden sexlinks, 1 americauna(sp?) that just got their feathers, and a flock of three R.I.Reds a Barred Rock, and a Leghorn.  8 total.

I brought the three young'uns into the coop at night.  The next day I let the elders roam, while keeping the young'uns in the coop and run.  Then for two days, all was well.  Then one morning the youngers got the holy stuffing whipped out of them.  I brought them back to the brooder, with a little antibiotic cream for the worst wounds.  They are lively and healing.  I now know that hen-pecked ain't cute.  Any suggestions?  Next time I'll watch more carefully... i am suspecting it might be the leghorn... in which case the solution may be as simple as dinner, but I'd hate to scapegoat to quick.

The coop has around 20 sq ft - the run has around 70 sq feet, the whole apparatus gets moved to new pasture every few days.
 
Jami McBride
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Easy to fix this situation Paul - you will need to section off a piece of the house/run with chicken wire.  Put the new chicks in there, with their own food and water, and maybe a branch or two for roosting.  They need to see and hear each other (old and new) but not fraternize just yet.  This set up will need to stay in place for anywhere from 2 - 4 weeks, varies depending on a lot of factors.

Now sit back and watch, when the newbies can stand, sit or lay next to the fencing while an older gal peacefully walks by, or even hangs out at the fence line, or they both sit near the wire facing each other you can remove the temporary chicken wire. 

I would also make a newbie roost, just for the new comers, and just far enough away to prevent pecking, or like mine on the opposite side of the house.  After a few months you will see them all roosting together, but this is the last division in ranks to go, so allow for space for as long as they need it. 

You can tell if this process has been done right, allowing enough time for involuntary bonding, by their feeding habits.  Birds introduced to soon without bonding will not be allowed to come anywhere near when food is offered.  The older chickens will stop eating to chase and peck them off.  After proper bonding a cautious tolerance will be noted, with the newbies waiting to eat after the older gals send them the right vibes.

I hope this helps.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Thanks Jami -
This sounds like the best idea I have found, and I appreciate your careful observation of behavior... a rare thing.  My eggmobile design does not do a good job of supporting this, but necessity is the mother of invention.  We bring a couple new birds into our flock each year, so this seems like design element to work out -- and a good function to incorporate into any new coop-run designs.
 
Paul Cereghino
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Just to report back after introducing the young'uns and watching the dynamics for a while.  They had a week together, side by side in a run separated by chicken wire with separate food and water, till they were calm with each other.  Then I let them roam free together, maintaining both food and waters.

The leghorn, either by personality or breed is definitely the bully.  9 of 10 she starts chasing them around, they start squawking, then the others will nip them as they run around.  I haven't been locking them in the coop at night so they have more space, and that helps... there are not enough hiding places for the little ones inside the coop.  The young will walk around fine with the others, but get panicky when the leghorn arrives on the scene. 

It seems the young really need hiding places to live on the edge of the flock and learn the ropes.  The best solution I came up with has been a old 1m square piece of plywood, around 6" off the ground.  Just the right height for the chicks to crawl under and get some rest far from the elders who don't bother going under.  It also gives the young shelter from the rain when its dumping and everyone else is huddled in the coop.

I have been moving them regularly so they have fresh ground to keep them preoccupied.  It cant hurt.

 
Ken Peavey
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Ditto to everything Jami said. 

I would add that the pecking order is mighty strong way of life to the chickens.  The older birds will always bully the younger birds.  Over time, there will be less bullying, but will never reach zero.

 
Jami McBride
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Reaching 'zero' division could be based on factors, and breeds as Paul has noted.

My current old flock is made up of three years of introduce-ies (a few newbies each year) and no one would be able to pick them apart - no visible divisions of any kind. 

I have 3 Brahmas, 1 Bard-rock, 1 Blue and one crazy looking thing we call Phylis Dillard for her wild feather hair.  These are the spring newbies that are now giving the others a wide birth.

The newbies roost on the right of the house, door about in the middle of the house and so is the food dish.  Oldies roost on the left, and two nest boxes (plastic veggie bins really) are on each side of the left-hand roosts.  Some time around Thanksgiving the newbies will be roosting with the oldies, all on the left-hand side.

Paul you may want to quarantine that leghorn behind some fencing for a while.  Let the others all get nice and friendly before reintroducing that one back in.  Be interesting to watch the dynamics in this story line.

 
                                      
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I have kept as many as 80 chickens of various breeds, but the LEGHORNS were the first to not be invited back to play.  We learned in a hurry about skinny, flighty, big-combed mediterranean-type chickens.  I am hoping that they have a lot of friends out there that appreciate them, because I have learned that it is necessary to just say NO.
We live in a harsh, windy, cold climate and have learned to stick with the big girls.
We have better luck raising the heavy breeds with small combs that don't freeze.  I know they  eat more food, so aren't as cost effective as some chickens, but I figure that goes with the territory. 
Try this for happy winter chickens......feed them sprouts....it is just not that difficult to do large batches in a bucket and they get the sprout rinse water too.  We feed alfalfa hay, kitchen scraps, and small crabapples.  They live in deep piles of turned hay (a la Joel Salatin) in an unheated shed, roam free, and in summer they sleep in trees and then I keep the garden fenced, not the chickens.
If I were a chicken, I would want to live at my house.
 
