Flock Integration by Scent?

sqatkins

Chirping
Aug 24, 2019
40
46
64
Missoula, Montana
I recently chatted with an experienced chicken owner over Thanksgiving leftovers and described the troubles I had been having with one of my Rhodies being a real bully bird to the younger (but fully grown) hens when I integrated the flocks. Earlier in the spring when allowed to forage among 21 broilers in our hazelnut orchard, she pecked one so severely that we had to cull that one sooner than the rest of the meat birds.

This time I am trying to merge the two 4-hen flocks... one of 2 1/2 year old layers, the other of 8 month old "pullets" (only one of whom started to lay during these short fall days here in Montana). I wanted to keep all my older birds as they have been good layers and should have at least another season of decent production in them, but I didn't want the Bully to damage one of my younger hens. I split the older flock up and brought just two into the younger flock, breaking up the two pairings that existed in the older flock (2 Rhodies and 2 Wyandottes). It seemed to me that the Bully bird was the "enforcer" for the other Rhodie who was the actual lead hen. To disrupt the behavior, I brought the lead Rhodie and one Wyandotte into the younger flock first, thinking that I may decide not to let the Bully bird continue with the flock at all. The first two birds integrated quite nicely, spending a short time in a parallel run where they could see but not touch the younger flock. I'd have kept them there longer, but one of them found a way across the dividing fence and integrated herself with the other birds without any squabbles, so I allowed the other to join them and they sorted themselves out within a day.

I had thought to just cull the other two birds still waiting in the other coop, but finally decided to give them a try. I put them in the parallel run/coop, and everything looked good while they were separated. I probably should have waited longer to merge them, but those two knew their other same-aged birds on the other side of the divider, and really wanted to be with them. When I finally allowed the two flocks to merge, everything went well for the first day. By day two, however, I noticed that all of the younger flock were avoiding being anywhere near the Bully bird. When I saw her leap on my one egg-layer of the younger flock and start to peck at the back of her head (which is where she mortally damaged one of the meat birds in the summer) I decided it wasn't worth the risk.

So this new acquaintance told me her "full proof" method of integrating new birds into her flock and I wondered if anyone else had ever tried this method.

She takes a clean, unscented, sun-dried old t-shirt and then catches the lead hen. She rubs the t-shirt fabric all over the lead hen in an attempt to get that hen's scent onto the shirt. She even makes sure to twist a knot of fabric and rubs that all across the lead hen's vent. Then, one by one she rubs the same t-shirt all over the new birds, paying special attention to getting the scent on their heads and faces. She said that when the birds are introduced, they all have the scent of the lead hen all over them and the other birds interpret that as being "one of them."

I'd never heard that hens rely on scent, but I am curious to know if this is a method others have tried. As I expect to be introducing new birds to my flock every year as the older layers drop off in production, I am eager to find ANYTHING that will make the process less stressful.

Incidentally, the Bully Bird is now in the refrigerator "resting" for several days and will likely become coq au vin next weekend.
 

LaFleche

Meadow Devil
Premium Feather Member
9 Years
Sep 22, 2012
7,988
29,813
952
Germany
So this new acquaintance told me her "full proof" method of integrating new birds into her flock and I wondered if anyone else had ever tried this method.

She takes a clean, unscented, sun-dried old t-shirt and then catches the lead hen. She rubs the t-shirt fabric all over the lead hen in an attempt to get that hen's scent onto the shirt. She even makes sure to twist a knot of fabric and rubs that all across the lead hen's vent. Then, one by one she rubs the same t-shirt all over the new birds, paying special attention to getting the scent on their heads and faces. She said that when the birds are introduced, they all have the scent of the lead hen all over them and the other birds interpret that as being "one of them."
Over the years I have heard and read a lot of "full proof" strange/absurd/harmful methods, and some people that fall for the "smell" theory, would even spray their birds with perfume or hair spray as if this (making them all smell the same) would deter any attacks.


She even makes sure to twist a knot of fabric and rubs that all across the lead hen's vent. Then, one by one she rubs the same t-shirt all over the new birds, paying special attention to getting the scent on their heads and faces.
Just think it through, the only thing she might achieve by doing this, would be giving the lead hen a vent/oviduct infection.
After rubbing the first hen, the scent of the first strange hen would be on the shirt also, being passed on to the next hen and so on.

But the reality is, that space and resources, just like @aart already mentioned, are important, and of course knowing your birds personalities and acting accordingly (separate/rehome/butcher) if you have a bully..
 
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centrarchid

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Sep 19, 2009
26,833
19,644
876
Holts Summit, Missouri
My chickens use sound when is comes to integration. They get same kind of information from sound we do. The t-shirt use may have some other affect if it is working at all.
 

JacinLarkwell

Crossing the Road
Mar 19, 2020
17,134
41,068
951
South-Eastern Montana
While I have always stood by the whole "birds in general have poor sense of smell", I had a bird this year that has made me wonder if that's not quite accurate. I had one particular pullet that the cockerels were absolutely obsessed with (the older males didn't seem to have that problem though around her nearly as much).

If I set her down anywhere near the cockerels, with in seconds, I would have at least 4 boys all mounting this tiny pullet, and if she was separated by fencing, they would pace and try to go through the fencing to get to her.

My mother was absolutely convinced it was pheromones, since she looked exactly like her sister, but they couldn't care less about the sister, just her.
 

LaFleche

Meadow Devil
Premium Feather Member
9 Years
Sep 22, 2012
7,988
29,813
952
Germany
While I have always stood by the whole "birds in general have poor sense of smell", I had a bird this year that has made me wonder if that's not quite accurate. I had one particular pullet that the cockerels were absolutely obsessed with (the older males didn't seem to have that problem though around her nearly as much).

If I set her down anywhere near the cockerels, with in seconds, I would have at least 4 boys all mounting this tiny pullet, and if she was separated by fencing, they would pace and try to go through the fencing to get to her.

My mother was absolutely convinced it was pheromones, since she looked exactly like her sister, but they couldn't care less about the sister, just her.
She might just be more prolific and submissive. Cockerels love to throw themselves on top the submissive/defenseless and every male (cockerel or rooster) prefers prolific females.
 

JacinLarkwell

Crossing the Road
Mar 19, 2020
17,134
41,068
951
South-Eastern Montana
She might just be more prolific and submissive. Cockerels love to throw themselves on top the submissive/defenseless and every male (cockerel or rooster) prefers prolific females.
Maybe, but she didn't even have a chance to show how she would act. As soon as her feet hit the ground when we put her down, they would be on top of her
 

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