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Merging Stressed Out Chickens

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by barnyardblast, Feb 18, 2016.

  1. barnyardblast

    barnyardblast Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 17, 2014
    My husband and I have both goats and chickens. To make a very long story into a short one, recently I started looking after the animals and realized we had to make a few changes. We have one large chicken yard and also have chickens in one of the goat pens (without goats). I could really use the space for our goats and want to merge the two flocks together into the chicken yard. I've read a lot on the internet about merging and also read the advice here (including recent threads). I'm worried that I won't be able to merge them without a great deal of stress. I would rather not build another chicken house, but I'm starting to lean that way. Additionally, my chickens aren't laying well. (Just FYI - my husband listened to his mother about how to take care of chickens. She's a great person and she loves chickens, but I think some of her advice wasn't the best. The other mistakes were ours and ours alone).

    The chicken yard is approximately 24 feet wide and 45 feet long. It's completely fenced in, including the top with concrete buried around it to prevent digging by animals (we live on about 50 acres, but most of that is wooded area). Inside the chicken yard is our coop. It's an old storage building (approximately 10 x 15) and up on concrete blocks so they can run underneath it easily. It has a lot of roosting space, 12 nest boxes and one corner is caged off for injured birds or chicks. We have 20 Buff Orpington Hens (about 2 years old). We used to have a rooster, (RIR) but he was so aggressive towards myself and our children that I gave him away this past week-end. He was also aggressive towards the hens and several of them have large patches on their backs where feathers are missing. We are getting 4 eggs a day from this flock. They have always laid well in the past, but this winter it decreased dramatically.

    The goat yard is also large and fenced in, but not completely. It's not uncommon to find some of the hens out of the yard, but they fly back in at night. There is a large area for roosting and three nest areas. We have 10 RIR/Buff hens (possibly one is a rooster). They are about 20 - 24 weeks old. We get 2 eggs a day from this flock. This flock used to have more chickens in it - there were 13 roosters (hatched by incubator from the aggressive RIR). My husband was out of town on business (we had a friend over helping with the animals) which is when I realized how many roosters were in this pen. (Originally, my husband wanted to butcher them but didn't have time. He was planning on butchering once he returned, but I was worried - for many reasons - and got rid of them). They killed two hens last week before I called some neighbors to come take the roosters away this past week-end. The hens had spent most of their days roosting on different things to keep away from the roosters prior to their removal. They are now happily clucking around the yard.

    The hens in both pens are enormous and fat. I checked and saw that we were feeding more treats than food and I adjusted it. They also were fed by scattering the feed on the ground. I've replaced the feeders (which we own, but his mother suggested they would be happier scratching around for their food so he quit using them several months ago). They now get layer pellets daily and a small amount of treats every other day. In the chicken yard, I just put in a compost pile which they adore! They spend a lot of their time clucking and scratching in it.

    We live in Alabama so our nights are still in the 40's but the daytime temps are in the 60's and the weather is gorgeous.

    One other problem I'm looking at, our neighbor (my mother and step-father) has a chocolate lab who isn't quite 2 years old. He rushes at the fences, startling both chickens and goats. Our dog, a border collie, has now picked up the habit so the chickens are rushed at several times a day. They are not in any danger as the dogs can't get to them, but they squawk and scatter anyway. (In fact, our border collie has herded chickens back into their pens without harming them in the past). I'm working on training him not to do it, and I'm going to try to train my mother's dog. Would it be helpful to surround the fence with tarp or something so the chickens can't see them?

    The chicken house can fit all of them together, but should I try to merge them right now? (If I don't do it within a few weeks, I need another place for them as our goats are going to kid soon and I'd like to separate them out more).

    Thanks for any suggestions.
  2. azygous

    azygous Chicken Obsessed

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    As I meandered through all your information, I kept thinking all your problems might be cured by simply free ranging the chickens, but when I got to the part about the dogs, that sort of squelched that bright idea.

    With 30 chickens, you need to have a lot of daytime space or they'll continue to be stressed. The fact they haven't been laying is probably due to both stress and poor diet. While food scattered on the ground automatically tastes better to chickens, they probably aren't getting enough of the right sort of nutrients. It would help greatly if they could free-range.

    Is there not anything you can do to keep these two dogs away from the chickens? Nothing stresses chickens more than dogs lunging at them, barking away. Maybe pen the dogs and let the chickens run free?
  3. barnyardblast

    barnyardblast Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 17, 2014
    I could pen our dog for parts of the day to let them free range, but my mother's dog is a different matter. My step-dad gets annoyed when we ask for them to pen him for even brief parts of the day. If my mother is not at home (or leaves), he lets him outside immediately. They never exercise him so when he's outside, he heads over to our place. I've been very outspoken on the matter and it's a sore point between us.

    I will take a look around and see if there's an area we can fence in that might be large enough so the dogs wouldn't startle them unless they were close to the fence.

    Maybe build a second fence around our chicken yard just to create some space? Our border collie trains fairly easily. He's been near the chickens since they were hatched and their egg production has always been fine until recently.

