I am not sure about other flock keepers, but with the coming of spring each year, I get the desire to go to my local feed store and look at the new tiny chicks. I want to say that I am able to resist their sweet little peeps and walk away empty-handed. But if I did claim this, I would not be telling the truth.
There is just something about the peeping of a baby chick that is irresistible. I researched everything I could on chickens and keeping a flock for six months before I purchased my first six chicks. In all that research, never was it mentioned the lure a peeping chick exudes. learned this lesson, what many would say, the hard way, LOL!
As with all chicks, my first six grew and thrived, and they each took on their own unique personality. They are now 1 ½ years-old, and in that time, I gave one of my roosters to my cousin, and last week I lost a member of my flock—a hen. The loss was out of the blue, and I am not sure what exactly took her. But, so far, the other flock member seem to be doing well.
In July, one of my hens decided it was a good time to go broody. She made her nest and created her clutch. She sat, and sat, and sat, and when all was said and done, she hatched out three beautiful chicks. Again, I was in heaven with the peeping sounds that I so love.
Now, here we are three months later, and it is time to introduce the (not so) little ones to the remainder of my flock. The thought of integrating my younger members to the big kids of the flock in the coop is giving me a little anxiety. You never know just how the bigger kids will react to the smaller new kids on the block.
Issue A Quarantine
More often than not, your adult grown flock members are likely to be carriers of disease or infection. However, when purchasing small chicks from a hatchery or a feed store, they should be free of any illness or infection. Now, if you are buying your chicks from a reputable dealer, the standard rule of thumb is that you are pretty much safe in the skipping of this step.
In the case of introducing newer members to your existing flock, the process of quarantining the new additions is a vital step. You need to ensure that the newest members are not carrying any form of infection or disease that may take hold of your existing flock and end with deadly results.
When bringing your new members home, it is vital that they have either a coop separate from the rest of the flock or at least a large crate. While contained in this separate area, you will be able to keep an eye on them, making suer to check them often to make sure they are healthy and disease-free. The last thing any flock keeper wants is to bring in disease and illness that had the possibility of taking out their entire flock.
Some of the key things to look for include:
- Signs of mites or lice
- Combs that present as dull or shriveled
- Eye fluid or nostrils that appear blocked
- Scaly appearance on legs
If you find you are unsure of the symptoms and signs to look for, this is where connecting with other flock keepers in your community can be beneficial, such as those around you that may have more experience with keeping a flock, to help you examine and check your flock. You can also try reaching out to your local extension office to possibly get answers to any questions you may have.
During the quarantining of your flock members, you should include mineral supplements in their water. This will help them stay fit in anticipation of meeting and becoming members of your primary flock. If, for some reason, the new members appear on the underweight side, increase their feed. This will give them the ability to not only gain strength but make them healthy before the big introductions are made.
It would help if you planned to keep the new member quarantined anywhere from 7 to 31 days. Keep in mind, the longer the quarantine, the safer everyone will be in the end. With the longer quarantine time, you will have more than adequate time to spot any possible symptoms of illness or disease.
Finally, make sure that during the time of quarantine that you are diligent in washing your hands in-between caring for each flock. This will aid in the prevention of you being the source of the spread of illness and disease between your two separate flocks.
Take It Slowly
If you take away anything from the information presented here, this is the most important—do not rush the integration and introduction of the new flock members. Even if you feel that quarantining them isn’t necessary, you should still refrain from just placing the new members in with the existing flock cold turkey (excuse the pun.) This move will only lead to undue stress on both the current flock members and the new, not to mention trouble and possibly in-fighting.
It would be best if you allow your existing flock a period where they can see the new members, but not be able actually to touch them. You can acheive this in multiple ways, but I chose to take the route of a dog crate. I had my chicks in their own brooder with their momma chick for about two months.
Once they were fully feathered, I removed momma chick from them and placed a dog crate outside their brooder. They had a door that allowed them to go in and out as they wished, and when out in the crate, they were able to “interact” with the adult flock members without fear of being hurt.
