It’s chick season! I have to say that the feed stores are really stepping up their game when it comes to breed varieties. I have to believe that this is in response to the growing interest in chicken keeping.
If you already have an existing flock but are interested in adding a few more birds this year, you might be wondering how your old flock will accept these new members.
Pecking Order and Flock Society
Chickens instinctively have a social ranking within their flock. This ranking system is called the pecking order. Pecking order effect a lot of chicken behavior including who eats first, who gets to sleep on the highest perch at night, which egg box they are allowed to use, and who looks after the flock. Pecking order is determined and communicated through pecking. When someone low in the ranks does something she shouldn’t a higher member will peck her to put her back in line.
Any time a chicken enters or leaves the flock, the pecking order must be re-established. It is also something that changes as personalities develop. As young chicks enter sexual maturity, they may move higher in the ranks. Older, more bossy hens may drop in the social ranking as they age.
How to Introduce
Let the chickens stay in an open wire dog crate (or something similar) close by the existing flock. Let the older chickens be able to see, smell and have limited interaction with the new members through the protection of the gated enclosure.
Provide extra feeders so there is less pecking towards feed.
Check them several times per day to make sure everyone is playing nice.
Many times the new chicks will be crouched in a corner hiding. Try to pull them out and get them moving around again.
When to Introduce?
In general, the best time to introduce new members is after the chicks have feathered out, but before they start crowing/laying.
Or, when the new chickens are approximately 1/3 the size of the adults.
Around 4-6 weeks is a good time to introduce them through a crate.
Then 8-12 weeks for full contact introduction
When Pecking Goes Too Far
When you introduce new chicks to an existing flock, pecking will happen. You can count on it. It may seem cruel to us, but this is how chickens communicate. The more you step in and try to stop it, the longer it will take to establish flock order. So my best advice is to let chickens be chickens and work it out for themselves. However, sometimes pecking goes too far and will actually cause an injury.
In this case, there are a couple of things to do.
If it seems like one member, in particular, is being overly aggressive, remove the aggressor rather than the victim. This solves a few things. One, the more passive chicken can continue to integrate into the flock without having to start over. And two, the “bully”, when re-introduced, now finds itself on the defensive side of the pecking order and holds the obligation of seeing where it fits in again.
If the new chick is injured to the point where there is a wound, you may be forced to separate it. Chickens are drawn to the color red, and a scab can be enticing to the rest of the flock.
There is also a wound spray product that will dye the scab blue to hide the red color.
A Few More Tips
Most chickens can be integrated without much trauma. I’ve had success mixing all sorts of breeds, sizes and even species of birds. However, a little research into the personality of certain breeds can make integrating easier. Some chicken breeds are known to be more docile than others.
Make sure your coop is not overcrowded. Too many birds in the space allotted can cause territorial issues and make pecking order overly aggressive.
Keep your feeders full and if you portion feed, consider offering free choice through this transition period.