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Integrating Chicks

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by lavistaparkchicks, Aug 20, 2011.

  1. lavistaparkchicks

    lavistaparkchicks Hatching

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    I have 2 hen about 14 weeks old and just got two 2-week old chicks. I want to add them to the hen house. I know I need to wait till the chicks are bigger. How old should the chicks be before they are integrated, and what is the best way to integrate them?
     

  2. NonnasBabies

    NonnasBabies Muddy Acre Farms Premium Member

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    They need to be around the same size so they can defend themselves if need be!!
     
  3. lavistaparkchicks

    lavistaparkchicks Hatching

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    If they are a little smaller, is that ok? I know they will have to work out the pecking order, I would like them to integrate sooner than later. Will two against two help?
     
  4. azygous

    azygous Free Ranging

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    I've successfully integrated young pullets as young as six weeks old with older hens by utilizing a "panic room". This is an enclosure within the larger pen where the chicks can begin to spend their days as soon as it's warm enough or they feather out enough. I'm beginning to integrate my four two-week olds at present.

    The enclosure I made is in a corner of the pen and measures about two by four feet, but it can be any size you need it to be. The chicks are already learning who is in the flock of twelve hens and two roosters, and are getting lessons in the pecking order if they get too close to the fence. They are perfectly safe, however. They still sleep indoors inside a brooder.

    Around age four weeks, I will be opening the small pop holes in their enclosure so they can begin to explore the world of the big hens, but the large hens can't fit through the small holes. Yes, they will be promptly pecked, but they will quickly learn to scoot back inside the panic room to safety if things get rough. Their food and water is inside this enclosure so they are assured of plenty to eat without harassment.

    At age six weeks, they move into the coop with the big girls. I usually will move them in as soon as everyone is done laying for the day. The youngsters will spend the whole rest of the day in the coop, with the pop holes closed off so the big girls won't come in and harass the chicks. Then at roosting time, the rest of the flock comes in and roosts after the babies are on the perch. Usually there are no big problems as everyone is intent on settling in for the night. If the babies don't hop onto the perch, I place them up there. In the past, I had one group that were too afraid to remain in the coop, and I waited a week and tried the integration again. Sometimes, they just need an extra week to mature enough.

    Next day, the big girls will chase the youngsters out, and they'll head for their panic room. They will need a little help for about a week learning how to go into the coop at night, but it's amazing how quickly they catch on.

    Occasionally there may be a problem with a bully, but things usually settle down, the chicks continue to grow and learn, and you've successfully integrated chicks at six weeks without having to keep them separate for four months.

    I've had great luck using this method with four batches of chicks, the present four being the fifth.
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2011
  5. lavistaparkchicks

    lavistaparkchicks Hatching

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    Thanks for the great advise! I will give it a shot.
     
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

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    I'll include something I wrote a while back on this. You'll find some different stuff than Azygous posted because we all do it differently. Maybe you can get something out of this that can help you. The important thing is to have a plan, see how it goes, and be ready to adjust if necessary.

    It is interesting that I consistently have my biggest problems when they are on the roosts getting ready for bed, while Azygous apparently has a different experience.


    You'll get different opinions on here because many of us do it different ways. To me, a lot depends on how much room they have and how you manage them. I know it does not help you any, but this is mainly why I am always glad for a hen to go broody. She takes care of this for me. It can be a dangerous time. But yours are not broody raised chicks.

    I'll go through a long explanation of the behavior, then tell you some about what I do, but if my circumstances are different from yours, you probably cannot do it like I do it. Hopefully you can pick up something beneficial from my post though.

    Part of it depends on your chicken's personality. They are living animals with their own personality. No one can truly predict what an individual chicken will do, but we can tell you what we have observed. You can have different types of aggression. First, you have the pure integration. This is where the two flocks don’t all see themselves as one flock. They look at the other chickens as intruders that must be driven away or destroyed. Each flock has its own dynamics. Some flocks are real accepting and some are not. Housing your chickens next to each other for a while will really help avoid this type of aggression.

    Some flocks have a chicken that seeks out to destroy any new weaker chicken. Young chicks certainly quality as weaker, but it could be any chicken you add to the flock. Usually this is a hen, not a rooster. My roosters have always protected or ignored the young members of the flock, but that does not mean yours will. Sometimes a rooster may see them as a threat to his flock instead of an addition, but usually it is a hen with the dangerous attitude.

    Many flocks do not have chickens that will seek out and destroy a weaker chicken. That does not mean you are safe. There are still the pecking order issues. Maturity has a whole lot to do with the pecking order until they all reach maturity. Mature chickens will dominate immature chickens. Think about it as chicken etiquette. It is bad manners for a chicken lower in the pecking order to invade the personal space of a more dominant chicken. In chicken society, the more dominant chicken has the right and the expectation that they will enforce their dominant rights or lose them. If dominance is clear, the dominant chicken will peck, the less dominant is intimidated and runs away, and everything is again calm and peaceful. If dominance is not settled, they can fight to decide which one is dominant. Sometimes you have the seek-out-and-destroy types who chase the weaker ones. If the weaker has room to run away, this usually does not happen. But if the weaker one does not have room to run away or gets trapped against a fence or in a corner, the dominant one gets indignant and is determined to teach this challenger a lesson, even if the challenger is trying to run away. That is why having enough room is important.

