7 Tips for Introducing Teenage Chicks to an Adult Flock
I am not a veterinarian. This post is not meant to provide any medical advice for your animals. It is just an example of what we do with our animals. Please check with your veterinarian.
This post is not sponsored.
Often, this time of year, I start to get questions from our readers on how to go about introducing spring chicks to an existing adult flock. New chicken keepers are in their second year, they raised a few chicks last year, and realized how great chickens are! Now they've decided to enlarge their flock.
If you got chicks in April or May, most of those babies should be fully feathered out and probably outgrowing whatever brooder container you started them in. So what do you do with them? Do you just throw them in with the adults?
Sometimes! Sometimes that works just fine. We raise Buff Orpingtons which are some of the most lazy, laid back chickens I've ever had the pleasure of raising. They're like the Golden Retriever of the chicken world. I never have to worry about introducing more Buffs to my existing flock. Everyone gets along and it's never been a problem.
But... depending on the breed, (ahem...Rhode Island Red...) and how much space your chickens have, sometimes the introduction of teenagers can be a violent process.
Pecking order is a real thing. It establishes the hierarchy among your flock. Chickens communicate pecking order (just as the name sounds) by pecking other chickens. This communicates "I'm higher than you." The chicken ranking system does not remain stagnant. Throughout a chicken's life, its place in the flock will change. A newcomer might work its way up through the ranks. If you loose a chicken, pecking order will change. If your top hen gets old and slow, someone more feisty will take her place. If you remove a chicken for a time, and then return it, its place in the flock will change.
If you have a rooster, he will be at the top of your flock. He will lead the flock to sleep at night, he will perch on the top roost, he will crow to gather his hens, and he will point out food. He will also have a problem with lesser ranked roosters mating with his hens.
Next in line (even above other roosters) is the top hen. In a roosterless flock, she will be your leader. She is often more violent, as far as pecking order, then the top rooster. She has to work to keep her place among the many hens. She will eat first, respond to the rooster first, be mated more often and bosses around the rest of the flock. This is usually the stinker that will start problems with new chickens. Your top hen will notice the newcomer, kind of rear up and give a good peck on the head. The other hens will follow suit as the new chicks explore their surroundings.
ESTABLISHING PECKING ORDER IS A NECESSARY PROCESS! It's very mean and sometimes hard to watch, but if you delay it by removing the chicks over and over again, it will only drag out the inevitable and they'll have to go through pecking order over and over again. Often, that initial peck or two is enough, and the conversation is over. Everyone knows where everyone stands and chicken life can continue on.
When Pecking Order Gets Violent
Sometimes... pecking order can be quite violent. I've read of chickens seriously injuring young flock members and even killing chicks in some cases. Usually, how this happens, is when a domineering hen pecks a little too rough or too many times. If she causes an injury, even a small one, the other chickens will be attracted to that. Chickens are drawn to the color red and will peck that wound relentlessly.
A lot of things factor into how your new chicks will be received by your adult flock. The breeds of chickens you keep, the temperament of those breeds, the age of the teenagers, how many chicks you're introducing, how much space your flock has, and sometimes there's an element of mystery as to why chickens behave the way they do and we will never know.
I'm going to break down a few factors to help you figure out how to make your introduction smoother.
The more space you have in your coop and run, the easier this transition will be. Chickens are territorial. The more they have to fight for space, the more aggressive they will be. So try not to overcrowd your living area.
2. Introduce multiples
Try to introduce more than one chick to your new flock at a time. A single chick will stick out and become the target of every flock member. Even better, try to introduce more chicks than you already have. If you have three chickens, introduce 3 or more. There's power in numbers and often chickens will respect that.
3. Offer more than one feeder
Often times pecking order begins when the young chicks try to take their first bite at the feeder. Someone bigger than them will give them a good peck to let them know that "they need to wait their turn."
4. Use a crate
Or some sort of wire barrier. If you have the space, I've found that chickens often integrate easier if you can place the chicks in the living area of your flock, but inside a cage or crate of some kind. A dog crate or a rabbit cage works really well for this. The hens can see the new chicks, investigate and get used to them, but the chicks are protected by the crate wires. You can do this for a few days and then let them out with the flock.
5. Intorduce at night
I've found that introducing chickens at night helps with acceptance into the flock. Wait until your adults have roosted for the night, and then place your younger birds on the roosts in-between them. Many times everyone sleeps through the night and wakes up as if the new members have always been there. (It's a good idea to get up early that morning to check if this method has been successful.)
6. Remove the bully not the victim
If you notice that your chicks are getting pecked to the point where injury might occur, you might want to remove those chicks to protect them. And rightly so! However, it's best to remove the bully at this point. If you remove the chicken who is getting picked on, when you re-introduce that chicken it will have to re-establish pecking order all over again. If you remove the bully, then that chicken bears the burden of having to re-enter the flock, which often knocks them down a peg or two, at least for a while.
7. Sometimes chickens are just jerks
With all that being said, sometimes you can do all the right things and pecking order will just be cruel. If you do find an injury there are some products on the market that can help with healing. I really like Vetericyn Spray. It helps keep the wound clean and helps it heal amazingly fast. You can also use Blue Kote (I've never personally used this product, but I know lot of people swear by it.) It colors the wound blue so other chickens are not attracted to it. Check egg withdrawal times.