Friday, August 15, 2014

Feathered Friday: Integrating Three Flocks into the New Coop

Our chicken adventure began with caring for my neighbors' flock when the big snows hit last winter.  In February Mr. Bob gifted those chickens to me and Bug.  (You can read about it here.)  At first, I had planned on leaving the flock to whoever bought the house, but after the predator attack and loss of two of the remaining three hens, Bug and I became even more attached to the remaining hen, our Boo-boo Chicken.

But we now had two separate flocks of chicks.  That meant that those two flocks and Boo-boo had to be integrated into the coop when it was ready.  So I started reading and seeking advice from other chicken keepers online.

The Chicken Chick has a great article about integrating new flock members slowly using what she calls the "playpen method."  I also read that moving the birds to a new coop can cause enough stress and confusion to pretty much discombobulate them so they are more worried about everything else than who's new to the flock.  One place had a bunch of people telling me to put them all in at the same time, but to do it after they'd gone to roost for the night and the chickens would all just go to sleep and wake up in the morning accepting of each other.

I decided to try both the playpen and the nighttime methods.

While we waited for delivery, my four pretty much full-grown Easter Eggers, and the Littles I ordered from the mail-order hatchery were put into pens I could move around the yard.  I started them a few feet apart to avoid potential injuries from fights through the "wall."

Close, but separate pens.

After a few days, I put the pens right next to each other, keeping them as two individual runs.  Then, about a week later, I opened up one pen so that they only had a "wall" of chicken wire between them.

Shared "wall" of chicken wire between the pens.
They can check each other out closely,
but not too close.

After a some shouting and feather flexing the first couple days, they stetted into the routine.  They would run over and check out who was there, then just mosey around their own area.

The day I removed the wire between them was stressful for all of us.  I put the Littles in first.  Then I brought out the big girls.  For the first few seconds everything was unicorns and rainbows.  Then hens all got along fine.  But, when Gracie saw James, our Light Brahma rooster, all Hell broke loose.

She bolted across the pen toward him and attacked.

This shocked me.  Not because there was a fight, but because Gracie wasn't the one I expected to start it.  I pulled her out and put her back in the carrier for a while.  James was extremely distraught, and hid behind the waterer.

Gracie showed no remorse.

I thought it through and made the decision to put the wire between them back in place.  Since they wouldn't be sleeping together until the coop was ready, I decided it would be better to keep them separate until then. 

When the coop was finally ready, I went next door at dusk and got Boo-boo.  Since she was all alone, I wanted her to go in first.  I just picked her up and carried her over in my arms.  She went quietly, looking all around as we walked.

Boo-boo in her new home.

Then I got the big girls from their outdoor pen.  They were more than ready to go in for the night, and came running to me, all but one running into the carrier on her own.  I took them to the coop and opened the carrier door.

No one came out.  I had to take the top off and pull each one of them out, but they kept running back in.  Normally, I would've just left the carrier so they could come out in their own time, but I had to get the Littles out of their pen still.

Easter Eggers' first morning in the coop.

When I finally got them all out, I stood there for a few minutes to make sure they nobody (Gracie) was going to attack Boo-boo.  This was the most stressful part for me because Boo-boo has a clipped beak and wouldn't be able to defend herself if she was attacked.

But all went well.

The Littles, as you can see in the picture above, went into a "playpen" dog crate.  There they stayed for the next week and a half.

Littles' playpen
The big girls seemed to think the crate was a wonderful place to snuggle up for the night. 

Second night together.
When I let the Littles out of the playpen, they integrated nicely.  I have had no squabbles other than minor disagreements over who gets what treat.  And Boo-boo is the perfect mother hen.  She helps calm and herd the Littles back to the pop door when it's time to go in for the night.  In fact, I think she may be at the top of the pecking order without effort.  

If you have chickens, how do you integrate new flock members?

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