Experimental Integration

sqatkins

Chirping
Aug 24, 2019
37
41
64
Missoula, Montana
I have read that you shouldn't try to integrate a single bird into an established flock. Naturally, that is exactly what I am attempting to do. My hatchery order of a few layer pullets and 21 meat birds included two extra chicks. One of the extras was another meat bird (long since in our freezer), but the other turned out to be a Bielefelder cockerel. I was dismayed because I live within the city limits and am not allowed to have a rooster. So I raised him up with the layer pullets, and figured that if I couldn't re-home him, we would butcher him when he started crowing, or turned 5 months, whichever came first. Then a friend suggested I enter him in the fair, which I did, as he was a beautiful bird and an uncommon breed. After judging (he got a blue ribbon) I placed a "for sale" sign on his cage. One of the judges promptly bought him on the spot. But then, even though he was an "extra" bird I'd never intended to have in the first place, I felt rather bereft, and turned around and bought a hen of the same breed to replace him in my younger flock.

The pullet I bought is about the same age as the other in the younger flock, at 4 1/2 months old. I read that when introducing new birds, they should be kept separated, but within view of one another for at least a week. So I put walls around the legs of the existing chicken coop, creating a lower level coop with a simple open doorway, and then divided the run into two parts with some temporary netting. I put the new bird into the lower "coop," and kept the other three in their usual space.

Day one went fine. Day two, went fine. Day three, the new bird escaped from her side of the mesh fencing which ended up creating a ruckus when the other birds discovered the interloper in their territory. It took some work to get her safely back into her side of the chicken run. Day four, one of the existing flock got into the newcomer's side, but wanted back out. I decided that since the birds kept finding their way around the barrier, I'd simply put one of the existing flock with her, giving them the run of the whole fenced chicken run, and letting the other two birds out to roam in the area outside the chicken run. I was hoping that one on one interactions would sort things out without the three ganging up on her. Tomorrow I plan to put a different one of the existing flock in with the newbie for the day, and then the third bird will have a turn. My hope is that all these one on one opportunities to dispute dominance will get things sorted out without the single new pullet getting too victimized.

In another month or two, I'll be trying to merge my older laying flock of four 2 year old hens, with this younger flock of four. The mature hens are in a totally different coop in a different part of our property, but can only be there for the summer months as that coop is too far for us to provide power for the winter months. They will eventually have to come home to roost in the coop close to the house where they lived the first year of their lives. If this works for this single pullet, I'm thinking I might be able to introduce the mature hens one at a time as well.

Has anyone else tried integration piecemeal like this, and if so, how did it go?
 

DobieLover

Easily distracted by chickens
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Jul 23, 2018
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I have read that you shouldn't try to integrate a single bird into an established flock. Naturally, that is exactly what I am attempting to do. My hatchery order of a few layer pullets and 21 meat birds included two extra chicks. One of the extras was another meat bird (long since in our freezer), but the other turned out to be a Bielefelder cockerel. I was dismayed because I live within the city limits and am not allowed to have a rooster. So I raised him up with the layer pullets, and figured that if I couldn't re-home him, we would butcher him when he started crowing, or turned 5 months, whichever came first. Then a friend suggested I enter him in the fair, which I did, as he was a beautiful bird and an uncommon breed. After judging (he got a blue ribbon) I placed a "for sale" sign on his cage. One of the judges promptly bought him on the spot. But then, even though he was an "extra" bird I'd never intended to have in the first place, I felt rather bereft, and turned around and bought a hen of the same breed to replace him in my younger flock.

The pullet I bought is about the same age as the other in the younger flock, at 4 1/2 months old. I read that when introducing new birds, they should be kept separated, but within view of one another for at least a week. So I put walls around the legs of the existing chicken coop, creating a lower level coop with a simple open doorway, and then divided the run into two parts with some temporary netting. I put the new bird into the lower "coop," and kept the other three in their usual space.

Day one went fine. Day two, went fine. Day three, the new bird escaped from her side of the mesh fencing which ended up creating a ruckus when the other birds discovered the interloper in their territory. It took some work to get her safely back into her side of the chicken run. Day four, one of the existing flock got into the newcomer's side, but wanted back out. I decided that since the birds kept finding their way around the barrier, I'd simply put one of the existing flock with her, giving them the run of the whole fenced chicken run, and letting the other two birds out to roam in the area outside the chicken run. I was hoping that one on one interactions would sort things out without the three ganging up on her. Tomorrow I plan to put a different one of the existing flock in with the newbie for the day, and then the third bird will have a turn. My hope is that all these one on one opportunities to dispute dominance will get things sorted out without the single new pullet getting too victimized.

In another month or two, I'll be trying to merge my older laying flock of four 2 year old hens, with this younger flock of four. The mature hens are in a totally different coop in a different part of our property, but can only be there for the summer months as that coop is too far for us to provide power for the winter months. They will eventually have to come home to roost in the coop close to the house where they lived the first year of their lives. If this works for this single pullet, I'm thinking I might be able to introduce the mature hens one at a time as well.

