Introducing new pullets to an existing flock of 4 hens w/limited yard space

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by urbanutah, Oct 25, 2016.

  1. urbanutah

    urbanutah Out Of The Brooder

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    I suppose this is a bit more of an article than a post, but I felt it was worth sharing.

    In reading through countless posts on BYC and several other Internet resources I was unable to find a suitable solution for introducing hens or pullets to an existing small flock (4 hens) in an urban setting. So here’s the "city dwellers" version of our experience. Hope it helps others in similar situations. :)

    We live on a quarter acre lot in a suburb of Salt Lake City. Keep in mind that our home takes up some of that acreage and our backyard is about half the remaining acreage so we are city dwellers raising backyard chickens to provide eggs for our family. We enjoy our girls as pets too and our flock free-ranges daily as their coop has an automatic pop door.

    We adopted 4 adult hens (RIR, Leghorn and two EEs) from a client of mine in March 2016 and have no clue as to their ages.

    Needless to say, it’s been a steep learning curve. We had no idea how much there is to learn about keeping hens and mistakes have been made along the way, but everyone is happy and healthy. That being said, we love them and LOVE having fresh, organic eggs.

    Egg production is not super consistent (we assume we have some older girls) so we decided to add two Wyandotte pullets to the flock in early September to maintain egg production. Little did we know what we were getting into when it comes to quarantining, introduction and assimilation into our existing small flock given our limited acreage.

    I made arrangements with the lady I bought the two Wyandotte’s from (a black laced red and a blue splash) to pick the girls up on a Friday morning, giving us a week to prepare a quarantine space—no easy task—and to allow us to keep a close eye on them over the weekend.

    We were not able to put them the recommended distance from our existing flock given our lot size (that would have put them in our neighbor’s backyard), but did the best we could with what we had to work with. We have a small side yard that was fenced and separate from the backyard and decided to put them there, bringing them in every night (to protect them from predators) to sleep under an open window in our living room in a metal dog crate with food and water, which we covered with an old blanket and lined with cardboard around the lower half of the crate in an attempt to contain the pine shavings. Our house smelled a bit like a barn for the next 3 weeks. We put a tree branch across and through the wires for them to roost. As a newbie to my first chicken integration project, I was feeling pretty proud of myself given our limited resources.

    I also capitalized on the week of “prep time” before picking up our new pullets to make sure my chicken first-aid kit was fully stocked with everything we might possibly need (thank you fresheggsdaily.com for the comprehensive first-aid kit list!).

    The side yard quarantine area was very basic: food and water and an old plastic medium size dog kennel as a nesting box with a tattered tarp draped across the top held up with bungee cords to the fence and a sturdy bush to keep the rain off of them. They free-ranged during the day and were rounded up as the sun went down, then back out the next morning for the next 16 days. I suppose if you had a large enough plastic dog crate with a locking door they could live outside in it for the quarantine period, but I was paranoid and felt better having them inside at night since our side yard is open on top and only has a 4' high chain link fence.

    To complicate matters, when I picked up our new pullets I noticed right away that the blue splash (Gertie) appeared considerably smaller and younger than the black laced red (Stella) and she was making chick sounds, not hen sounds. The lady I got them from had obviously mistaken their ages, which worried me as I thought I was buying two 20-week-old pullets and planned to introduce them to a small flock of adult hens so size was important.

    We dashed out and bought chick crumble and added Nutri-Drench to their daily water to give them a boost and kept a very close eye on them, inspecting them every morning and evening when we took them in and out.

    Having never raised chicks I had no idea how old Gertie or Stella were so I researched information on age, size and development. I ultimately guess-timated that Stella (the black laced red) was about 20-24 weeks old and Gertie (the splash) turned out to be roughly 8-9 weeks old as she began her second mini-molt shortly after we got her. Given that Gertie was so much younger and smaller I worried about how this would affect her integration into an adult flock.

    It was simply impractical for us to quarantine them for 30+ days so after 16 days we took a calculated risk based on careful daily assessments and moved to the “introduction phase.” The 16 days felt like forever. Orange temporary construction fencing was erected with rebar to cordon-off a section of our backyard so they could “see, but not touch each other.” Within hours there were mini-brawls through the plastic fencing…I was terrified.

    We continued this segregation for 4-days bringing Stella & Gertie in to sleep in the living room crate at night. I couldn’t help but think this was just prolonging the agony of true face-to-face interaction and establishment of a new pecking order, which was inevitable. We attempted the sneak’em into the nesting boxes on the 4th night after everyone was asleep, but all hell broke loose and Stella & Gertie wouldn’t remain in the boxes. The so-called “zombie state” of sleeping adult hens proved not to be the case despite it being 10 PM. Stella & Gertie were promptly removed and brought back to their living room crate.