This design allowed my current flock members the ability to see, hear, and “talk” to the younger members, and know that they were present. The new members were visible to my flock, and they could all “talk” back and forth to one another and interact. This move seems to have work out well so far, and I am hoping it will make the last step of complete integration of my two flocks members go smoothly.
Make The Proper Introductions
You have quarantined your new members and have made their “visual introduction,” and now it is time to take the next step. This step can prove to be a nervous and exciting one—the official physical introduction of the two flocks in the hopes of migrating them into one.
If you allow your flock to free-range, for the best possible results, you should let your new flock members out first, and allow them to free-range for a few moments alone. After a few minutes, allow your existing flock member out of their coop, permitting them to mingle with the new kids and the groups free range together.
If you choose not to free-range your flock, and they keep them in a pen, you can still make use of the same process. Allow the newest flock members to enter the pen first, and then allow your existing flock members to enter, and proceed to greet the younger members in their own time and at their own leisure.
When the two flocks are introduced and the existing members “greet” the new members, you will find that some jostling and tussles will occur. This is not anything that you will need to worry about, as the flock is working to re-establish the overall pecking order. As long as the skirmishes remain just that, and do not seem to be causing any physical harm or damage, give them space and allow them to work it all out.
If you find the tussling is lasting longer than it should, or that it is becoming more and more aggressive, you will need to re-separate the flock members and try to integrate them with one another the next day. It may be needed to repeat this process over a few days, until when they are introduced to one another, they settle down within a few minutes and accept one another.
It is worth noting at this point that different breeds react in different ways. This fact is especially true when your flock members experience change, such as new members being added to the flock. Buff Orpington’s and most Hybrids tend to be more laid back and very excepting of any newcomers. On the other hand, Silkies and Rhode Island Reds are known to be especially territorial and, as a result, do not take well to any new flock members.
How Long Will The Process Take?
The steps listed above may seem tedious and time-consuming, and in all honesty, there are some flock keepers that either skips many of them or go a completely different route to integrate their new members with their existing flock. However, many will agree that by making sure that you do your due diligence and not try and rush the situation, the process has better odds of proceeding more smoothly.
As a means of reference, find below the suggested time frames for each of the steps we have already gone over. This list can be a handy guide when it comes time to consider the mingling of new members to your flock.
The maximum length of quarantining should not last any more than a month. This time frame will give sufficient time for you to monitor and access the newest members and to determine if they have an illness and to treat them.
A week should give the members of your existing flock enough time to get used to the presence of the newer members
If you follow the two steps above and are lucky, you will only have to do this step once. It is essential to remember that some of your existing flock members may be breeds that tend to exhibit more territorial aggression. With this situation, it may take up to 3-4 attempts in order to successfully and satisfactorily integrate the new members.
Calm In The Coop
Once you have successfully integrated the two flocks, you will still want to keep a somewhat close eye on the new members for at least a week, maybe two. You will need to observe their interactions, ensure they are all eating and drinking, and also keep an eye on the overall egg production.
If your existing members appear to go off their laying cycle, this is not necessarily something to worry about. The introduction of strange new members to the flock can throw them off their routine a little.
So, in total, you can expect the entire process to take 5-6 weeks from the day you bring your new chicks home, or they are hatched, to them becoming bona fide members of your existing flock.
Special Instances And Circumstances
Although most of the time, the steps listed above are sufficient for introducing and then integrating your separate flock members, there are those instances where the circumstances are a little different. These can include the introduction of baby chicks to the adult flock members or even the mixing of different breeds.
Baby Chicks And Adults
When it comes to integrating baby chicks with the adult members of your flock, this is an instance where you are pretty safe to let nature takes its course.
If you have a hen go broody and proceeds to hatch her own eggs, she will protect and take care of her baby chicks. She will be the one to integrate them with the flock, and in most cases, the flock will see them as their own.
