Why Did the Chicken Cross the Road…….?
…..probably because she was a new addition to an existing flock and the other chickens were being mean to her.
I’ve had several of you asking via social media for an update on the ladies of the Yellow Barn Poultry Co. and how the new girl is doing, so I thought it was time for another poultry post. For those of you not keeping score, let me give you a brief re-cap of what’s been going on.
* Keith and I built a backyard chicken coop & purchased our “charter flock” of four hens.
*One of our hens, Gertrude, got cancer and died.
*We brought home a new girl, “Beverly Clucky.”
When last I chicken-blogged, things weren’t looking so good for poor Beverly Clucky. I’d had no idea that chickens were worse than teenage girls at a private school when it comes to excluding newcomers, and I’d broken about every rule in the non-existant-book on how to introduce a new pullet to an existing flock. Jane, Sylvia and Louisa made it known in no-uncertain terms that Beverly was not welcome in their home and I was having to keep her in a separate pen in our shed so they wouldn’t kill her. Yes. It was that bad. I spent hours on the internet and looking through the chicken books I’d purchased when we first got our chickens and came up with a plan of action of how to make our original three girls and our new sweet baby one big happy family. I played Momma Bird for the first week and then Keith took over when I went to Brazil, and then our amazing house-sitters, Bubba and Erin, took over when Keith left town. Yes. Our house sitters are THAT cool that they didn’t even blink when we mentioned that playing referee to a divided flock of b*tchy hens was now part of their job description.
Here’s a timeline of how things have gone.
*The first two nights Beverly Clucky spent totally separate from the other chickens in a makeshift pen I set up for her in our shed. That way she was predator safe and weather safe.
*The next two nights, Beverly Clucky lived in the same makeshift-pen, that was now transferred outside, up against one wall of the big chicken coop. This way the chickens could all see each other and talk and smell each other, but couldn’t interact directly.
*My mom was in town and helped me construct a make-shift mini-pen inside the big coop run. This way Beverly Clucky was “inside” the coop, but the other chickens still couldn’t get to her to hurt her. Plus, she still had her own water and food without having to fight the other girls for it. This was a pain because we had to cut the zip ties holding the roof in place any time we needed to refill her food and water, but seemed a good way to get all the girls used to each other. At night, they would sleep leaning up against each other on their respective sides of the screen.
*After I left town, Keith got all creative and cut a “door” in the bottom of the temporary wall. The idea was to provide a portal for Beverly Clucky to be able to come and go as she pleases although the initial doorway was too large and Keith found all of the girls hanging out in BC’s “hideout” so he had to make the doorway a little smaller.
And this partially-integrated phase is where we still are today. Everyone seems to be fine with this arrangement…Beverly is a plucky little girl and ventures out often to wander around the coop. With each passing day, the big girls seem less interested in terrorizing her and now they mostly just annoy her by squawking or pecking. She’s gotten so used to it by now that half the time she doesn’t even run for cover anymore. And everyone sleeps together on the roosting branch at night. I’m thinking that we only have a few more weeks until Beverly Clucky is too big to fit through the door, but by then she’ll no longer be eating chick feed, and I think everyone will be getting along well enough that she won’t need a “sanctuary.” At least I hope not.
For anyone else out there thinking about introducing a new chicken to their existing flock, here’s a list of guidelines I’d recommend based on what I did do that worked, and what I wish I’d done.
New Hen Integration
1. Realize that bringing a new girl into the flock is a time-consuming and sometimes heart-wrenching process. It’s totally worth it if you’re up for the challenge…but you’ll want to put some thought into it before you purchase a new chicken.
2. Get a minimum of 2 new chickens. This was something I didn’t do and wish I had done. I feel bad that Beverly Clucky is on her own without a friend.
3. Don’t get really young chickens. Beverly Clucky was 7 weeks old…5 weeks younger than our next youngest chicken. I think if she’d been any younger she wouldn’t have been able to defend herself.
4. Take your time. I really tried to make this whole process happen quickly since I was headed out of town, Keith was going to be out of town, etc. But the truth of it is, it just takes time for everyone to get used to one another. We’ve had Beverly Clucky 28 days today and we’re still not all the way finished with the process.
5. Do your homework and go with your gut. I found so many helpful discussion boards and blogs and websites and books when I started searching. I’d recommend the same, but in the end, everyone’s birds and situations are going to be a little bit different than the next person’s…so go with your gut. Take the advice of others, and then implement what you think is best for your flock.
6. Have multiple food/water opportunities. Even once everyone is living in the same space, it doesn’t hurt to have several different food and water options. Our girls still get a little grouchy when it comes to sharing meals and snacks so its nice for them to not all have to eat out of the same bowl if they don’t want to.
Also, here are some other tips that I already shared in a previous post…but I’ll re-post them here just in case. These are gleaned from all my internet research, and after our experience, they seem to be good ideas.
Tips for Adding a New Hen to the Flock
- Always introduce at least two new chickens, not a lone chicken…that way if they get picked on by the existing flock, they have a friend to back them up.
- Always quarentine a new bird for at least 30 days before letting them even breathe the same air as your existing flock, to prevent transfer of disease, many of which are airborne.
- Never introduce a juvenile bird into the flock. If it still “tweets” like a baby, it’s not ready for the flock.
- Always introduce your new birds to your existing birds on neutral territory, and when it comes time to put the new bird into the coop, do so at night while all the birds are asleep. They don’t seem to mind the newcomer as much if they wake up together.
One other fun development at the Yellow Barn Poultry Co. is that we’ve been letting our girls free-range in the back yard this past week. We only let them out when we are also outside to supervise, and they’ve done some minimal damage to some new flowers I’d planted, but other than that, it’s been wildly successful. They love hopping around the yard eating bugs and leaves and Booger has taken on the role of “guard cat” chasing away any squirrels or mocking birds that get too close to his feathered ladies.