Sunday, April 13, 2014

Introducing New Birds to An Established Flock

A follower on our Facebook page asked about introducing new chickens to an established flock; she is concerned that her new ones will get a beating from the older hens.  It is possible, but here is what we did.

. We waited to introduce them until they were about 3 months old last year, and introduction came by way of everyone free ranging. The littles were kept in the front yard in what my husband calls the playpen - a wooden frame with chicken wire around it. The older hens could walk around and check them out.

After about a week or so of this every day, we let the littles out. Of course, they immediately tried to challenge for position in the flock (which is hilarious to watch, BTW - these tiny hens coming up to a big hen and puffing up at her) One hen took a dislike and did try to attack all the littles she could. We'd give her a thump on the head with our finger, move the little away from her, move her to different parts of the yard. The bigger they got, the less she tried to attack them. her reasons? She was omega chicken - lowest on the hierarchy of chickens - and was trying to move up her place. She never did - she stayed lowest even when the rest were full grown.

The leader of the flock would just look at the little challenging her, give them a quick peck on the head - just one - to teach them their place. Everyone else ignored them.

Now this is while the older hens were still in the garage coop, so we put the littles "playpen" coop in the garage as well and we'd let the older ones out first, then the younger ones.This way, they got used to the idea that they must share the space- this space being the garage. Note, this was ALL fully supervised, so that we could come to the rescue of the littler ones if need be.

Then about two weeks before the big coop was finished in November, we put them all in the garage coop together. By now, the littles were full adult size, so while there was some jostling for position, there were no real injuries- and any bleeding pecks were cleaned and tended asap. Having a brand new coop to go into also helped - clearly no other chicken had been there before, so it was neutral ground for all.

Now, the girls will run about together, but when they roost for the night, the older girls sleep together, they younger girls sleep together, and they do not mix for sleep time. I'm guessing it will be the same for this round when they get to the coop.

Our plans are - introduction under tight supervision, started this week - Brown Myrtle appears interested in them and may mother hen them, Bird Flu already pecked one and been chased off. Everyone else is fully uninterested. Next, playpen in the yard, then they go to garage coop and everyone ranges together during the day, then introduction to the big coop and run. This will be different than last year, since the older hens already have an established place in the coop. We will have to see how that goes.

The key is gradual introduction with supervision, taking away from the group any who decide to attack, and immediate tending of all wounds.  These techniques work with introducing new adult birds as well - a period of being inside fencing but close to the others, then ranging together, then coop introduction. 

However, when bringing in new birds, you must also keep them isolated from the main flock  - completely, no contact, wash your hands between handling of each. Why? Because each flock has its own bacterial microculture that members of that flock are all used to, that does not make them ill - their immune systems can handle all things within that microculture of theirs. But new chickens have their own microculture, as well as being used to different food, environment, etc.  Isolation and gradual introduction allows for any new disease the new members have to die off or be treated, and allows for acclimation to the environment of your yard. It helps keep the flock as a whole healthier.

We are also handling this set of babies more - they will be my batch that goes out for demonstrations and talks. They need to be used to people touching them all the time. Most of my flock tolerates touching; these need to welcome it.

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