Adam Old
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Location: Miami, FL - Zone 10b
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My flock got taken out by raccoons the other day, all except one Buff Orpington hen. I feel sad for her, because she misses her flock, so I was thinking I would get some chicks. I wasn't sure if she would raise them herself out in the coop or if I would still have to raise them, then introduce them when they are older. Does anyone have any ideas? The weather is quite warm--can I just stick them in the nest with her or will she peck them?
 
Jay Green
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Unless she is broody and expecting to hatch chicks, no, you cannot just "stick them in the nest with her". She may kill them. If she is broody and trying to sit eggs, then you can slip them under her gently under cover of darkness and she should foster them well.

If she is not broody, you will have to brood them yourself and introduce them to her slowly...it works well to brood them in the coop, in a separate area that she can see but cannot reach them. You may see her very intrigued by them and she may even start trying to cluck to them like a mother would after awhile. If this is the case, you can have a supervised session to see how she reacts to them....let them into her area and watch. If she seems very solicitous towards them and starts to mother them, it's good. If not, keep them in their own space until they are old enough to integrate with her without getting some major pecking~fully feathered and very quick on their feet, usually 3-4 wks.

ETA: I might also add that it would be great if you have already coon proofed your chicken system before introducing more coon fodder...if not, I wouldn't bother sacrificing more chickens to the coons.
 
Adam Old
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Location: Miami, FL - Zone 10b
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yeah, the coon-proofing is happening first. She's definitely not broody enough to be sitting on the nest at night, I think she'll be up in the rafters for a while, since her friends got eaten. I guess I'll look into closing off a section of coop for the chicks to see if she'll come around.
 
John Polk
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I totally agree with 99% of what Jay says.

Since she is the sole survivor of of the attack, she is at the top of the pecking order, and will be, until they are all mature hens, and she is beyond her peak. She shall be the Queen until nature dethrones her. Pecking order is crucial to the survival of a flock (as ugly as it may look to us humans looking in from the outside).

The chicks should be raised near, yet apart from her. Personally, I would look for a part of the coop/run that she has little/no interest in, and put the chix there...if she has no interest in the area, she has less instinct to 'defend' it. The chix will set their own pecking order there...that is important. Once they co-mingle, she will go after the Queen (the strongest) of the new flock to make sure they all know who is really the Queen. Once she establishes this, they will all accept it. She will have no need to bully the lesser chix in the flock. They will forgo the pain/humiliation, and know who is boss, yet keep their respect for their chosen Queen.

Here is the one little thing I disagree with Jay on: Rather than putting the chix in with her (in her space) for the monitored session, I would put her in with them, in their space. They are already used to their space, so will be less intimidated. She has already shown little interest in it, so will not likely feel that her space is being encroached upon. In my mind's eye, this presents less trauma for all concerned. She will, more easily accept them under these circumstances, and once that has happened, the barrier can come down...after dark, and all are asleep. Once daylight comes, probably nobody will notice that the fence is gone, and they will all continue 'life as usual'.
 
Jay Green
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My advice was given through experience....I've done this but with a roo, who has more interest in territory than a hen, by all means. And I've done this with a hen and she wasn't a bit interested in younger chicks in "her" space or she in theirs...she was interested in the social aspect of this new generation. Hens do not generally have "territory" just a social order in a flock...since she is a flock of one, she has no established social order to maintain or protect.

She may very much welcome these chicks as the beginnings of a social order...I've found that birds who once had a flock and no longer have a flock are very lonely and not a bit aggressive about establishing social norms, particularly to much younger birds. They will peck them on the head if they get in their way at the feeder, they will peck them good if they try to get on the choice roosts, but other than that, I've never seen any hen in my flocks regard any part of the coop or range as territorial space.

Hens don't normally act on territory, so putting them in with her or her in with them is no matter. Roosts and feeders are more proprietary than the actual coop itself for a hen or adult roo, whereas a roo has a flock matrix that he considers HIS, but not so much territory or boundaries like a predator does.
 
John Polk
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My advice was also given through experience. My concern was for the chicks, not the mature hen (she can handle a lot without much trauma). Any change is stressful to chickens. To minimize the stress on the young birds, it helps to have the change happen in an environment that they are used to. They only have to adapt to a new bird, not a new bird AND new surroundings. The old lady can adapt to changes better than the young 'uns.

 
Jay Green
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Maybe you have a flock that gets easily stressed. I free range so I can't have chickens that stress easily in my flocks or the genetics...any that do, I don't want anyway.

All my flocks are conditioned to stress early on, as any free range flock needs to be...stress in a free ranged environment is unavoidable, thus adaptability is something I encourage early on in any new flock members I obtain, particularly chicks. The sooner they learn to adapt to changes, the better they are able to survive when the environment changes suddenly as it can do with weather, predator invasion, housing changes, feed changes(always changing when a chicken forages daily).

For those who would have self sustaining flocks, I would think one important key to that flock's success would be adaptability. This yields chickens who are able to produce well and thrive well under any circumstances they might encounter as they free range.

Maybe it's different for penned or caged flocks of chickens....that is something of which I avoid experiencing at all.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Jay Green wrote:
Maybe it's different for penned or caged flocks of chickens....that is something of which I avoid experiencing at all.


Penned and caged birds are much more prone to stress than free-range birds. Pecking order behavior is much more extreme in confined spaces, it can escalate to fighting and cannibalism. The more room the chickens have, the less stress and the less overt the pecking order behavior.
 
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