1. If this is your first time on BYC, we suggest you start with one of these three options:
    Raising Chickens Chicken Coops Join BYC
    If you're already a member of our community, click here to login & click here to learn what's new!

Introducing a new hen

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Rose Family, Oct 2, 2013.

  1. Rose Family

    Rose Family Out Of The Brooder

    18
    0
    22
    Aug 17, 2013
    Hello

    I have had chickens for 6 weeks. I have 3 RIR chicks which are now 8 weeks old and I have 1 light sussex and 1 buff sussex hen who both started laying in the last 1 - 2 weeks. One knows where to lay the other doesn't - a funny story there for another time. I really want to get 2 more hens and they will need to go into the same coop as the other 2 hens. If I buy the hens in the morning should I put them straight into the coop while the others are free ranging for the day? What will happen when the two existing hens find two new hens in their smallish coop?

    I have also read that you should put new hens into the coop with the existing hens after the others have gone to sleep.

    Any advice greatfully accepted.
     
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

    19,937
    3,094
    476
    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Sorry but this will be a bit long. But rest assured, plenty of us successfully do what you are planning all the time. We use a whole lot of different techniques and methods, most of which work most of the time. You are dealing with living animals so no one can give you any guarantees, one way or the other, but we are usually successful.

    There are a few different things going on when you integrate chickens. You don’t have roosters so that eliminates some of them. First, chickens are social animals. They like being with other chickens but they have rules to live by just like any pack of wolves or herd of cattle. One way chickens have learned to live together in a flock is that when there is conflict, the weaker runs away from the stronger or just avoids them to start with. They need room to run away or avoid especially before they have determined their relative place in chicken society.

    Chickens can recognize which chickens belong to their flock and can be territorial about keeping strange chickens out. They might attack strange chickens. This does not happen all the time but it happens often enough to be a concern. If you house them side by side for a week or so with only a wire fence separation so they can see each other, it really helps them to accept the other’s right to exist in the flock. A normal way to do this is to build a wire pen in the coop, but you mention you have a small coop. That may make things more difficult for you to come up with something predator-proof.

    Another benefit in housing them for a while is that they learn to think of this new pace as home. When you let them out to free range, they should return at night. If you just bring them home and let them loose, they might bond with your other chickens and go to the coop with them, they might sleep in trees, or they might disappear forever, looking for home.

    The other thing is that each chicken needs to know its rank in chicken society. It’s called the pecking order for a reason. If a chicken oversteps its societal bounds it I perfectly acceptable for the superior chicken to peck it or otherwise discipline it to put it back in its proper place.

    What normally happens when two chickens that have not determined the proper pecking order meet, one pecks the other or somehow tries to intimidate it. If the other chicken runs away, they have determined the pecking order. There may be some chasing involved and some repeated episodes to drive that message home, but as long as one runs away things normally work out pretty peacefully. If one does not run away, that is a challenge and can lead to a fight. Most of the time, these fights are not that much. They may flare neck feathers, jump at each other to try to claw and peck, but it usually doesn’t take one of them long to determine they really should not be challenging the other and run away.

    It’s important that they have room to run away. If they get stuck in a corner or against a fence where they can’t run away, the winner doesn’t know she won. The loser may just settle down and offer no resistance but the other keeps pecking and attacking, quite possibly injuring or killing the loser.

    Occasionally you will find two that are evenly matched so neither wants to run away. Occasionally you get a hen that is a real brute and will go out of her way to attack a weaker chicken. With hens the first is really rare and the second is fairly rare, but you are dealing with living animals so it is possible.

    I know I’m making this sound like you are going to have an awful bloody mess out there when you introduce them. Not necessarily. Sometimes all this is taken care of so calmly and peacefully you wonder what all the worry was about. Occasionally it does get messy. Most of the time there are pretty minor skirmishes and things are settled.

    Something else I’ll mention. Mature chickens always outrank immature chickens. When they mature enough they will work their way into the pecking order, but while they are immature, the older ones might peck them or attack if the young ones invade their personal space. You will often see the immature ones form their own flock during the day to avoid the mature ones. Since your two are laying they are pretty mature. You might try to get the others already laying instead of at point of lay to help that transition, but many of us do point of lay pullets successfully too. I’ll mention this maturity thing so you can understand what is going n if you see it.

    There are a few things you can do to help make this transition easier other than house them side by side for a week. When you first let them get together, give them as much room as you can so the weaker can run away if necessary. Provide extra eating and watering places so the weaker don’t have to challenge the stronger to eat and drink. Since yours free range this is probably not all that important. It’s more for people that keep them in coops and runs.