    I agree about the poor diet. I'm not sure how long that will take to correct but we've changed how we're doing it.

    Thanks for the suggestions.
  4. azygous

    azygous Chicken Obsessed

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    Well, it's certainly worth pursuing more space, however you can manage it. As for diet, it can sometimes take months, if not a couple years, to see tangible results.

    One thing you might try if you want to maximize the nutrients getting to your flock is to ferment the feed. It is minimally more "hands-on" than just pouring dry feed into a feeder, but oh-so-worth it. I keep two five-gallon PVC buckets going in a warm place. It's a lot like sour dough in that it ferments by yeast action. You begin by filling a bucket with seven quarts of warm water. Add six and a half 32 oz containers full of whatever dry feed you are using, plus one 32 oz container of scratch grain. (This creates air spaces and makes the final product fluffier. But don't continue to feed scratch on the side when putting it in their regular feed.) Add a few "glugs of apple cider vinegar, unfiltered, to jump-start the culture. Stir thoroughly, and twice a day from then on, feeding after it has fermented a minimum of 48 hours.

    When you start feeding from the first batch, begin a second batch in another bucket by simply adding a scoop from the first bucket to jump-start it. That way you will have a constant supply. I feed twice a day, approximately half a cup per day per chicken. So, you will want to put out seven and a half cups of FF each morning for 30 chickens and another seven and a half cups again in mid to late afternoon. Most of us use dog dishes or rain gutter troughs. The chickens really take to the FF and after a while, it's no more inconvenient than feeding the regular way, especially when their health visibly improves, which it certainly will, due to all the natural probiotics they'll be getting. Your feed bill will noticeably decrease, too, due to zero waste. I simply scrape whatever isn't consumed at the end of the day back into the FF bucket, stir, and it goes back to fermenting. No waste! What's not to love?

    If you're not going to be around, just leave their entire daily ration for them before you leave. It may dry out, but it won't go bad.
  5. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    I'd suggest a higher protein feed for hens and hot wire around the pen for that dog, one zap should change his tune(claim other predator concerns as reason for hot wire).
    I like to feed a 'flock raiser' 20% protein crumble to all ages and genders, as non-layers(chicks, males and molting birds) do not need the extra calcium that is in layer feed and chicks and molters can use the extra protein. Makes life much simpler to store and distribute one type of chow that everyone can eat. I do grind up the crumbles (in the blender) for the chicks for the first week or so.

    The higher protein crumble also offsets the 8% protein scratch grains and other kitchen/garden scraps I like to offer. I adjust the amounts of other feeds to get the protein levels desired with varying situations.

    Calcium should be available at all times for the layers, I use oyster shell mixed with rinsed, dried, crushed chicken egg shells in a separate container.

    Animal protein (mealworms, a little cheese - beware the salt content, meat scraps) is provided during molting and if I see any feather eating.

    Maybe put the youngers shelter in the main pen and merge the flocks?
    Add multiple feed/water stations and extra roosts, places to hide(lean some pallets up against run walls) and other distractions.
    Read up on integration..... BYC advanced search>titles only>integration
    This is good place to start reading:
    1 person likes this.
  6. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Chicken Obsessed

    Mar 15, 2010
    On the MN prairie.
    I agree with Aart about the hot wire. I'd put up about 3 strands, just to keep the dogs from nosing around too much. It wouldn't take long for them to figure out that it's a bad idea to jump on the fence and scare the chickens.
  7. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon

    I know a lot of folks do elaborate integration plans that gradually introduce the birds to each other. In your situation, I'd simply move the younger birds in with the older and let them all figure it out. I'd do it at night, when I was able to be home the next day and monitor things. You've got enough "new" birds going into the pen that it's unlikely one bird will be singled out by the older hens. There will probably be a bit of squabbling, etc, but it should smooth out. I find giving corn or some other very desirable treat scattered over most of the run takes their attention from the newcomers. Set up a few hiding places, as easy as a piece of plywood leaned against the fence. A pallet up on some concrete blocks or a feed trough on it's side are other things I've used to break line of sight and let a bird get away from an aggressor.

    I think you have plenty of space for all those birds.

    I agree a higher protein feed wouldn't hurt, especially for the bare backed hens. Oyster shell or their eggshells back will give them enough calcium.

    Your Orpington girls quit laying this winter due to age. Around 18 months, hens molt and usually take the winter off from laying. You'll see a gradual increase in production from here on out, as the days get longer. By May, you'll be flooded in eggs, I'll bet [​IMG].

    I have a dog who likes to charge the fence sometimes. It really doesn't bother the birds so much, they basically know they're safe and just blow her off. I do agree a hot wire might be a good way to go.
    1 person likes this.
  8. barnyardblast

    barnyardblast Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 17, 2014
    Thanks for all of the replies. After looking everything over, we decided to separate part of our chicken yard. Since we had the enclosed space inside the coop, we made a door to the yard and fenced that section in. We plan to move the chickens over and they will be able to share the coop and yard without direct contact. One of our reasons for doing this was because several of the hens (in both yards) are injured from the roosters. I don't want them being pecked excessively by the others. Thanks! :)

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