Tuesday, May 14, 2013

From Brooder to Flock Member - Integrating Chicks Into The Flock

How do you integrate your new chicks into your existing flock? Here’s what a few of us had to say on the subject:

Justine of Les Farms Says:

I integrated by having a run with little holes along the bottom just for the babies. They could get in and out, and the older birds could not get in (other than the Silkies - which was fine by me). 

It wasn't pretty, but it worked.. it worked really well.

This is on the outside. Chicks came through the holes and free ranged early.

Vicki Says:

My situation is different than most. I usually have broody's raising chicks so the flock is used to seeing chicks running around. I do not confine in a sense that most do.

Yes - I also brood chicks in a brooder.

When it is time to go outdoors… they go with the big birds.

They can get out of the building and they can get out of the fencing, but larger birds can't get in.

Then they graduate to another building when the next group comes.

They have access to the whole yard, yet can't free range yet. You have to be a laying adult and have the mental capacity to avoid predators.

The doors are kept open and all ages co-mingle all day long. I have about 20 food stations and 4 watering stations. My chicken yard looks horrible and messy, but it works for me. The adults are gone for most of the day eating out in the pastures, and the only ones inside the fencing are juveniles and babies. They all run through the 1/4 acre yard surrounded by a 7 foot high fence. I have 3 smaller fenced in side area's just in case I need to confine. We are presently working on two more. Next year I will have to confine more breeds to collect eggs and ship chicks. I added BCM to the Cuckoo. I also added the two varieties of Wyandottes.

Leigh Says:

While I prefer to have broody hens hatch and raise my chicks, it simply isn’t always possible. Hens don’t tend to go broody on command, and when they do go broody, they often all go broody at once. 

I hatch chicks throughout the season, and when I don’t have a broody, I have to use a brooder (mine is a large Rubbermaid container). When it is time for the chicks to start venturing outdoors, I set up my chick play yard. 

As the mother of 3 human children, I happened to keep 2 collapsible plastic outdoor playpens. They snap together to make one large yard which I set up under a big pine tree in the middle of the chicken yard. It makes the perfect cover to hide the chicks from aerial predators, and to deter my older flock members from jumping in to join the chicks.

This way my chicks can see and safely “meet” the older chickens though the plastic panels.

When I feel the chicks are old enough to fend for themselves (or run away fast enough) I let them loose as the flock free ranges. This can be a tough time because the older chickens will peck the little ones. Interestingly, I find it is most often the lowest chickens in the pecking order that are the worst about picking on the babies. I think it’s because finally these older chickens feel they aren’t on the bottom any more, and they want to keep those babies lower than they are on the pecking order.

Regardless of whether a chick is raised under a broody or in a brooder, they all have to go through a period of time where they establish themselves within the flock. This is the hardest time for us as humans to watch. Chickens are bullies - - but if we constantly intercede, the chicks will never become part of the flock. These are the times we have to stand back, plug our ears and not watch for a bit and let nature handle it.

During this intermediate phase, I allow all the chickens to free range together, but I keep the chicks in a large parrot cage inside the coop at night. I don’t like confining the flock in a small space together when there is still discourse. After a few weeks in separate digs (where they can all still see each other), the growing chicks are usually ready to perch with the older ones. In fact as I write this, two of my 9-week-old Swedish Flower Hen chicks are perching right up with the older flock members in the coop. 

So tell us - how do you integrate your chicks into the flock?


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