When adding pullets (or grown hens) to an existing flock, care must be given.
Have you heard the term pecking order? The term, even used with humans, derives from hens. Chickens physically peck at other chickens, showing dominance and ranking order. Even a mild-tempered chicken can peck at a new one coming into her territory. It’s all a natural order. When I say the term is also used with humans, think about middle school – a teen (or set of teens) showing their dominance to others by being mean, not allowing them to hang out with them, not wanting outsiders to sit at their lunch table, etc. Pecking order!
A flock of existing chickens are accustomed to their surroundings and have established ‘friends’ to hang out with. They also have a leader in place. Adding newbies can offset the balance in place.
This was our first experience with adding new chickens to an existing flock, so I thought I would share with you how we did it and how it is working out.
We purchased some starter pullets (16 – 20 weeks old) to add to our existing flock, which were approximately 24 weeks old. Great timing for us when the hatchery sold the starter pullets, making them only a month or so younger than our existing flock.
We hauled the hens (Barred Rock and Rhode Island Reds raised together) home in a dog crate with the plastic floor in place. Once home, we placed the chickens still inside the crate (but without the plastic floor) into the chicken yard. By removing the plastic floor, the chickens were able to peck around on the ground, and get a feel for their new home. We gave them food and water inside the crate.
Putting the chickens in the yard (yet protected inside the crate) allowed the existing flock to inspect the new flock and visa versa. They existing flock circled the crate, cackling at the new girls. (Wouldn’t it be nice to understand chicken talk?) A couple of times I saw one of the hens peck at one of the new girls inside the crate. Pecking order had begun.
Because the dog crate would not fit inside the chicken coop, I placed the crate full of new chickens inside the shed at night to protect them from predators.
The next morning, I put the crate full of chickens in the chicken yard again. I fed them all at the same time, but separately. Food and water containers inside the crate, the others in their normal places in the chicken yard. Over the next couple days everyone continued to check each other out, but the newbies stayed protected within their crate. The newness was wearing off little by little.
One night after the older girls were inside the coop and high on their roost and very sleepy, I picked each new girl up from the crate and placed them inside the chicken coop. They all huddled together in a nesting box, instead of roosting on the top or lower roost area.
The next morning I let everyone out and observed them closely for a while. Without the protection of the crate, pecking order had to be done. I didn’t interfere unless I deemed necessary. I allowed pecking to be done, but not fly on top, hold them down, pecking hard…that’s when I interfered. Usually making noise worked, never did I have to physically get involved.
A few weeks later, the older girls still hang out together and the new flock stick together, only mingling outside their comfort zones once in a while. There is not a lot of meanness going on, just ‘clicks’ I suppose you could say with an occasional squawk or peck. Again, think middle school – everyone doesn’t sit at the same lunch table.
Because every group needs a leader, the White Rock remains queen…of all the chickens. If you doubt it, she will let you know!