Chick season is in full swing in the world of homesteading. Trying to integrate new chickens into your current flock can be difficult.
This year we had 5 sets of chicks. We incubated and hatched 2 sets, we purchased 1 set and then two of our hens went broody and they each hatched a set. That’s a lot of chicks!
When you have 43 birds to integrate it can be tricky!
Our first move to integrate birds was to bring in dog kennels. It worked beautifully. We have two good size kennels that sit inside the coop. Each kennel has its own feed and water.
At about 4-5 weeks we move baby chicks from the brooder to the dog crate in the coop. They stay in the crate for one week. This helps the older birds see them, but keeps them from physically pecking them.
We let our layers out to free range and close the main coop door. Once the layers are free ranging happily, we go into the coop and allow the small chicks to get used to the area.
Opening their kennel door they fly out and explore the coop!
They forage, find the main feed and water and dust bathe. We allow them the run of the coop until bedtime. When it is time for the big birds to come in it’s not time for them to fully integrate, so we gather the chicks and place them back into the safety of their kennel. They recognize this cage as home.
We do this for a solid week. 7 days of this routine. From the time we moved the chicks in after getting to this part of the process the chicks are 6 weeks old.
By this point, they are out growing the kennel. So we move the first batch of chicks to the larger dog kennel (again giving them their own feed and water). Then we move our 2nd batch of chicks from the brooder into the smaller coop.
Be sure you provide fresh bedding.
Chickens have to build up immunity and you will prevent sickness if you throw out old bedding and add new with each set of birds.
At this point we go another week with the 4 week olds in the small kennel (not allowing them out), the 6 week olds gaining free run of the coop and the big birds free ranging. The week the 4 week olds stay in the coop is the week you leave the coop door OPEN.
This allows the 6 week old birds to free range if they choose. The big birds will mingle in with the 6 week old pullets and still get to know the 4 week chicks without harming them.
As the big birds and 6 week old pullets mingle there will be some pecking. This is natural. Just keep an eye out for bullying. If there is severe bullying go back to your previous set up and wait a week to try again. But in our experience your birds have been around each other long enough in a protected environment that they should mingle pretty well at this point.
Remember~this is a process.
Birds take time to get used to one another and are creatures who need gradual change.
You repeat this process until you’ve gradually incorporated all of your birds free ranging together. Keep moving new birds to the small dog kennel, bigger birds to the larger dog kennel and the oldest birds in the main coop.
You’ll find some will mingle, some will stay to themselves, but all in all they just do what God made them to do.
When it comes time to bedtime, we house everyone in their proper kennels and the big birds roost. Once our kennels are full we allow the oldest pullets to roost with the layers.
Some will naturally follow the leaders to the roost, while the ones on the bottom rungs may be a bit timid to take to the roost with the top dogs. We move those timid ones to the bottom rung at bedtime and let them them all work out their roosting heights. Roosting height symbolizes where they rank in the pecking order.
The pecking order won’t be disturbed too badly as our oldest birds have retained their hierarchy leaving the smaller ones at the base. As the birds age they will move up and down in the pecking order, but it’s gradual and not too difficult as they are completely use to one another at this point.
As you integrate your birds remember to move slowly, gradually and not rush this process. If you follow these steps you’ll have one giant flock in no time!
What questions do you have about integrating your birds?