Adding new chicks to a flock

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by shell3, Jan 23, 2013.

  1. shell3

    shell3 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 14, 2012
    Hertfordshire England
    hi guys, we got our chickens from my sons school, he watched them hatch. we now have 3 chickens about a year old. my sons teacher has already mentioned to me that they will be hatching eggs again this year and i know she'll ask me to take at least three more. how would this work? obviously they would be indoors to start of with, same as the others were but what precautions do i need to take? and would my existing chickens accept them? i recently had a hen with sour crop and she was indoors a while when we put her back out the other too chased and pecked her! we put her in a little run inside the big run for a couple days then let her out and put them all in the coop at night and now they have accepted her back like nothing ever happened but with little chicks? id be worried they would hurt them. and how about health wise, do i need to check for anything in particular? i think the eggs will come from the same farm that my existing ones came from (i will find out at the time). ive heard of people bring in new chickens and then loosing the whole flock to disease!!
    Also on the same sort of subject, a woman i met at my daughters dance class told me she has 3 chickens (ex batt) that she cant manage anymore and shes trying to find a new home for them. id love to take them but!!! she did ask me if i would but ive put her off for now saying i need a bigger coop first (which is true) but how would i find out if they are carriers of anything? how could i do this safely if at all? im asking way in advance of taking any action. i love my chickens and dont want to put them at risk. if it cant be done, it cant be done ill just stick with what ive got. would love some advice. thanks
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    With the questions you’ve asked, this will probably be pretty long. They are not easy simple five second sound bite questions.

    First on the chicks possibly infecting your hens. Probably won’t happen. There are a very few diseases that can be transmitted through hatching eggs but really very few. I would not worry about that at all.

    It is possible your flock is infected with something that can infect the chicks. Realize there is a difference in what can happen and what absolutely will happen each and every time. I don’t have any reason to think your current flock is infected with anything, but it is possible. Chickens can develop immunity to certain diseases and never show any symptoms, yet still infect other chickens that are not immune. Coccidiosis is one good example and that is one thing I guard against by introducing any of the organisms my flock has to chicks in the brooder about Day 2. For some diseases like Coccidiosis, young chicks can develop immunities easier than older chickens. So I take dirt from my run that the older chickens have recently pooped in and give that to chicks in the brooder, Not only does this get grit in their system, it introduces any probiotics and other stuff that lives inside the adults.

    I keep my brooder pretty dry, which is a good way to help keep diseases down. I can observe my chicks in the brooder easier and better than when they are roaming around. When they hit the ground later, they are going to have to deal with any diseases the others have. I prefer that to happen when I can better observe them and they are better at developing those immunities.

    That brings us to quarantine. A normal quarantine involves totally isolating new chickens for about a month to see if they develop any symptoms of disease before you mix them with your flock. Isolation involves housing them away from your current flock. Diseases can be transmitted through them drinking from the same water dish, sharing poop, or even the wind carrying dander, which is the dry skin they shed. It also involves using different buckets to carry water and feed and changing shoes when you go from one flock to the other. Many people that quarantine don’t do all this but how you quarantine affects how much protection you are actually providing.

    One problem to this is that either flock may have a disease that will infect the other but they are immune to it and will never show symptoms. The one month basically protects against any disease the chickens have been recently exposed to, but the stress of relocation can reduce their resistance so it is possible they’ll show symptoms during quarantine that they normally would not show.

    To me, the proper way to do quarantine is to take one of your current flock as a possible sacrifice and house it with or right next to the new chickens to see if either group gets sick.

    The other part of this is that there are different levels of disease or infection. Many people mix adult chickens all the time and don’t have serious problems. There is a chance you can wipe out your current flock by introducing a disease, but it is not a guarantee. You could introduce something that is basically an annoyance, not a real threat, maybe like mites, lice, or worms. As long as you pay attention and treat, these things are not going to wipe out your flock. Quarantine is a great time to treat them for these parasites anyway just to be sure.

    Then you have things that are minor threats, maybe Coccidiosis. If one of the groups comes down with Coccidiosis treat it and they are fine. This is less likely than them getting mites or lice, but a little more of a threat. Still, it can be handled.

    Then you have various diseases that can totally wipe out your flock. These are not likely to happen, but they can be devastating. It’s a form of risk analysis. How likely is something to happen, what are the consequences, and how hard is it to take precautions? I can’t make the decision for you. If it were me I’d probably take the hens as long as they are looking and acting healthy, treat them for mites and lice, then mix them after a few days. As long as that flock has not been exposed to any strange chickens in the previous month and they are acting OK, they are not likely to show anything in a quarantine. That does not mean they are totally absolutely safe, but I’d take my chances.

    Now, about integration, there are two basic things to look for. One is that chickens recognize who is in their flock and may attack any strangers. Notice I said “may”. This does not happen each and every time. Some people mix flocks and they immediately get along in this aspect. But this does happen. It’s usually a pretty good idea for you to house the two flocks next to each other for a week or so. That way they can get used to each other and accept that the other has a right to be in that territory. Housing them side by side does not always work but it greatly improves your chances of success.

    The other thing is the pecking order. Chickens have developed ways to live in a flock but this involves each chicken knowing its place in the social order. Sometimes developing this pecking order can get pretty violent. Sometimes it goes so smoothly you wonder what all the worry was about. One way chickens have developed to live together is that the weaker runs away from the stronger or just avoids them to start with. I think it is extremely important that the chickens have enough room to run away or avoid. If you think you need to expand your coop and/or run area you probably do. Another area to watch is the roost space. Some of them can get pretty brutal on the roosts as they are settling in for the night. The roost is where I see the most brutality during integration. I went so far as putting up a separate roost lower than the main roosts and separated a bit so the weaker have a safe place to go. It’s often used during integration.

    What often happens in these pecking order conflicts is that one chicken pecks or somehow intimidates the other. If the weaker runs away, then all is well. The stronger may chase the weaker for a bit to really intimidate it, but as long as it can run, things normally work out. But if the other chicken does not run away or cannot run away because space is so tight, that is considered a challenge to the pecking order and it can get really violent, maybe even fatal.

    Another thing that is a concern with the chicks is that mature chickens always socially outrank immature chickens and are usually not shy about being bullies about that. If the younger chicks cannot get away, they can die. Broody hens often raise chicks with the flock but wean them when they are 4 to 5 weeks old. Those chicks are then on their own to get along with the flock. I’ve never lost a chick because of the older hens beating up on these chicks, but I have lots of space. Those chicks keep to themselves and away from the main flock during the day and often use my extra roost.

    When I raise incubator/brooder chicks, I raise them side by side with the adults. At 8 weeks I usually let them out to roam with the adults. I’ve never lost a chick doing this, but I have lots of room for them to run away and stay away. A lot of people don’t try to integrate these chicks until they are pretty much grown. If space is tight, that is probably a good idea.

    So my basic tips for integration are:

    House them side by side for a while so they get used to each other.

    Provide as much space as you can. One way to increase your space is to provide things they can hide behind or under. But try to avoid traps where the weaker may get penned in and can’t run away.

    Provide separate feeding and watering stations so the weaker can get food and water without challenging the stronger.

    By the way, when there is brutality involved, it is almost always from a hen. You are dealing with living animals so anything is possible, but a rooster is much more likely to protect the younger chicks that harm them.

    Hopefully you can get something out of this long, long post that can help you. Good luck!!!
  3. shell3

    shell3 Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 14, 2012
    Hertfordshire England
    what a fantastic reply! much more info than i dared hope for. thank you very much i appreciate you taking the time :) x

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