Originally Posted by Ridgerunner
I think a whole lot has to do with your set-up. A lot of us do different things, sometimes successfully and sometimes people have big problems.
With the ages of yours you have some things to consider. One is territorial. Sometimes chickens will protect their territory from new chickens. Not always, but sometimes. This is where housing them side by side for a while really helps. They get used to the others and accept them as members of the flock.
Another is the pecking order. Bear with me because this will get a bit long. Every chicken in the flock has to know its social position in the flock so the flock can live together peacefully. But reaching this peaceful condition can be pretty violent sometimes. Not always, but often.
Chickens are usually pretty good at recognizing which one is dominant. If they are mature this dominance is determined by spirit a lot more than size. It’s not at all unusual for mature bantams to dominate mature full grown fowl. But a mature bird will always dominate an immature bird. It’s not a case of size but of maturity.
When a less dominant chicken enters the personal space of a more dominant chicken, the more dominant has every right to peck the other to remind it of its proper place in chicken society. Once the pecking order is established and the birds are all mature, this does not happen all that often but it is pretty common when introducing new birds regardless of their age. If the less dominant runs away after that peck, all is good in the flock. If it does not run away, this is a challenge to the pecking order and a fight can occur. This can get pretty serious. They need enough room to get away. If they get trapped in a corner or your coop and run is too small for them to get away, it can really get bad.
Chickens often are brutal bullies. Not all, but a lot are. If they see a weaker chicken, like a younger chicken, they may go out of their way to try to do serious harm. And they can become a mob once it starts. I have broodies raise their chicks with the flock and I integrate brooder raised chicks at about 8 weeks old. The only time I’ve ever lost a chick to this was when a one week old chick found its way into my grow-out run with 8 week olds. It was away from the broodies protection. The 8 week olds quickly killed it when it became trapped against the fence and could not get away. Those 8 week olds were ready to turn loose so they could integrate with the flock. If I had opened the gate a day earlier so Mama dould have gotten in to protect her baby, it would not have happened. But you can't forsee everything.
This is where safe havens really come in handy if you have small birds. Extra space also helps a whole lot. The younger birds will pretty much form their own flock and stay away from the older birds if they have the space. They pretty quickly learn to avoid conflict by keeping their distance or staying out of the way. They will stay in the coop if the adults are in the run; maybe stay on the roosts if the adults are on the coop floor. They might hide under nests or behind something, depending on what options they have. With all our different set-ups there is no one right answer for all of us. Provide as much space and as many options for them to avoid the adults as you can.
Another thing that really helps is to provide different feeding and watering stations so the young ones can eat and drink without having to confront the older birds. Chickens are naturally bullies. They will keep the young ones away from the food and water.
Something I find beneficial is to provide plenty of roost space, preferably separate from the adults. Mine can be real bullies and brutes on the roosts as they are settling in for the night. It’s practically always hens or non-dominant roosters by the way. I’ve never had a dominant rooster harm or threaten a chick at any time. They are living animals and anything can happen. I’m sure somebody somewhere has seen a dominant rooster be a problem, but I have not. I’ve put in a separate roost about a foot lower and away from the main roosts to give the chicks the option of a safer place to sleep.
For my brooder raised chicks I have a grow-out coop for them to sleep when they first start integrating with the older chickens. But if I have a broody raise chickens with the flock, those chicks are taken to the roosts by the broody in the main coop and they learn to sleep up there with the older chickens. They are fine as long as the broody is there to protect them, but once she weans them they are on their own.
I’ve had a broody wean her chicks as young as 3-1/2 weeks and they remained with the main flock. During the day they had plenty of room to avoid the adults but at night they slept in the coop with the adults. It did not take them long to abandon the main roosts and move to a safer place. When they matured they made their way back to the main roosts, but that took months.
A story I like to tell because I think it might help you understand some of this. I’ve often seen a young chick, say two weeks old, being raised with the flock with a broody. That chick will go stand beside the older hens away from Mama’s protection and eat out of the big chickens’ feeder. Sometimes the older hens will ignore that chick, but usually it does not take long for a hen to peck the chick to remind it that it is bad chicken etiquette for it to eat with its social betters. That chick will run peeping and flapping back to Mama. Mama ignores all this. But if the hen that pecked the chick starts to follow it, Mama gets a real bad attitude and teaches that hen the chick is not to be harmed. It is OK to teach it manners but don’t threaten her baby!
I realize your set-up, conditions, and management techniques don’t match mine. We are all different. But hopefully you can get something out of this that will help you plan what to do with your specific unique set-up.
Sometimes integration goes so smoothly you wonder what all the worry was about and sometimes it can turn deadly. Good luck with yours!!