Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Introducing baby chickens to the rest of the flock!

In recent times I have added four baby chickens to my flock which can be a bit traumatic for both me and the baby chickens at times. I don't buy day old chicks as the cat and dog cant resist them and thinks I am buying them dinner that's able to flap rather than in a dinner in a bowl for a change. I spend weeks if not months worrying about the babies getting out (highly likely) of the big pen or the dog getting in (possible but not probable) or the cat getting in - probably - as soon as I turn my back!

My latest acquisitions - a lavender Aracana (right) and a Aracana Cross (Left). They both have the same Dad but different Moms. The lavender Aracana will lay a green blue egg and the cross - probably an olive-y colour - I hope!


However once the babies are about two to three months old they look more like the rest of the chickens, who can certainly defend themselves or at least draw my attention quite loudly which usually results in a firm talking to that neither the cat or dog are fond of being on the receiving end of!

As interested in them as the dog is, she wont get too close as she has discovered that baby chicks in pens can throw buckets of water at her and she really didn't like that at all! (Ok, so I may have been in the vicinity, with a bucket of water at the time - but she really seemed to think it was the chicks not me!)

Anyway, when you have a few new chickens - old or new - to introduce to the rest of the flock,

Here's what I did...

The black one has been called "Tempest" due to her feisty nature and the grey one "Rain".

I popped my babies into the isolation pen in the back yard and don't let the big chooks out at all.
This is so if the babies have any diseases, I wont pass it through the flock. In this time I worm the whole flock including the babies, put lice powder on them and give every one a dose of antibiotics - again a precaution as a lot of chicken maladies are seemingly symptom-less and very quick to kill. The breeder that I got these ones off recommended that I keep them separate for two weeks


I use a 2 litre bucket for their water. Its big enough and heavy enough for them not to tip over and lasts them all day. I do have to clean it out and fill it up again each day but that's no real problem as I'm checking on them a few times a day anyway.


These ones were really keen to dust bath and so after a few minutes of thinking, I converted the cat box into a dust bath (the cat may never speak to me again!) I took the dirt from the big chooks favorite dust bowl and these two got into it big time - it was very cute to watch!


I have a ceramic vase thing that I use for their food. (left) Again, its heavy enough to stay upright when they stand on it - note the chicken demonstrating this very feature in the above photo! I find if I use flat bowls they tip them up when they stand on it or simply scratch all their feed onto the ground and them cry that they are hungry! By using a deep heavy bowl, they have to peck it out rather than scatter it everywhere.


They will, however, poop in any bowl that you give them so you'll have to check on them a few times a day so they always have fresh food and clean water - they eat sooooo much when they are growing!


I also move the pen each day - a bit like guinea pigs or even a chicken tractor - so that they don't damage the grass underneath too much. These ones like to climb up on top of the grass catcher at night to roost so I raised it up so that the inside that was nice and warm became attractive. I also covered them with a tarp each night in case of rain but also to protect them from the morning dew.

"Breeze" the adult Aracana checks out the baby aracanas one afternoon about 10 days later.

After a week or so when I was convinced that there were no diseases amoungst any of my chickens, I let the big girls out for a run and leave the babies in the pen. The big chooks come for a look and some times try to peck them on the head through the mesh.Its distressing to watch but its the packing order being established and a really good reason to leave the babies in the pen for another week.

When my big chooks go to bed, I let the babies out for a quick run. I have noticed that the oldest chook goes to bed the earliest and the youngest go to bed last. I think this is so the young ones can get at the food and water and make up for the rest of the time when the older, more dominant chooks get the first and best of whatever food is available. The babies don't go far - its a bit scary for them - and soon decide to go back to their roost and snuggle in for the night!

I move the isolation pen closer and closer to the big chooks pen and eventually into the pen so they can all see each other and get to know each other without the big chooks being able to bully the smaller ones. At the end of the second week, I open the isolation pen and let the babies out. They do get pecked and chased - its all part of being a low ranked chicken - but not to the extent that they would if you just threw 'em in with the others sight unseen.

I leave the isolation pen in there so if there is real trouble, I can lock up the bullied chook or even the bullier if I think that's a better idea for the rest of the day - leaving water and food in the isolation pen too, of course! I let the babies sleep in there until I think they have all settled in a bit and then take away the whole isolation pen and let them go in with the big chooks into the coop. The babies will want to sleep on the floor until they are getting ready to lay and then they will start to roost off the ground - that's one of the signs that they are getting ready to lay. So I try to put some straw on the ground for them to sleep in in a place where they wont get pooped on in the night. Apparently chooks poop about 10 times a night!!! If you have more than one roost, make sure they are level and not one above the other or they will poop on each other all night!

"Dusk" My older Barnevelder, making sure the babies aren't getting any of her food!

As the babies get bigger they will find their place in the flock and develop their own personalities. They will be able to defend them selves and unless the old chooks are drawing blood on the new chooks, I tend to let them do their own thing and sort out who is who in the flock. By introducing them gradually, I think you lessen the trauma for both the chickens and for you who has to watch them bully the new chook as they all find a new place in the ranking. Generally the new chook ends up at the bottom, but depending on the personality, they may end up further up the ranks in a bit of time.Its another reason I try to introduce them two at a time and not singularly.

My black hybrid layer (aptly named Thunder) is the top chook in our pen. Her 2IC is a white hybrid layer (Cloud) and the oldest chook (Sunset) is content to just tag along. There are chooks who are much bigger than Thunder and Cloud but these two have the most aggressive personalities and are always at your heels if you are in the garden - just in case there is food involved!

My bantams have their own personalities and often tell the Barnies (who are by far the biggest chooks in the pen and still have a lot of growing to do!) exactly where to go when they are not happy. My leghorns are bigger than hybrid layers but not as big as the Barneverlders and they are happily in the middle of the flock waiting for the aggressive chooks to have their fill before getting in and chasing the really placid ones away.

Having chooks is great fun and waaaaay more fun than watching TV!

Score card: 
Green-ness: 5/5 for owning chooks in the first place!
Frugal-ness:  5/5 for not having to buy eggs - but we wont go into the cost of chook food....
Time cost: About 2 weeks to introduce new chooks to old chooks - the slower the better
Skill level: Observation and patience!
Fun-ness: Its great fun to watch - a soap opera in your own back yard!

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