Introducing New Chickens, Part One
As summer was winding down, I had three chickens out in the coop, and then I had three baby chicks that eventually grew into three teenage chicks. What next? Seeing as how I didn’t have any extra coops lying around, it seemed like I had to figure out a way to get these two groups together and have them form a united front. I had space in the coop due to a couple of chickens dying in the spring, but it wasn’t really the space I was worried about. I knew that chickens get territorial, and I knew whose territory the coop was. My older chickens, while generally docile, were going to have to meet their new roommates, and I was bracing myself for it to go poorly. Better to be prepared and surprised than unprepared and en route to the vet.
I knew the best way to ease new birds into the flock was to do a slow period of getting familiar. Since I was keeping the chicks in a dog crate, I figured the easiest thing to do would be to put the dog crate next to the run and let everyone say hello. However, I had forgotten how much chickens freak out over change. The mere sight of the crate anywhere near the run sent the old guard into freakout mode, where they hid inside the coop and made unhappy sounding squawks for at least an hour. They eventually wandered back out, but were still quite vocal in their disapproval of this new object. Imagine the 2001 monolith scene, but with chickens. After a while, I brought the dog crate back inside. I began to bring it out every day for a little while in the hopes they’d get used to it. There was still a lot of angry squawking, but I worked on it. I would have left it out there all day, except that it’s totally not a secure device, and there are lots of clever varmints around who would really be excited about an easy to obtain chicken dinner. The thing that was killing me in this whole process was that I had used bricks to prop up the chicks’ food and water to keep shavings out, and these made moving the crate a very heavy endeavor. I could have taken them out each time, but that would have made it a very time consuming endeavor. So I went with back pain instead.
I had heard that letting chickens free range together would sometimes help them accept one another, so I put the dog crate in the yard and let the other chickens out. Then I opened the door to the dog crate. Immediately one of the chicks took a majestic leap right out the door into the yard. This seemed great. Then she realized she was in an unfamiliar place, and immediately ran back into the crate. Each of the three of them took little trips just outside the door, but always went right back in after a second or two. Meanwhile, the adults were steering clear of everything because they still didn’t trust the dog crate. Didn’t matter where it was, that thing was trouble, so they avoided it.
After a couple of weeks of putting the crate next to the run, I decided it was time to put it in the run, and let everyone get a little closer. The rungs in the crate are big enough that someone could stick their head in and get a good peck at someone else if they wanted to, but I figured there was just as much of a chance that the chicks would stay away from anyone who approached the side, so I put it in there. I lugged it out in the morning, listened to the adults angrily yelling at it, then brought it back inside at night, since I was worried it would be too cold outside for the chicks just yet. I did this every morning for about two weeks, and my back would have made angry chicken noises if it could have. Everyone was getting used to each other though, which was good. The squawking happened less and less, which seemed to indicate some level of acceptance had occurred.
At around their 10 week birthday, I decided the chicks were ready to stay out all night. They were feathered out, and the nights were pretty warm, even though it was the beginning of September. This saved me a lot of time both in the morning at night, and it really relieved my back. After a week, it seemed like they were getting along well enough that maybe it was time to even let them sleep in the coop. All I had to do was move them inside, right?