    Food, and to a lesser extent water, is another way for a dominant chicken to enforce its dominance. The dominant chickens will often keep the less dominant away from the food, sometimes to the point that the weaker chicken can suffer from malnutrition. I keep two separate feeding stations available anyway, but when I integrate, I add more and make sure they are well separated. Same idea with water.

    Bedtime is the time that I have seen mine be the most vicious about enforcing their pecking order-personal space rights. Have plenty of roost space.

    I keep my brooder in the coop from day 1. I have a 3' x 5' brooder mainly made out of wire but with a good draft guard and I keep one area in the recommended temperature range. I let the far corners cool off as they will, usually around 20 to 30 degrees cooler than the heated spot. They normally spend most of the first two days under the heat, but after that they play all over, only going back to the heat when they need to. They do sleep under the heat. After they fully feather out, usually around 4 to 5 weeks, I take away the supplemental heat and take them out of the brooder. I then have a space for the adults and the chicks that is separate but where they can see each other. I let the adults free range (no fences so they have a lot of room) but keep the chicks in an enclosure until they are about 8 weeks old. At this time, I figure they are big enough to not be such hawk magnets and start letting them free range. Some people do it at an even younger age. They have separate sleeping areas and do not sleep together.

    The chicks very quickly learn to stay away from the adults, but my adults do not go after the chicks. If their personal space if invaded, my hens will peck to enforce their pecking order rights. I've never seen my rooster do that, but he also does not get involved unless an actual fight breaks out. Then he breaks it up. These fights are when the chicks are old enough to try to establish pecking order rights, usually around 15 weeks old for roosters, a bit older for pullets. My younger chicks just try to run away.

    I think it is good for them to sleep apart even after they are fully integrated during the day, at least for a while. Mine are more aggressive on the roosts than at any other time. When they do start to sleep in the same coop, for about a week I make it a point to open that pop door real early so they can get away from each other instead of being cooped together in a small space. After about a week, I can stop worrying so much about that. They can normally stay in the coop with the adults without too much danger. The younger ones stay on the roost out of the way and the older ones roam the floor where the food and water is. I have a large coop so the young ones can get away from the older ones, at least to a point.

    I think I can do it this way because I have a large coop, a large run, and I let them free range a lot. If your space is tighter, then you might have a real problem doing it this way. I'm also around during the day to watch them, but in reality after I let them out, I don't do much. It just makes me feel better if I am here. I have a fairly laidback flock with a rooster that helps broody hens raise their chicks and hens that ignore the chicks unless personal space is invaded. My circumstances are probably different yours, but hopefully you can pick something useful from all this.

    Sometimes it is so easy you wonder why you were worried and sometimes it is a disaster. Good luck!!!
     
  7. ChickyLove

    ChickyLove Chirping

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    That last post was incredibly helpful to me! Right now I have two 14 week old chickens - a pullet and a roo. I'm getting babies this coming Friday and wasn't sure how to integrate them when the time came. I'm glad though, that Enoch and Bo Peep are incredibly gentle and sweet. Still going to keep an eye out for bullying of any type.
     

  8. azygous

    azygous Free Ranging

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    When I made my post above, it was bedtime and I didn't feel like covering all the details. But one thing I would stress, that appears to be pretty crucial, is to see that the chicks are positioned at the very far end of the roost, preferably at the end with the oldest hens. The worst problems with aggression at roosting time occur when a hapless chick tries to roost in between two BFF's (a clique formed by former brooder mates). And the youngest in the flock will often be the candidate for the worst bully, seeing an opportunity to work up from being at the bottom in the pecking order.

    Also, a bully changes the entire game plan. I've had to resort to "bully jail" and putting up a partition between the older ones and the youngsters.

    My first "merger" was very similar to the OP's - two older hens and three six-week olds. That one was the easiest integration. All the rest have been far more complicated than my post may have led you to conclude.

    Until the chicks become equal in size and courage, you will do well to monitor the situation closely, ready to step in and referee and rescue.
     
  9. lavistaparkchicks

    lavistaparkchicks Hatching

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    Just want to say thank you for all the great advise. I built the panic room and let the birds all live separately for a week. The bigger hens were very intrigued with the chicks for about 2 days then lost interest. I decided on (1 week in) Saturday to opening the pop hole. One of the chicks got pecked a couple times, but after that things went very smoothly. I actually removed the panic room on Sunday.

    At night I had to move the chicks to the roost (Saturday and Sunday) manually. Tonight was the first night they made it in on their own. And actually the 2 hens and 2 chicks were all huddled together.

    So all in all very successful and it only took a week. I'm thinking the reason why it went so easily is that the hens are still pretty young (14 weeks). Whatever the reason, I'm so grateful that it was a piece of cake.

    Thanks again for helping make a happy hen house.
     

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