It turns out there are a lot of theories on when to move young chickens in to an established flock. Some say you’ll know when to move them outside based on age. Some say based on size. As it turns out, my personal metric is how many steps you can get in to the house before you realize there are chickens living inside it. Ten? Yeah. Ten or less, and it’s time for those Nugglets to move out.
Yes, Nug. I’m talking about you.
Honestly, it was starting to smell a little chicken-y in the house, but the little Nugs are also rapidly outgrowing the dog crate they’ve been living in, and it’s time to give them a little space to spread their wings and do other… chicken stuff. Like poop outside. The thing is, older chickens are kind of assholes to new chickens.
I know this because a.) when my insomina is bad I stay up all night reading chicken message boards (yeah, that’s a thing), and I also followed the harrowing tale of Cora over at Bonafide farm, who was pretty much scalped by the older chickens when she was added to an established flock. (Warning: there’s a little bit of chicken gore in those pictures. On the bright side Cora pulled through.)
So let me just say that I’m properly stressed out about this. I’d like to think my Nuggets are less assholeish than most (I mean, one did steal a bite out of my sandwich once, but in her defense it was a good sandwich) but the truth is that an established pecking order is necessary for a happy flock. My job isn’t to try to make them play nice, but to orchestrate the Merging of the Nuggets in such a way that everyone gets to keep most of their head-feathers. Including me.
To start this process I actually introduced the Nugglets to the great outdoors last weekend…
Just a temporary pen made from a few fence stakes and wire that they hung out in for a few hours on Saturday and Sunday.
I planned to give them a little outdoor time when I could this week, and then move them in to the big coop this weekend. Then I read a few articles that suggested a “playpen coop” inside of the big coop, where the chickens can get accustomed to seeing each other without the opportunity to peck each other to death.
So… that sounds like a good idea.
Tuesday night, mid thunderstorm, I moved the dog crate out to the coop.
I basically had eleven chickens giving me the WTF face all at once…
Since then I’ve been giving the little nugs supervised time out of the crate in the evenings after the big chickens have gone up to roost.
The plan for the weekend goes roughly like this:
- Friday night: Open dog crate at night, let chickens mingle as a they wake up, get up early and let everyone out of the coop
- Saturday: Add FUN STUFF!!! to the coop like cabbage heads, new roosts, etc. to distract the chickens from the fact that there are now significantly more of them in the same space
- Saturday night: Remove dog crate after big Nugs have gone to roost
- Sunday morning: Cross fingers, let everyone out of the coop early, pray that a new order has been established
Sometime in there I’m hoping to finish installing my new garden beds and walkways as well, and make some progress on the chicken run.
EDIT: I’m working from home today and decided to let the chickens do a little mingling this morning. Then I got nerved out that someone was going to get pecked to death, so I did this:
That’s normal. I’m going to be the first person to ever contract tetanus by sending emails…
HAHA!! We are singing the exact same song this week, stinky chickens OUT!…just moved 3 different age groups (3 wks to 9 wks), they also had yard pens, out to the too small coop partition with an escape crate for littlests …..so they are learning to coexist next to the main flock. Once the littlests are big enough not to fit thru 2×4 fencing they can all go out into the partition run…THEN in a few months they can merge with the main flock. Never again will get such disparate age groups of new chooks.
Spending a lot of time running out to the coop to make sure noone’s bleeding.
Best of Luck to you!
Thanks for sharing that experience, Kit. I got six new Rhode Island Red young hens to add to my flock about a week ago. They are the same age, or perhaps a week or two older, than my current group of six hens (all around 3 months of age). Both groups are outside free ranging in my yard, and go to separate XL dog crates to sleep at night until I finish their coop and run. Both groups keep to themselves, in separate areas. All of the chickens who have been here since babyhood boss around the new ones something fierce. They are not injuring each other because the reds are not challenging them, but the reds are not allowed to eat until all the others eat, or drink water while the others are drinking, or get close to the others, etc. I thought that if I got new ones the same age, there would be less trouble. Perhaps less scalping, but there’s still a lot of bullying going on. Even the ducks got involved bullying the newbies. I’m hoping we will get past this nonsense. However, I must admit it is interesting watching chicken behavior and chicken language as they tell the newbs to get outta their space. I’m learning a lot through this experience. 🙂
Hope you got some useful info from Cora’s ordeal–and not just freaked out! Though I admit combining flocks is the most harrowing aspect of chicken-keeping in my experience. Even more stressful than death-by-fox because I have to deal with the aftermath!
One thing I’d suggest is make sure you have lots of hiding places set up in the coop. Old pallets or just sheets of lumber propped against the wall are great. If ganged-up-upon chicks can get to a hiding spot it buys them time during an attack.
Multiple feeders and waterers can help too–sometimes the older birds will chase the younger ones away from these essentials, which weakens them further.
And when you do combine them, check on them more frequently than you’d think necessary. I just tried to reintegrate my latest broody hen back into the main flock this week, and things were fine for two days, with me checking often. But the evening of the third day I found her with a massive hole pecked in the back of her head…So I’m back nursing a head wound…
It sounds like you’ve got a great plan and are doing all you can to smooth the transition. Good luck!! I’ll be thinking of you guys and wishing you the best from afar!
Thanks so much Erika! Instead of removing the dog crate I think I’m going to leave it in with the door propped open a bit… seems like the Hens will only chase them until they get to the cage and then everyone goes back to minding their own feathers.
Whew. Just caught up on the last 4 months of your posts. Time to see how Cora’s doing.
I have a batch of little nugglets inside right now – mostly because it’s too chilly in the granary even with lights. My mom and I have had mixed success on integrating young hens with new hens…..some of those older hens are downright evil in their henpecking!!! But we’ll see how it goes in the Autumn. Right now I have a few other outside options but when winter hits, they will have to figure out how to live in the coop together! I hope yours learn to love one another without any casualties!
Next year I want chickens. I think I will let them have babies! LOL SOunds much easier…
“I stay up all night reading chicken message boards (yeah, that’s a thing)”
LOL. I love your writing.