Combining Small Broods Varying Greatly in Age


Crossing the Road
14 Years
Sep 19, 2009
Holts Summit, Missouri
I am in the process of combing smaller birds to reduce the number of management units that must be cared for each day. Until three days ago all where free-range in and around the barn. Most actively avoided each other prior to this combining effort. Birds are as follows:

One Missouri Dominique pullet about 16 weeks old

Two American Game Stags about 12 weeks old (full siblings)

One Missouri Dominique pullet about 7 weeks old (full-sibling to pullet above) that associated loosely with sister above when mother permitted it.

One American Dominique chick about 2 weeks old with its mother

Hen and chick were allowed to acclimate for two days to a 3.5 foot x 10 foot coop elevated above ground. Then all others added to coop after dark. Hen picked on all not hers the following two days but caused no damage. All go to roost with full crops. Chick can walk up to all others without being attacked because hen protects it. Stags do not pick on anyone as hen hammers them when they do. Tomorrow in AM hen will be removed. Concern is mostly for chick. Hopefully chick will only have to submit when others peck it to stop attacks. If realized all will function as a tight social group much faster than they would if combined without hen.
Two days ago I removed game stags from mix above owing to free-range option re-opened. This evening I removed hen by gently picking her up, she clearly wanted to mate so was returned to breeding pen. Immediately thereafter the chick was in feed pan in close proximity to the remaining Missouri Dominique pullets. No social strife indicated in pecking or vocalizations. System worked very well and hen was able to recondition faster than if returned more directly to breeding pen. The stags were not observed at any point to cause trouble with pullets or chick. I am going to repeat the process again in about a month with larger broods that will need to be confined as the hawks migrate through.
I don’t do exactly that but I’ve had more trouble with 4 to 5 month old cockerels picking on younger chicks than any other age or sex being aggressive by far. The broody hen being in there with the 12-week-olds may have been a really good thing. My problems come after the broody hen weans her chicks, when I have problems. Usually I don’t have problems but I don’t lock them up in that small a space together.
I normally have broody hens spaced out over at least two acres with nest sites clearly delineated as a method to promote optimal chick production. Even a dual purpose breed can benefit from the spacing. The problem comes with hens with small broods as they tie up almost as much resources as hens with twelve chicks. My preference is to get low performing hens out of the way so another can be given a try or to shorten refractory period between successive broods as indicated above To salvage chicks for low number broods I will be trying to get them away from the free-range area faster. Confinement is not my usual approach except with high value brood hens that I really do not want put at risk to depredation. I have good predator control although risk not zero and high value breeders I expect to live many years have a significant risk of being lost over a period of several years.

With respect to cockerels, normally they would be given boot by harem master or somehow the harem master prevents the trouble making behaviors.
I'm realizing I can be more pro active in managing my broodies, so I'm liking reading what's working for you.

I've always been very hand's off. If they go broody, great. Raise chicks in the coop, wean whenever, the hen goes back to laying whenever, etc.

I've had to make some housing changes due to barn cats eating little chicks, so I'm paying more attention. Realizing I can wean chicks earlier, hopefully returning hen to laying sooner, and possibly getting another broody cycle out of her. I'm using hens as surrogates, not hatching their own chicks as a rule, so getting more cycles out of them could be a bonus for me.

My grow-out pen is pretty loose, with a wide range of ages. I've just now put a broody silkie in there to set and it seems to be going well.
I am going to try to streamline process of having hens adopt chicks that are not theirs. Imprinting process with some combinations not consistently fast enough. I would like to combine a broody with multiple small broods then quickly get them out of the confinement where imprinting is promoted.

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