    The place I find mine are most brutal to each other when I am integrating is on the roosts as they are settling down at night. They are in close quarters and may not have room to get away. I’ve seen this so often I put up a separate roost, a bit lower and separated horizontally from the main roosts so they can find a safer place to sleep which is not in my nests if they need to.

    You mention putting them in together on the roosts at night so they wake up together. I don’t recommend that, especially since you said you have a small coop. I know a lot of people do it this way and it usually works, but occasionally it ends in disaster. Most of the time about anything usually works. Chickens are pretty good at sorting these things out if we let them. I think one of the advantages of doing it this way is that the chickens sort things out before the human gets involved. But if you happen to have a hen that is a brute, it can get ugly. If you elect to do to this way, I strongly recommend you get out to the coop well before they wake up and open the pop door so they can run away if they need to.

    When I integrate I let them out first thing in the morning so they have as much room as I can give them all day to sort things out. And I still show up real early in the mornings to open that pop door for a few days until I am satisfied they have sorted things out.

    As I said, these things normally work out pretty well. I wish you luck with yours.
     
  3. Rose Family

    Rose Family Out Of The Brooder

    18
    0
    22
    Aug 17, 2013
    Thank you so much for all this info. Eeek! Just not sure what to do. I have a wire run that backs onto the coop which I can close off to keep the 2 old and 2 new hens separatebut the run of course doesn't have a closed section for the new hens to sleep in.
     
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

    19,937
    3,094
    476
    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Yeah, that can be challenging. Do you have a dog crate or something like that for the to sleep in at night?

    Another option is to just put them all together in the run if you can observe and see how they react. It might work. As I said, sometimes it goes so smoothly you wonder what the worry was all about.

    Another option is to keep then separate during the first day or so put them together in the coop after dark and get them out by daybreak to help with the predator protection stuff. I don't know where you are or what the weather will be like, but don't over-worry about them sleeping outside from a weather aspect unless the weather is really bad. They can sleep in trees in rain or snow without a problem. It's predators I would worry about.

    I tried to warn you about things that might happen, trying to be super-cautious. A lot of the time these things work out not all that bad anyway. Just do the best you can.
     
  5. Rose Family

    Rose Family Out Of The Brooder

    18
    0
    22
    Aug 17, 2013
    Progress Report - ok, got my 2 black Australorps home by 11.00am yesterday and put them into a partially shaded run for the day. I let them out to free range with the other hens a little bit before dusk and the hen pecking, chest bumping and feather pulling began :(. So, as a consequence I put the two new hens back into the run for the night. Worried about them being cold but they survived. What you call cold and what we call cold I'm sure are two very different things. I live in Queensland in Australia and our nights are current 14 C. I believe that's about 57F for you. All the hens plus my 3 nine week old chicks free ranged today. As we have a large yard, they are mostly able to stay away from each other but certainly there was a bit more chasing, sqwarking and feather pulling. At dusk tonight, the two new hens went into the existing hen's coop along with the less dominant of my existing hens. The dominant of my 2 original hens would not go in without a lot of herding. She then sat at the bottom of the ramp and did the loudest bawk bawking of her life. Not happy. We waited until she was asleep and have put her into the coop but I plan to be out there at first light tomorrow to open the pop door and the small run door before they kill each other :rolleyes: can you give me any advice on how long it takes for hens to sort out the pecking order?
    Thank you so much.
     
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

    19,937
    3,094
    476
    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Yes, my ideas of cold are quite different. I’ve had 5 week old chicks in my unheated grow-out coop when the overnight lows were around +8 C, the mid 40’s F. I’ve had 5-1/2 week olds in that same grow-out coop when the overnight low was in the mid 20’s Fahrenheit, which would be around -4 C. With their down coat to keep them warm, 14 C is just getting comfortable for them if they have fully feathered out and are somewhat acclimated.

    How long to sort out the pecking order? How old are your new hens? It sounds like they may be pretty mature. Once you get past the maturity thing I mentioned, it just depends on the personality of the hens. Some sort it out in a few minutes. Some can take a week or more. They are all different but I expect you to probably see a difference really soon, probably the next day or two.

    With what was your dominant hen refusing to go inside, it sounds like they have shaken up the pecking order and she lost. When you introduce new hens it’s not unusual for the existing pecking order to get totally shaken up. When they are sorting out the new arrivals the ones that were lower down may try to take advantage of the turmoil to rise above their former station. The one that used to be dominant can be pushed down quite a bit. With her not wanting to go in, that sounds like that may have happened with your two.
     
  7. Rose Family

    Rose Family Out Of The Brooder

    18
    0
    22
    Aug 17, 2013
    Thanks again! Well it's 11pm where I am. I'm going to try and get to sleep. First light here is 4.59am with sunrise at 5.23am so I'm setting my alarm for 4.55am to try and open their pop door at first light. ;)
     

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by