On the other hand, if you gp the route of purchasing chicks or hatching them in an incubator, you will most probably going to have some issues and problems when you attempt to integrate the new members. In this case, for the first 15-16 weeks, you are going to need to keep the chicks separated from the grown members of the rest of the flock and in their own coop or pen.
It is vital that allow your new members to completely feather out, and are close in size to the members of your existing flock. Once they are feathered and grown, you can proceed to follows the steps above, eliminating the mentioned quarantine time.
If you want to add a variety of different breeds to your flock, then you may find that you will run into several unique issues and problems. The primary one being that of the potential for the difference in the flock members sizes. Larger breeds, as a rule, will always present as the more dominant of the flock.
As such, it is not suggested or fair to subject a smaller breed to the bullying that those of a larger breed will assuredly present. There are those rare occasions when the integration of smaller and larger breeds has been successful, but very rare.
Some Handy Tips And Tricks
Here are some tips and tricks that you should know:
When you introduce the new members with your existing flock, if possible, relocate their shared coop or pen to a new area. In this way, the two flocks will begin their life together, starting out on a new piece of land and territory.
When considering the integration of new members, it is best to introduce them when they are similar in size to your current flock members.
Before the final move of integrating your flocks, you would ensure that you have enough room in your existing coop or pen. If not, then adding onto your existing coop will be a must.
Don’t Tolerate Aggression
If one of your flock appears to be overly aggressive to the newest members, put them in “time out” isolation for a few days to allow them to adjust their attitude.
Treats On Hand
It is advised when you integrate the two flocks, that you have some treats on hand. You can have them at the ready in case you need to create a distraction.
No Going Solo
Never introduce a solo new member to your flock. You should always introduce at least two at a time so that the initial bullying to sort out the pecking order within the new flock will be spread out amongst them.
The main idea to remember when you are introducing new members of the flock is that there will be a time period needed for them to establish their pecking order. The arrival of the new members will unavoidably upset what is already a fragile balance which the flock has already established.
The establishing of the order in the flock can be a hard scene to watch, but as long as it doesn’t turn bloody or deadly, let your flock work it out in their own time.
A Note About Roosters
It is vital that you remember that once you have a rooster in your flock that has reached maturity, it is highly suggested that you not try to integrate another newer rooster into the flock.
Not only will the fights that will ensue between them turn bloody, but they could end in the nasty death of one or both birds. Unless the roosters were originally raised from chicks together, and you have plenty of hens for them to share, it is not advised to keep roosters together.
Creating and keeping a flock can be both rewarding and entertaining. And, once you have a few feathered members, you soon fall victim to chicken math. What is chicken math, you ask? Well, that is where you say you will only have five chickens, and soon you find you have ten, and then twenty, and so on.
Unfortunately, when you choose to add your new flock members, there will be problems and will not always be simple. Chickens are not too keen on change, and as a result, issues are bound to and will occur. However, if you are prepared, and know the proper steps to take beforehand, then the integration will go more smoothly.
Give your flock the space and time they need to establish the new member’s place within the flock’s hierarchy. Everyone must know their place in the pecking order, and it is vital for the flock to co-exist. When the new members are introduced, that order has to be sorted out once again.
If the above steps do not work, there is one other option that some flock owners have good results with. When your existing flock has gone to roost at the end of the day, you will then place the new members in the coop, even on the roost, with the other members. Then, when daybreak comes, the new members are there, and in most cases, the others will accept them and go on about their day.
However, just to be safe, when the sun rises, you may want to be on hand in case any flock drama unfolds upon arising. You may, again, want to have a few distractions on hand, such as treats, which should aid in keeping the fights and confrontations to a minimum.
After about a week together, you will no longer need to keep such a keen eye on the flock. The new members should feel like they have been there all along, and peace will be restored to the flock and the chicken yard.
I would highly suggest that anyone considering keeping a flock that they give it a try. I have found it both rewarding and entertaining, and I wish I had done it years ago. I have seen, with my flock, that they are fascinating creatures. Once you have established your flock, it won’t be long before they all present with individual personalities, and all the members will have cute little names.