I just avoided a war.
Yesterday morning, I went out to tend my flock, and realized that my new pullets, hatched around June 1, were nearly the same size as my mature hens. When they were mere children, they fit just fine in their twelve square foot cage (above). (For their safety, it’s important to separate young birds from the main flock.) Now, however, it was clear that they needed more room. Although I had planned to wait until next month, I decided this was the time to release them into the main coop.
Normally, adding new birds is a bit dicey. The old-timers have an established pecking order. They know who’s boss. But when you introduce someone new, the whole question comes up again. Will the new birds kowtow to the queen? Will the poor last place loser take this opportunity to move up a few notches?
In past years, when I’ve finally introduced the newbies to the old timers, there has been a bit of a scuffle. Sometimes, not only egos are bruised. I’ve actually lost hens. I’ve learned never to add smaller breeds to a coop full of big bruisers.
This year I was determined to avoid all that, if at all possible.
Figuring that a well-fed bird is a happy bird, I collected a good assortment of greens—chard leaves (with grasshopper holes), comfrey, tasty weeds—and tossed generous amounts to both the existing flock and the pullets. I also gave everyone plenty of scratch grains, a special treat. And while every beak was busy, I removed the barrier.
It worked beautifully.
At first, no one even noticed. Then, as various chickens were attracted to a choice tidbit here or a succulent leaf there, the flocks gradually intermingled. No jabbing beaks. No glaring. No stand-offs or threats. Just happy hens filling their crops.
A few times, one hen decided she would defend her particular morsel. But there was so much else to eat, the other bird would simply wander off rather than compete.
Right now, the pullets are still mostly sticking together—a sort of “flock within a flock.” I’m sure that sometime in the next few days they’ll all work out a new pecking order. It’s the nature of the species, after all. But it won’t be all-out war. It will be two birds at a time, going about it all in a rather civilized manner.
Now my only problem is trying to figure out how to keep the egg-producers on their diet of laying pellets, and the youngsters on their body-building high protein diet. I guess I just provide both and hope for the best.
Next time I build a coop, it’s going to have two separate halves with a gate in the middle. Live and learn.
Have you successfully added hens to your flock? What worked? Any spectacular failures? Tell us about it.