“To introduce,” according to my well-thumbed American College Dictionary, means, “to bring to the knowledge or experience of something.” My newest chicks are now 9 weeks old, and in their short life they have been “brought to knowledge” or have experienced many, many things. I was thinking about all the changes they have been presented with just the other day.
As the chicks learned their way around their new home with the cardboard walls, they also became familiar with other humans of varying sizes. My husband and I spent many mornings around the chicken pen, and our neighbors and family members often joined us. We made a habit of picking up the chicks, petting them and talking to them. I’ve found this really makes a difference in how friendly the chickens will be as they mature. Two summers ago, our granddaughter spent a lot of time with “Missy,” a Poppyseed crossed by a local breeder. Missy is one of the smaller laying hens I have, but she’s also very friendly. She bosses the rest of the girls, and then lets me know that she’s taken care of things and “you are very welcome.” She still likes to be held, and she will hop up onto my knee when I’m crouched in the pen. She doesn’t sit on my head, though. I think that delight was particular to our granddaughter!
Our Australian Shepherd, Flossie, also visited the chicks while they were in their first pen. She liked to sit at the edge of the pen and watch them, just like we humans did. If you have other animals, it’s important to supervise visits to your flock. Your animals need to learn how to behave around the chickens, and you need to know how they will react to the birds. I’ve found that even old dogs that are used to older hens may become excited and want to chase (or catch!) little birds.
Physically, the chicks were changing, too. Their fluff was replaced with lovely feathers, and by the time they were 6 weeks old they had nearly quadrupled in size. They were stretching their wings and making practice flights out of the cardboard pen.
Any change in environment is stressful for birds, so I try not to make too many changes at once. I introduced the chicks to new feeders, for example, before I moved them. After I moved them to the new apartment, I gave them several days before I acquainted them with the portable chicken coop. And, when I first started putting them into the screened coop, I only left them in for a short while. I’m happy that they have been handled; it’s easier to catch them and causes them less stress when they are carried and moved from one pen to another.
The summerhouse is now used exclusively for the young birds. In the morning, I put a few chicks in the portable coop that is parked right next to the hen yard. There’s grass to peck around in, shade to sleep in, dirt to bathe in, a small roost to perch on, water to drink, and right on the other side of the fence there are other chickens doing the same thing. This is how I introduce the flocks to each other. At first, and even now from time to time, members of the different flocks will stand at the fences and look at each other, but most of the time they mind their own businesses.
I plan to continue this arrangement for several more weeks. Both flocks need time to adjust, and again, I like to do this gradually. The little chicks need to grow more, too. They are still quite a bit smaller than the Buff Orpingtons and Rhodies. I like to have them close to the same size when they are presented to each other with a wire between them. Some night later in the summer, I’ll put the chicks in with the hens and then there will be more learning experiences and knowledge acquired. But for now … they’ve been introduced.