Merging the Flocks

I am pleased to report that all of the chickens, young and old, survived yesterday’s integration. We once again have a single flock living in a single house instead of two flocks and two houses. They are still sorting out the pecking order, but the aggression levels are infinitely better than our last attempt to introduce new birds. Everyone seems to be adjusting to the new hierarchy.

I felt nervous when I went up to check on them this morning. I knew it would be fine. These pullets were larger and older than the last batch. The two groups had had a month to size each other up through the fence line. It wasn’t absurdly cold and stormy. No one was locked in the house. There was no reason for any chickens to be dead. Still I had flashbacks to the piles of dead pullets we found after introducing new birds in November. Thankfully, everyone seems to be getting along well. Phew!

Here’s what we did differently. Last time we locked all of the birds, new and old, into the coop for a good 24 hours. This shouldn’t have been a problem. They had food and water and nesting boxes. We expected there to be some hen pecking. There always is when you introduce new birds. Like most animals, the older chickens feel compelled to show the younger ones who is boss. It’s a dominance and territorial thing. Not always pleasant, but perfectly normal.

Problems arose because there were too many birds for the size of the house and a freak cold front came through. Temperatures dropped in the wake of a massive thunderstorm. One of these probably wouldn’t have been a big deal. It was the combination. Between panicking over the storm and huddling to stay warm, the little pullets wound up smothered at the bottom o f the heap. It remains the saddest thing I’ve seen on the farm.

This time we used two houses. We fenced in the houses using chicken wire and ran a fence between the two. (One big rectangle around both houses with a fence down the middle to keep the separated.) The older chickens stayed with the big house and the pullets went into the old, smaller house. They stayed that way for about a month. They could see each other, hear each other, even peck at each other if they got too close to the fence, but they couldn’t really hurt each other. They weren’t competing for food or water. Just getting acquainted.

Two weeks ago we took down the middle fence and removed one of the water tubs and feeders. The flocks still had separate houses to roost in, but had to share food and water. Yesterday we put the middle fence back up, but with all of the chickens on the side with the new house. They were already used to sharing food and water so the only adjustment was sharing shelter.

There’s no denying that integrating chickens this way is more work intensive. But if it keeps the birds alive, it is worth it. After all, dead chickens lay no eggs.

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