    On the morning of the 5th day we opened the fencing so they could roam and threw lots of tasty snacks and scratch all over the backyard in an effort to keep everyone busy and full. We sat on the patio and kept a close eye on everyone. There was some chasing and squawking and the new girls kept their distance, foraging at the opposite end of our backyard from wherever the existing flock was.

    I diligently and closely monitored interactions and “refereed” as needed when it came time for everyone to meet face-to-face and I’m glad I did. I’m lucky to work from home, which allowed me to keep a watchful eye on the girls as the older hens most definitely took after Gertie. Thankfully, Stella stepped up as her protector and with the entire backyard to run and hide they held their own. That being said, having watched this process I would absolutely NOT recommend integrating a younger, smaller pullet to an established flock that is kept in a coop and run. If Gertie had been stuck in the run and coop and I was at work all day, I’m fairly certain the older hens would have killed her or severely injured her. Our coop is not large enough to haul in branches and hiding places for them to take cover under as is likely the case with most coops and runs in urban backyards, we just don’t have the acreage for huge coops & runs in most cases.

    I read several articles that said assimilation into the flock can take up to a week. Well, it’s been four weeks and we are just now beginning to see actual assimilation and it’s still a bit tenuous at times. A couple of our hens still chase Gertie with fervor. We continued to bring Stella and Gertie into the house at night for about a week after introductions and then one night Stella was in the coop with the other girls and Gertie was hiding under a bush nearby. Gertie continued to sleep in the house for another week after Stella joined the coop due to her size.

    A week later I took Gertie out after everyone went to sleep and sandwiched her between the coop wall and Stella on the roost where she would be protected (Gertie seems to think Stella is her mama, it’s very cute). Our RIR (Dotty) is quite the bully and is fine when they’re all outside, but mean as a hornet when in the coop for the night….and doesn’t quiet down despite complete darkness. I had to remove Dotty from the coop the following night as she was intent on attacking Gertie and put her in the living room dog crate for four nights in a row to put her in her place. If all this seems a bit arduous, it is.

    It’s been four weeks now and everyone goes in the coop on their own, although there is still some squabbling and squawking as they get settled in. The greatest improvement occurred just this past week.

    The lesson in all of this is simple. If you live in a suburban or city setting with minimal acreage and plan to add chicks, pullets or adult hens to your existing flock you had better take the time to plan, prepare and be ready for a lot of hard work. Chicks must remain separate until they are close to the size of the adults, which is roughly 20 weeks and that’s a big time commitment. This was not easy and took a lot of time, patience and effort to keep everyone safe and healthy. Boy, do I wish we owned a farm, it would have made things so much easier.

    In the end, we successfully added two pullets to our flock and are still working out the kinks in the pecking order, but now in our 4th week since face-to-face introductions things are finally starting to gel.

    Now, if we could just get Stella to stop laying eggs in the bushes all over the backyard, ugh. Stella began to lay as soon as we moved them into the backyard. Gertie is still growing her new feathers after her juvenile molt and I’m sure has a couple of months yet before she begins to lay. By then there will be snow on the ground and hopefully Gertie lays in the beautiful nesting boxes they have in the coop. Gertie still gets chased regularly, but is quick to run/fly away to safety and sticks pretty close to Stella. I keep telling her she needs to stand up for herself, but she ignores my guidance.

    The existing flock still won’t “share” breakfast with them and I have to provide separate dishes placed several feet from one another so Stella & Gertie can enjoy some high-protein breakfast gruel that I make every morning to help our girls get through their fall molt quicker and encourage egg-laying. Hopefully, it won’t be too much longer before the new girls on the block officially join the flock harmoniously.
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    Last edited: Oct 25, 2016
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  2. Flock Master64

    Flock Master64 Overrun With Chickens

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    its great!
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2016
  3. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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    Whew!
    Glad you used paragraphs....good story to share, hopefully some newbies will read it and take heed.

    Hard lessons indeed....it is a steep learning curve, sometimes very steep.

    Part of the problem is you have minimal space for that many birds...looks fine for 4 but 6 is pushing it.
    They may continue to have 'harmony issues' from being crowded, especially come winter when they might range less.
    Yes, you need 'extra' space for integration....almost double the space if birds are of same size...and it does take time and 'juggling'.
    The more separateable(not really a word, I know) space you have, the less juggling it takes.