Has anyone else tried integration piecemeal like this, and if so, how did it go?
Instead of alternating between the three birds, I would leave just one of them in with the new pullet. If the one you put in yesterday didn't attack her, I'd leave her in with her for about 2 weeks to let them form a bond, then let the pair out together.
Do you have lots of clutter in your run so there are plenty of places to get out of the line of sight of the others, things to perch on and dig around?
 

sqatkins

Chirping
Aug 24, 2019
37
41
64
Missoula, Montana
Chicken juggling is an apt descriptor. My experiment gotten taken out of my hands. Today was the day I had planned to put a different chicken in with the newbie, but I heard some squawking soon after the automatic coop door opened for the threesome, and went out to investigate. I carefully separated two birds out to be free to range, and chose the bird that would spend the day with the newbie. Then I opened up the netting and pulled the moveable wall off the lower "coop" only to find that the newbie wasn't anywhere to be seen. So I looked around and found her taking ownership of the upper coop. Apparently she'd gotten out of her temporary run into the other birds' side of the run, and then had staked her claim inside the main coop. So rather than fight it any longer, I've taken the partitions down and am allowing the four to mingle. The threesome are off adventuring in the orchard, and the newbie is perched in the coop. I opened up a few hatches in the coop so that if the three come inside, the newbie has plenty of escape options if needed. I suspect they are well on their way to figuring out their relationships with just minor squawking and dominance behavior now and then, and do not need my regulation any longer.

Introducing the older birds will be an entirely new challenge, especially since one of my Rhode Island Reds is particularly aggressive, as she demonstrated when I put the older flock with 22 meat birds in our hazelnut orchard. She put a hole the size of a quarter in the back of one of the meat birds' head! I'll have to watch her carefully because she'll get culled if she starts damaging the other birds.
 

sqatkins

Chirping
Aug 24, 2019
37
41
64
Missoula, Montana
No. It's not ideal, but can work.
I'd call it ChickenJuggling.:D
What you are doing is disrupting the territories, which can be good distraction.
I'd not try it with the older flock.
Part of my hope with the older flock is that they were removed from this territory back in May and given a new coop in a different, fenced orchard. Then I remodeled the coop after they left to accommodate more birds. My hope is that having the younger flock established in the renovated coop will make the older birds less territorial about it. I am still nervous about mixing the flocks, and plan to wait as long as I can so that the newbies are fully grown. What do you think of taking the four adult layers two at a time for the integration, rather than having all four integrate with the four younger birds at once?
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
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Nov 27, 2012
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My hope is that having the younger flock established in the renovated coop will make the older birds less territorial about it.
If you are bringing the old birds back to the renovated coop, they will be the strangers and not welcome by the birds who have made it home.

What do you think of taking the four adult layers two at a time for the integration, rather than having all four integrate with the four younger birds at once?
Sounds like a PITA.

Best to do them all together. Basically you will be merging two flocks.

Some dimensions and pics of your main reno coop would help garner viable set up suggestions.
 

sqatkins

Chirping
Aug 24, 2019
37
41
64
Missoula, Montana
This is my set up for integrating the flocks. The remodeled coop (white) is about 4' by 4 1/2' inside not counting the extension for the nesting boxes, and has about 8 feet of perch space. Small, I know. Since it is raised up on legs (about 24" off the ground) I used pieces of OSB to enclose the legs of the coop, creating a rudimentary lower floor coop so that birds transitioning into the flock have a space to go at night that is separate from the flock in the coop for the first week or two. I used netting to divide the run into two areas, but somehow (I haven't witnessed it) birds are either pushing their way under the netting or launching themselves over the netting. The bale of hay is keeping the fourth wall of the lower coop in place as I have no way of accessing the interior of that coop otherwise to clean it or to collect eggs (when the layer hens are brought up to integrate). So I can remove that wall by shifting the bale of hay.

The chicken run is extremely secure, about 12' by 20', with hardware cloth on all six sides (including underground) because we have every predator known to chicken in our area. The chicken run is built within a fenced orchard that is reinforced with 2"x4" mesh metal fencing to a height of 6 feet AND three live electric lines powerful enough to deter a bear. Wanting to keep the ranging flock within sight of the birds to be integrated, I used chicken wire to make a temporary fence around the run to keep the ranging birds close by. Under normal situations, they are allowed to range throughout the 1/4 acre orchard.

Right now I have allowed the existing flock to have the right half the run and also access outside the run into the smaller chicken-wire fenced area around it. The birds being added are confined to the lower coop and the left half of the run separated by the black mesh fencing.

If need be (and probably so with the older birds) I can first let the younger flock out into the orchard at large, providing food and water out there, and then allow the older flock to range within the chicken wire area surrounding the run in addition to their half of the run. That will work so long as the integration occurs before the younger flock starts needing the nesting boxes, because there is no way to keep the two areas separated without giving over the main run gate to one or the other of the two flocks during the day time.
 

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