New ar­rivals

Anne Perdeaux ad­vises how to in­te­grate new birds into the flock

Your Chickens - - Feature | The Flock -

Adding new chick­ens to an ex­ist­ing flock can be a wor­ry­ing process. Will they bring in dis­ease? What if there is open war­fare? How long will it take for them all to set­tle down?

Most chicken-keep­ers have to deal with this sit­u­a­tion oc­ca­sion­ally, al­though ex­pe­ri­ence doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily make it any eas­ier. That didn’t stop me from jump­ing at the chance of tak­ing on four new girls in need of a home. Their owner was mov­ing to a flat, hav­ing only bought them a few months pre­vi­ously, so they were still young and lay­ing well. They were pretty hens too – Sil­ver Laced Wyan­dottes and Buff Or­p­ing­tons; they seemed very docile and well-man­nered. How would they get on with the wild bunch cur­rently ram­pag­ing around the gar­den?

Iso­lat­ing new hens be­fore in­tro­duc­ing them to a flock is al­ways a good plan, even if they ap­pear healthy and have been kept in good con­di­tions. Stress, such as from a move, can bring out any dis­eases that may have been ly­ing low. A quar­an­tine pe­riod also pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to worm both sets of chick­ens, and to give the new­com­ers some ex­tra at­ten­tion while they set­tle down in their new sur­round­ings. All be­ing well, they will then be fit and ready to cope with any scuf­fles when they take their places in the peck­ing or­der of the ex­ist­ing flock.

Quar­an­tin­ing chick­ens does en­tail hav­ing a spare coop, but this need not cost the earth and is so use­ful when chick­ens have to be seg­re­gated for any rea­son. Ill­ness, in­jury or dis­putes may re­quire re­moval of a bird or two at short no­tice, but an ex­tra coop makes the process quick and easy. When our free-range birds faced sud­den con­fine­ment dur­ing the Avian In­fluenza lock­down, it seemed sen­si­ble to re­place the crum­bling spare ark in case it be­came nec­es­sary to sep­a­rate war­ring fac­tions. For hap­pier times, the new house and run was also suit­able to use as a broody coop.

A lit­tle ex­tra ef­fort when the new hens ar­rived re­ally helped to make the in­te­gra­tion process quicker and less stress­ful

Al­though the run is a good size, I hadn’t en­vis­aged it con­tain­ing four plump hens. Still, it was only for a short while and they all got along very well – they even piled into the nest-box to­gether at night. Two promptly went broody, leav­ing more ex­er­cise space for the oth­ers.

The girls were very happy in their new home un­der the trees with plenty of wood chip­pings to scratch in. They’d been liv­ing in a run with a base of solid earth, so lost no time in dig­ging madly and mak­ing dust-baths. Wa­ter and food needed re­plen­ish­ing very fre­quently!

Chick­ens don’t ap­pre­ci­ate hav­ing their diet changed sud­denly, and it can only add to the worry of a house move, so I’d col­lected their re­main­ing feed in or­der to make changes grad­u­ally. To help them cope with the chal­lenges that stress can cause to im­mune and di­ges­tive sys­tems, they had un­pas­teurised ap­ple cider vine­gar added to their wa­ter. This nat­u­ral sup­ple­ment can re­ally help chick­ens (and in­deed hu­mans) at times of

cri­sis. Rec­om­mended quan­ti­ties (for chick­ens) are 20ml of vine­gar per litre of wa­ter, in plas­tic drinkers only. My new girls ar­rived with their own plas­tic drinker – in bright pink!

Af­ter a cou­ple of weeks it be­came ev­i­dent that enough was enough and the new hens were be­com­ing rest­less. The brood­ies had now gone off the idea and the run was look­ing very crowded. So far the ex­ist­ing flock had paid them lit­tle at­ten­tion, but this would change when they all had to live to­gether. It was a wor­ry­ing thought. Four nicely broughtup young ladies were to be in­tro­duced to a gang of mid­dle-aged hooli­gans, in­clud­ing three cock­erels and Mr Guinea Fowl who rules with an iron beak. How would they cope?

They were trans­ferred to the main coop at night and al­lowed to bed down on the floor. Pre­vi­ously they’d lived in a con­verted shed and seemed to like hud­dling to­gether in a heap – probably for warmth. In time they learnt to perch, and it’s usu­ally bet­ter for chick­ens to roost this way.

As ex­pected, all was quiet un­til the chick­ens were let out the fol­low­ing morn­ing. There wasn’t much trou­ble even then, with most of the new girls be­ing amazed at hav­ing so much space to ex­plore. Just one of the Wyan­dottes en­gaged in bat­tle with the senior hen, our elderly Cochin, but they soon de­clared a truce and found bet­ter things to do. Giv­ing chick­ens plenty of room re­ally does help to avoid un­pleas­ant­ness. The low­er­rank­ing hens can hide if nec­es­sary and the more senior chick­ens tend not to worry them so much if they have other dis­trac­tions.

It soon be­came clear that the new hens were more than ca­pa­ble of hold­ing their own, and some of the older ones even seemed to be avoid­ing them. ‘Tweetie,’ our youngest cock­erel, im­me­di­ately took them un­der his wing, and quickly proved a most at­ten­tive suitor. To my sur­prise, the two older cock­erels showed lit­tle in­ter­est in the new girls, clearly pre­fer­ring their more ma­ture con­sorts. This was probably a wise move. Tweetie soon looked ex­hausted try­ing to keep up with four feisty young­sters and could of­ten be spot­ted hav­ing a quiet lie down.

The new hens have now been ac­cepted by the rest of the flock, al­though each group still tends to stick to­gether. Tweetie and his girls have to wait their turn at the feeder, with the older chick­ens tak­ing prece­dence – af­ter Mr Guinea Fowl has eaten his fill.

A lit­tle ex­tra ef­fort when the new hens ar­rived re­ally helped to make the in­te­gra­tion process quicker and less stress­ful for ev­ery­one. With a new peck­ing or­der es­tab­lished, as long as no­body gets ideas above his or her sta­tion, there is peace and har­mony in the gar­den.

Anne Perdeaux is the au­thor of A Fam­ily Guide to Keep­ing Chick­ens, now repub­lished in its se­cond edi­tion. From com­plete begin­ner to hen­thu­si­ast, there’s some­thing for ev­ery­one, plus fun ac­tiv­i­ties for the younger mem­bers of the fam­ily too. http://bridge­house.ddns.net/ web­site/

ABOVE: Two of Anne’s new birds, Buff Or­p­ing­tons, set­tling in

Anne Perdeaux’s orig­i­nal flock - The Wild Bunch

Anne’s new birds learn to perch

These new birds in­tro­duced by an­other hen­keeper seem very un­sure...

Anne Perdeaux with her book

Wel­com­ing some new ar­rivals

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