If you already have an existing flock and plan to order chicks this year, the time will eventually come to integrate the chickens. Since keeping chickens, I have done this twice. I have integrated adult hens and young pullets into the flock. It is never easy, especially watching from the outside. You’ll find yourself wanting to protect each and everyone. You’ll worry about every chicken and just want everyone to get along. The integration process takes about two weeks. During that time, it seems as though the pecking reminders given to each other lessen as each new day arrives. A new pecking order is beginning to form; some are struggling to assert and retain existing positions as others try to gain a higher place within the order. I have found that roosters can make the integration process easier. They will protect and mediate all their hens, new and old, regardless of their place pecking order. Roosters are known for keeping peace. Here are my tips for a successful flock integration.
Important: New chickens should be quarantined away from your existing flock for at least 4 weeks. This is to be sure they do not have any unforseen illnesses or parasites that could harm your flock.
If possible, keep the new chickens in a smaller protective enclosure near or even inside the older flock’s run for about a week. This allows the chickens to become acquainted while there is a safety buffer between them. For some, this will not be an option. I have successfully skipped this step and introduced new chickens (chicks to broody hens) immediately to the new flock following the tips below.
Integrate more than 1 chicken at a time. This is important. This prevents one new chicken from being singled out and picked on by the entire older flock. It helps to distribute the attention of the old flock to multiple newcomers.
Integrate the chicks into the larger flock when they are between 12-18 weeks old. At this point, they are fully feathered. They already know one another well and they should be large enough to hold their own.
Try to have the new flock “smell” familiar. Each flock has its own distinct smell. My flock is accustomed to the way I smell as I handle them often. As read on the Backyard chicken website, if the new flock smelled like me, they would not be seen as being quite so foreign. One member recommended spraying them with your perfume before placing them in the coop at night. As I do not wear perfume, prior to adding the new chickens to the existing flock, I rubbed a dryer sheet on them. I figured this could not hurt. Another site, recommends spraying the entire flock with vinegar.
Clean the coop just prior to integration. This helps to get a fresh start and decreases the older flock’s scent. If possible, rearrange the roosts. This will mix up where chickens are sleeping and who they are near.
Integrate the new chickens early at night under the cover of darkness. Place the new chickens onto clean dry shavings on the bottom of the coop. Do not try and place them on the roosts. They will be fine for one night on the ground. By adding them at night, its not immediately obvious to the older flock that these are new chickens.
Let them out early the next morning. This is not a morning to sleep in. Go out bright and early and see how the flocks did introducing themselves to each other.
Double up on waterers and feeders. Place them in opposite areas of the coop and run. This helps to prevent chickens from bullying one another out of food and water.
Provide plenty of distractions. Toss in some whole apples on the ground. Create a cabbage pinata. Add a large branch or a log to jump on and explore.
Spend more time out with the chickens. It is best to integrate the flock on a Friday evening so that you can take advantage of the weekend and allow yourself more time to observe the flock’s interactions.
In no time, you will be surprised that a certain level of harmony returns to your flock. Soon enough they all know their place and life goes on. The family gets larger, new friends are made and older birds relinquish power and rank. It is truly a circle of life. There will be better days than some, but eventually a new norm is reached and you find will yourself blessed with more beautiful chickens and fresh eggs to love.
Photo Credits: Tilly’s Nest