    I've learned this year(my 3rd) that integrating chicks is much easier,
    they are less of a 'threat' to the flock and need less space for initial separation.

    EE are notorious for inconsistent laying...and one of yours has 'system' issues.
    If eggs are your main goal, high production hybrids layers might be your best bet.
     
    1 person likes this.
  4. islandgirl82

    islandgirl82 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Excellent share of experience especially for those living in urban settings.

    I agree with @aart on all accounts. Chickens are creatures of habit and really dislike change but when it happens, the more space they have the better. Unfortunately all the prefabricated coops I see are advertised to house more birds than they should and people find out very quickly that even the number of birds they started with are lacking in adequate space. I am guilty of investing in such a coop. I started with four pullets and spent $300+ for a coop that was advertised to house 6. By the time my girls were full grown, It was big enough for 2. I have kept said coop as it's been a wonderful isolation coop but has been unable to withstand the winter weather here and is now in need of replacement. If you are able to provide your girls with a larger coop, everyone will be much happier and happy hens are more likely to give you more eggs.

    EEs are wild cards. Unless you know their parentage, there's no telling what breeds are thrown into their mix other than somewhere in their lineage is the blue egg laying gene. I've had a couple who have been some of my best layers and others who haven't laid a single egg beyond their first laying season.

    I too have experienced many integrations and when introducing new pullets, the smoothest have been with mature hens and young chicks as the chicks are no threat to the pecking order and naturally fall into the lower positions as they mature. Squabbling and pecking is how they sort out who gets which place in the order and as long as there's no bloodshed or ganging up, there's no need to interfere (as difficult as it may be to watch our beloved pets experience such discord).

    It's also not unusual for there to be separate groups within the whole flock and you may notice that your new pullets will always pair up and keep some distance from the rest. It would be beneficial to all for you to continue to keep multiple feeding stations (maybe even add a third) so all may eat more peaceably.
     
  5. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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  6. islandgirl82

    islandgirl82 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Oh! That's a gorgeous coop! My apologies for making the assumption that it was a) prefab and b) a lot smaller than it is. The only image in this thread that shows any part of the coop and run looks just like the run of my starter/isolation (prefab) coop. Shame on me.

    Thanks for posting that link @aart !
     
  7. urbanutah

    urbanutah Out Of The Brooder

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    Thank you all for your words of wisdom. When my client called and asked if we would pick up four of his flock of 14 we panicked and ran out and bought a prefab coop for $300+, it said it was for up to six hens, but clearly was not large enough so we promptly began building our new coop. The side yard of our house is actually 30' long by 6' feet wide and that's where we housed the pullets during their quarantine period. The pictures don't really do it justice. The tiny box over them in one of the pictures was temporary until we got the gate installed on the side yard, we only had them in it the first day. Our new coop is considerably larger and our backyard is ample for six birds, but we have no intentions of increasing the flock size beyond six hens. I had no idea EEs were such inconsistent layers, good to know as we will replace them with Orpington's when they pass on. Here are a few more pics of our new coop, it seems plenty big for everyone.....I hope. FYI, the "heat lamp" hood seen in the coop houses a ceramic heater fixture, which is plugged into a thermostat regulated plug that turns on at 34 degrees and back off at 42 degrees.
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    Last edited: Oct 26, 2016
  8. urbanutah

    urbanutah Out Of The Brooder

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    Jul 17, 2016
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    Oh, and we do have separate feeding stations throughout the backyard, four in total. I love the Royal Rooster PVC tube feeders and the Dine-a-Chook waters.
     
  9. urbanutah

    urbanutah Out Of The Brooder

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    Jul 17, 2016
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    The coop box is 4' wide and 4' deep x 5' high, obviously that doesn't include the nesting boxes. The run is 6.5' high by 3' wide and there is an open porch area with storage shelving between the run and coop box. The entire coop is 9.5' wide by 7.5' tall. I thought that would be large enough for up to 6 hens according to everything I read before we began the build. They free-range every day, but I know winter will be a challenge when they choose to stay inside. There is a 32" high open area below the coop box for them to hang out and dust bathe in as well and everyone appears to have enough room when they're all inside when it's raining and they choose to take cover. Otherwise, they free-range daily and we have an automatic door on the coop.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2016
  10. urbanutah

    urbanutah Out Of The Brooder

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    I do have a question for aart. You mentioned that introducing chicks is much easier. Everything I read said that I have to keep the chicks separated from the flock until they are 20 weeks old and then introduce them. Is that not the case? From everything I read it sounded like you can't introduce chicks to an existing flock until they are the same size as the adult hens or the adult hens will kill them?
     

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