On December 18, 2015, a friend and I embarked on a long trip of several hundred miles to pick up a two-year old Buff Orpington hen at an animal shelter where she had been brought after a neighbor discovered her all alone and the rest of her flock dead. The owner apparently had moved and abandoned his chickens to fend for themselves. I named her Edith.
I knew it wasn't going to be a stroll on a sunny beach integrating this strange hen into my flock. Chickens wrote the book on xenophobia. I wasn't concerned about quarantine since she had been thoroughly examined by a vet, wormed, and observed over almost a week in the shelter before I got her. So upon arriving at her new home, she was installed in a large wire dog crate situated in the middle of the run.
The flock crowded around the crate, mobbed it is a better description, actually, and proceeded to stab at Edith through the bars of the cage with their beaks. They conveyed to her that she was definitely not welcome. I figured she was safe enough, and I left her with food and water to begin the long process of becoming a member of her new flock.
That first night I threw a blanket over the crate and let her sleep there, instead of putting her in the coop with the others.
The next day all but a couple of young hens had lost interest in the stranger among them. But the ones still hanging around her crate had managed to bloody her comb and some of the blood had smeared her golden breast. Well, this cage isn't going to keep her safe with these vicious beasts, I decided.
So I moved Edith and her provisions into the "jail" pen, a much larger enclosure than the crate, so she would be able to get far enough away from stabbing beaks to avoid further injury. That worked splendidly, and the integration proceeded from there without further incident.
On the second night with the flock, after the others had settled in for the night, I took Edith out of her pen and placed her on the roosting perch at the far end away from all the others. No problems at all.
On the morning of the third day, I took her right off her perch and placed her back in her safe pen with breakfast and fresh water. The day passed without incident. However, that night I was late getting out to the run, all the chickens had gone in to roost, and Edith had flown out of the pen enclosure and was perched on a ledge over the coop entrance, obviously at a loss as to where she was supposed to sleep. I felt just awful for letting her down. Everything had been going so well, too.
It turned out not to be a big deal. I picked her off the ledge and deposited her on the roosting perch and she settled right down for the night. The others left her alone.
Over the next week, Edith was waiting for me in the coop to carry her to her safe pen. It seemed we had already established a bond. But before the end of the first week, I thought it was crucial to begin exposing Edith to the pecking order. After she ate, I opened her pen, and she spent the rest of the day mingling with the flock, getting pecked and chased. She needed to learn who was going to leave her alone, and who she needed to watch out for.
I made sure she was fed twice a day in her safe pen so she would get enough to eat. Even now, a month later, she's still chased away from the feeder. If the pecking order was stressing her out too much, I let her "vacation" in her safe pen, and it was obvious she appreciated the rest. I also began adding the two youngest pullets in her pen to keep her company. Aside from the obligatory peck on the head to let her know she was ranked last, they got along peacefully.
By week two, Edith was free-ranging with the flock, and by week three, dirt bathing with other older hens. The bond between Edith and the youngest pullets was also growing, and they were roosting together and loafing together.
It's hard to believe it's just been one month since I introduced Edith into the flock of seventeen other chickens. (Three other hens who live apart from the rest of the flock don't mingle with the rest because they're such thugs.) The flock mostly ignores Edith, and they leave her alone to live her life. She moves freely around the run, goes in and out of the coop, and roosts with very little fuss from the others.
Best of all, Edith has become very cuddly and affectionate and enjoys hugs and snuggling. She even participates in group hugs with little to no jealous pecking from the others.
Integrating this single hen into my flock was worth it, and I just wanted to share this story with the community to let you all know it can be done successfully. And in a surprisingly short period of time, a single hen can be fully accepted into the flock.