Starting a flock and offered some hens... what to do?


In the Brooder
Nov 9, 2016
I'm very uncertain what to do, and hope you folks can advise. Here's the setup.

We live in a rural area in New England and hope to have a flock of about 6 laying hens. I had originally planned to get 6 RIR chicks, having read that they're great in many ways but do tend to fight with chickens of other breeds. I will be using the deep-litter method in a fairly large run.

Then, all of a sudden, my mother-in-law announced that she's tired of her 3 hens and wants to give them to me. They're 3 years old, laying pretty well, of mixed breeds. They've been free-ranging in a very rural town, and have never shown any signs of illness of any kind. My mother-in-law is finding that she's just getting overwhelmed with things to do, and she's on her own.

Advantages to taking her hens: I'd get eggs a LOT earlier.
Disadvantages: I have to mix RIR chicks with grown non-RIR hens, and of course there may be infection issues that I can't perceive.

Seems to me the options are:

1. Say "thanks anyway" and don't take the hens. Get 6 RIR chicks as planned and go from there.

2. Take the hens and get them set up in the coop/run for a while before introducing the chicks (once fully fledged, I mean), using as much separation and quarantine as I can manage.

3. Put the fledged chicks (pullets?) in the coop/run for a while before introducing the hens, again using as much separation and quarantine as I can manage.

What do you folks advise?

I'm a sucker for animals that need a home. If it was me, I'd get my chicks (not sure if you can have 6 plus the MIL's or if you'd have to get fewer) and try and convince MIL to hang on to her 3 hens until the chicks are big enough to integrate, then take the 3 older hens and begin integration. I'd let the chicks grow and get established first, when you bring home the 3 older hens, even though they may be a bit bigger and know each other, it will be a new environment and they will be the ones being added to a now existing flock; hopefully this will help integration go more smoothly.
Get the hens let them get used to the coop.

Get your chicks brood them. When they are big enough use a small pen cage set it in the run where old hens can see them. Daily.

Then put them together. Most hens will not see young pullets as a threat. May be a few peck squabbles but nothing severe.

I have a very mixed flock. With Rhode Island reds. They show no more dislike toward a breed that is not theirs.

My flock is barred rocks, Rhode Island reds, leghorns, slw, buff orpington, red and black sexlinks.
Hi, welcome to BYC! :frow

I personally would pass on the hens. At that age they are getting ripe for some issues... and letting them go by that age is a way I never have to deal with their demise. I might help her find another home.

Or I MIGHT take them and rehome them by the time the new ladies start laying. No retirement here... sorry! I agree that reds may be known to be bullies... but it's not always true and they do fine among mixed flocks. Each and every single bird will be an individual. Here anybody that can't get along... get's re-homed or sent to freezer camp. A peaceful flock is such a blessing. A flock full of jerks can be stressful. Just remember there are lot's of stereotypes perpetuated. No matter how many time people say roosters will fight to the death.. eh, some will (probably not to the death but severe)... but I've got a pen with many breeds of both bantam and large fowl cockerel/cocks... that proves that doesn't have to be true! ;) On top of that... I like to have a mix of eye candy on pasture and be able to identify individuals easily. It helps to know who if anyone is having issues, makes for fun egg collection if you add any color, and it's nice to have a variety of personality types. White eggs are a beautiful addition to set off the rest of your egg colors and Leghorn lay easily as much as reds, but with smaller body weights to support so lighter on the feed bill.

If you do take the hens... My chicks are integrated by 8 weeks usually. Hens are often more subdued than pullets and far more enjoyable in my opinion. Way less likely to bully chicks than pullets who are still establishing their place in the pecking order with something to prove. I would get them established while the chicks age a few weeks and start a look but don't touch set up... where the hens range in the day time and see the chicks during their outings.

The scariness of getting pre owned chickens is not in the illness that's already presented... but in the diseases that hide and haven't YET presented. It's a risk many take and never have issues. Since you aren't already heavily vested into a breeding stock flock... maybe the risk is acceptable to you. For me, maybe not... I've invested in stock from several breeders and work hard on my own breeding program.

You might consider getting only some of your reds this year... and adding the rest next year... instead of having your whole flock molt next year and having no eggs for winter, you would have fresh layers to get through the elders molt! :old

Take mil's hens so they are currently laying... a few RIR this year, and a few more next year (or whatever breed you want to try!)... might be my actual suggestion, if eggs right away and sustained production are important to you.

Best wishes... Have a great adventure! :wee
Get the 3 now. Test the water and make sure chickens are in your future. Enjoy the eggs now ño waiting until September. Get 3 chicks late spring so they are laying by the holidays. Enjoy their eggs while the older group takes time off to molt. If they are still cranking out eggs next spring stay with it. At some point add 3 fresh pullets to keep production up with demand. Having a staggered flock will help keep you in eggs year round.
A 3 year old hen wouldn't be laying for much longer would she? I think I'd get them anyway, but they wouldn't be worthwhile for very long, if at all.
I had some black sexlinks laying at 6 years of age. One of those was first to start each year.

I don' butcher hens they live out their days when they are done.

Can't tell you how long they would have layer. Lost them to a predator
I'm like Pirate Girl, I'd take them in a heartbeat. My first girls (isa browns) were adopted. I've only one left now. I'm not sure where they came from originally whether the people before adopted them from a battery hen farm (they were all a bit "wonky looking"). They laid for quite some time after I got them. I don't think the cost of feed for a few chooks is very high and they supplement the bought food with bugs and bits of vegetation from the garden.
Having different ages in your flock can make losing girls easier when their time comes. I had my other younger girls when my old chooks started leaving us. If you get a group all together, they are all going to be old at the same time, you won't be getting eggs and you'll have to deal with them passing. A mix of ages means that things carry on as the older ladies move on.
Getting your mother in law's girls means you know exactly where they've come from and how they've been treated.
It's a dilemma for sure. I am in a different boat than you are, so I might take the hens, get what eggs I can from them this summer and then process them. (I do not have chickens as pets, although I do enjoy watching them when they're out and about.) I would also consider getting the chicks early in spring so they are laying before the older ones start to molt. This is only an option if you have a coop big enough for all those birds once you integrate, and two places to keep them separated as the chicks are growing before they can integrate.

One thing you need to consider is your idea of quarantine. Personally, if you can't do a proper quarantine (birds in separate coops, 100-300' apart, separate feeders and waterers, separate shoes and maybe even clothes when you go from coop to coop) I wouldn't bother. But then you need to decide whether or not you are willing to take a chance on something cropping up in your hens once you move them. (From what I've read here on BYC, stress can sometimes cause hidden illnesses or weakness to surface, and a move would be stressful.)

Or, you could do as suggested above and take the hens first just to find out if chicken keeping is for you. I would only do that if I weren't really interested in getting eggs, because their production will start slowing down, if it hasn't already. But do be aware that older birds can start developing reproductive tract and other problems. Are you ready to handle putting one down if she develops ascites, or gets egg bound?

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