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Adding New Flock Members - Integrating New Pullets or Adult Chickens



Care needs to be taken when adding new flock members, both pullets (and grown hens) to your flock. Chickens take their pecking order very seriously and any new addition is seen as a threat to their place in the order.

Even your sweet, affectionate hens might literally peck chicks, pullets or even full-sized hens to death if they are added suddenly without any warning (not to mention the biosecurity issues you risk by adding new flock members without observing a "cooling off" period).


Formerly sweet hens all of a sudden become 'mean girls', prowling the run, like grade school bullies in a school yard, looking for unsuspecting little ones to peck and put in their place.

Any time new members are added to (or taken away from) a flock, there will be a disruption in the pecking order. That's normal.

Some chasing, squawking, picking and squabbling should be expected, but not to the extent that any real damage is done or you see blood.

So take your time, do it right and use this sequence: ISOLATE, SEGREGATE, ACCLIMATE, INTEGRATE

In a perfect world, new chickens/pullets would not be added until they are about the same size as the others, so we're talking maybe 12-14 weeks old.

They would never be introduced before they have been separated within in the run but behind fencing for at least two weeks (if you got them as chicks or hatched them yourself) or quarantined AWAY from the others for at least 30 days (VERY important in the case of pullets or adult birds acquired elsewhere being added to your flock, which I don't recommend)

And you would be always adding at least two birds (and preferably more than two) at a time.
That said, it's not a perfect world and things don't always go as planned.

I personally don't have the set-up to house chicks separately from day-old to 4 months or so waiting for them to be full grown so they can join the others in the run.

But I have developed an 'integration program' that seems to work well.


ISOLATE 


My chicks start out in a plastic storage tote complete with a little dust bath and roosting bars. See more about baby chick care here.



They soon outgrow the tote and at about two-three weeks old or so they move into a brooder cage in our garage ( a rabbit hutch or dog crate works well), still under a heat lamp, or into a puppy playpen like THIS

As soon as the daytime outside temperatures are the same as temperature in the brooder cage, I bring them outside during the day in the playpen (which obviously isn't predator-proof, so can only be used when we're outside with them) or a small coop/run combo of their own.





Depending on the time of year I get my chicks, that can be anywhere between 4 and 8 weeks old.

I like to get them out on grass in the sun and fresh air as soon as possible both because it's healthier for them and MUCH easier clean-up and maintenance for me!



Note: If you're adding grown hens, keep them in a separate grow-out pen for at least 30 days well away from the rest of your flock to be sure they aren't sick AND when you tend to them, feed and water your own first, THEN the new ones, then come inside, change clothes, and wash up well.

You don't want to take any chances transmitting a contagious disease to your flock from newcomers.

After the 30 days, you can set them up inside your run with fencing in between to keep the two groups separate as described below.

SEGREGATE 


In the past I've made a small pen that I could put inside the run so the little ones (or other newcomers) are safe but can get used to being outdoors AND the big girls can get used to the newcomers.

The pen clipped to the side of the run so I could move it around into the sun or shade as needed.

I made sure they have shade, as well as protection from the wind, and plenty of feed and water.
As you can see, there is a lot of curiosity among the grown hens.





You can do something as simple as sectioning off a part of the run with chicken wire to keep the grown hens (or ducks) out.

This small enclosure was fine for three little ones. I covered it with a piece of plywood to keep out the sun.



If you have a small starter coop, that works perfectly.

Just situate it adjacent to your big run and let the little ones and older hens see each other and get used to being around each other.

During this time, I usually have to collect the little ones and bring them back into the house to sleep each night, because the night time temperatures are generally still too cold for them to spend the night outside.

This tends to be the most tedious part of raising chicks, I have found.

I use a bucket at first and then a cat carrier to tote them back and forth.



If you live in a warm climate, depending on the time of year, a small rabbit hutch/attached run inside the regular run would work quite well as transitional 'housing', allowing the pullets to sleep outside also.

Just be sure that all openings are less than 1" or snakes, rats and mice can get in.

ACCLIMATE 


After about ten days of having the little ones outside like this during the day where they are safe from the older hens' beaks, the curiosity tends to wear off and the eventual face-to-face go far smoother.

The benign curiosity on the part of the older chickens is obvious below. But don't let your sweet hens fool you - curiosity can turn to nasty behavior in the blink of an eye.




INTEGRATE 

 
When you are finally ready to let the little ones (or the full-grown hens who have been in quarantine) out into the run with the general population, be sure that you distract everyone with some treats or a pile of leaves or grass.

It helps if there are places the little ones can run and hide to get away, such as under branches or even under a board placed on bricks or cinder blocks.

I find that branches that the little ones can perch on also help get them away from the older hens, who seem to only want to chase those on the ground.

Installing outdoor perches in your run also give the little ones a place of respite.



Don't Spray and Don't Add at Night 



Don't spray the newcomers with vinegar or rub them with dryer sheets (don't laugh, I have heard of both things being recommended in the past.)

Chickens don't recognize each other by smell, so that's just a waste of time.

You don't need to add them to the coop after dark (in fact, I DON'T RECOMMEND ADDING THEM AT NIGHT at all), although sometimes after a day in their pen, I will just pop the pullets into the nesting boxes to sleep instead of carrying them back to the house.

But then you need to be sure to be ready to open up the coop right at sunrise to be sure you aren't faced with a massacre once everyone wakes up and realizes there are newbies in their midst!

That's the last thing you want to have happen.


Bullying Issues 



But that way they are warm, safe, and as long as I get back down to open up the coop just before daybreak, they won't get picked on.

Watch the two groups after introducing them to each other.

If you notice one hen being excessively mean, removing her from the run for a couple of days to a dog crate can do wonders for her disposition.

It will knock her out of her place in the pecking order.

Once she returns to the flock, she should be more concerned with regaining her place in the pecking order than terrorizing the newcomers.


Feeding As for feed, if you have layers and non-laying pullets in the run together, put everyone on starter/grower. Pullets shouldn't eat layer feed because it has too much calcium and it can damage their kidneys.

Here's more information on feeding at various stages or if you have a flock of different ages.




The laying hens will be fine on the starter/grower for a few weeks, but be sure to provide oyster shell (or crushed eggshell) free-choice in a separate dish for the laying hens - and check it often - because they will eat a fair amount to get the calcium they need for their egg shells.

You will want to set up a few 'feeding stations' around your run so a few bullies can't prevent the little ones from getting to the food and water.

But don't expect to be able to put out grower feed for the young ones and layer feed for the laying hens and have everyone eat what they're supposed to. So it's grower feed for everyone until the youngest are around "Point of Lay", i.e. 18-20 weeks old.


In Case of Injury 



An injured pullet should be treated immediately to prevent further pecking, but resist removing her immediately from the run unless she has serious injuries that she needs to recover from.

Removing her will just put her back at the bottom of the pecking order when she returns.

It is far more productive to remove the bully (or bullies) if possible.

If you aren't sure who they are, then remove the injured chicken along with several others the same age, so when you re-add them all back after a few days, she won't be the lone 'newbie'.

If the pecking and squabbling seem relentless, block off part of the run with chicken wire and try keeping the two groups separate for a few more days and then try it again.

Eventually they do work it out and peace will reign again in your run. At least until the next time!




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