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Mrs Frugal

Introducing point of lay hens

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Two articles on introducing new hens written by Egluntine and Claret

 

Introducing new chickens to an established flock.

 

Chicken keeping is so addictive that many of us want to increase the number of hens we have after we have gained a bit of confidence and to satisfy the requests for eggs from friends and family.

 

It is far better to do a bit of planning before getting the new hens, so that the introductions go as smoothly as possible.

 

There is one school of thought which says just pitch them in together and let them get on with it and fight it out. This can be disastrous and you may end up with terrorised and injured hens.

 

It is far better to do it slowly.

 

Separate temporary accommodation is necessary as a period of quarantine is essential. You may be unlucky and have been sold a sick hen and it could be potentially dangerous to introduce her to your existing flock. Also your new hens may carry parasites such as lice or redmite and again you would not want to introduce them to your flock.

 

If you are introducing ex-batts, they will need a period of quiet readjustment and time to build up some muscle before being thrust into a flock. Occasionally they are in poor condition and not resilient enough to withstand the rough and tumble of life in the flock until they have had a chance to recuperate.

 

Beg steal or borrow an unused Eglu, rabbit hutch or similar with a run and put the new girls in it.

 

After a day or so when you have had a chance to assess them, and you are sure that they are not ill, move them to where they can see, hear and smell the other hens, and vice versa. Allow the old hens to free range around them, but watch that any pecking through the bars doesn’t get out of hand or cause injury.

 

Food is often an issue when new hens are introduced. The old girls see the new ones as a threat and may try to prevent them from eating and drinking if they are put straight in with them, so as a bit of a team building exercise, it is a good idea to get them used to eating together before being fully merged.

 

The best way to do this is to sprinkle treats such as sweetcorn along the perimeter of the new girls run. That way, they will see that the new girls are not going to steal all the food, and will associate feeding with them with pleasurable ideas.

 

 

After a week or so, allow them to free range together. It is best if you can hover and supervise minimally the first time. Inevitably there will be some quite nasty looking squabbles, with hackles raised, chasing and pecking. Although this is difficult to watch, it is all perfectly normal, they are merely sorting out the pecking order, and a lot of it is just for show.

 

Wade in with a broom and separate them if blood is drawn. Remove the injured hen and treat her injuries with Gentian Violet spray before returning her.

 

After a couple of days of free ranging together, it is time to bite the bullet and merge them completely.

 

 

Offer plenty of distractions in the run, such as dried mixed corn scattered on the ground for them to scratch for and greens to peck at.

 

It is a good idea for a while to have several feed and drink stations as there may be squabbles around food, and this way no-one will starve.

 

There will be mini squabbles for a couple of weeks. In general, peace breaks out within about three weeks.

 

It is very satisfying to see them ranging together happily and dustbathing as if they have known each other all their lives.

 

Please note:

 

It is not a good idea to merge young chickens with an older flock. Wait until the youngsters are at point of lay, or at least 22 weeks old and have grown enough to be able to stand up for themselves, and then do the introduction very gradually.

 

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When introducing new hens it is crucial to be prepared before you buy them, and to take your time with the introductions.

 

You will need separate accommodation for the newbies for roughly a week, a rabbit hutch with a run is fine and there are always some going free on Freecycle groups, or it may be possible to borrow one. This will protect the new chooks and also act as isolation so that you can observe them for any signs of illness, while administering worming and lice preps before introducing them to your flock.

 

Make sure that the new chooks are comfortable before allowing the existing flock to free range around their housing and introduce themselves through the mesh of the run. You can expect some displaying and noise-making through the run wire as they settle their issues, but both sides will be protected from any injury. Feed treats such as corn along the edges of the run so that they associate something nice with each others’ company; this is a good opportunity to start training your new chooks to come when you whistle or call them.

 

After a couple of days of this, you can let the newbies out to free range with the other hens. You should expect some pecking, bullying and displaying, but apart from the odd squirt of water, I’d recommend keeping out of it and letting them sort out the pecking order. Make sure that you have plenty of feed and water stations and only split them up if blood is drawn.

 

When they seem to be getting along fairly well, start to introduce the newbies into the eglu/cube at night when the other are drowsy, but remember to get up early and hoik them out before they all wake up and start pecking each other.

 

I usually find by this stage that they are ready to start living together, so make sure that you still have plenty of food and water stations, that the newbies have plenty of cover to shelter in, and

Let them get on with it while you supervise from a distance. You will find that you have 2 distinct flocks for a while, but they will merge eventually. Please take your time with introductions and be prepared to take a step back and slow down if it all goes nasty.

 

Thank you very much both of you for writing such great pieces.

 

If you are introducing one new hen to one existing one, Lesley-Jean has written a helpful post here with suggestions on how best to do this.

 

If you are planning on introducing day old or very young chicks to older hens, please read this first - introducing baby chicks

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