(As Oringinally published for Backyard Poultry Magazine July 2014)
Chicken Coop Chatter©
Hatching chicks is year round here at Just Fowling Around. As long as the hens are laying we are typically hatching, though we do reduce volume at certain times of year.
What do you do once the chicks are hatched? Ours are in brooders, where after the first couple of weeks we begin reducing the temperature by about 10 degrees per week. If using heat lamps, it's a matter of raising the heat lamp a bit each week so the temperatures are lower, which prepares them for the cooler temperatures in an outdoor environment. If using a brooder unit as we do, the thermometer is adjusted until they receive no additional heat.
Chicks must be fully feathered before moving to the grow-on pens, which is between 4 and 6 weeks. Reliant upon weather, winter or summer, they are generally moved to their new outdoor environment at about 6 weeks. They are still not ready to move in with the larger birds or general flock. Move them on a mild day, not hot or cold, windy or wet. Make sure their grow out pens are sheltered from winds and rain. It is also at this time we change their feed from chick feed to a flock raiser, which we also add other grains to.
At about 12 weeks, reliant upon size and breed, we introduce to the general flock. We introduce no less than three chicks to a new flock. Fewer chicks leads to a problem with the older more dominant birds being too aggressive toward the new inductees, so to avoid these problems we introduce several chicks at a time and we introduce them in the early morning hours as soon as that flock is fed and watered to divert attention, so they can be monitored. Typically the flock is too busy eating to realize there are new birds, and by introducing several at a time, there tends to be less dominance over individual ones.
Not all breeds are easy to integrate, so some of the younger birds are not introduced until they can hold their own and of a size to defend themselves. This may be as much as 5 months old in some breeds. These birds are generally introduced at night when it is less noticeable to the flock that there are newbies. By morning, there is little fuss because it is feeding and watering time and the flock is too busy to notice. Attention can also be diverted with special scratch grains or treats in some of the more aggressive breeds.
Most of the breeds we raise are family friendly breeds, however there may be one or two dominant hens or roosters that do not accept new interlopers as readily, even in the most docile breeds. It is not uncommon to have the sweetest birds take exception to a new chick or new adult bird, so monitoring is always advised, regardless of the age a new bird is introduced.
At about 4 months, if a young bird has not been introduced to the flock we start feeding the laying feed with added scratch grains. If they are introduced to the flock at that age, they automatically go on the laying feed.
If a brooding hen has hatched the chicks within the general flock, we monitor to make sure other hens are not being aggressive or disturbing the mama and chicks. If there is disruption, that mama and chicks are moved to a brooding pen. Mama does all the work in teaching the chicks about foraging, how to defend themselves and how to maintain proper hygiene, however those chicks are not re-introduced to the flock until they are old enough to hold their own in the general flock, so the same scenario is repeated as with chicks we hatch.
There is no difference introducing cockerels, pullets, roosters or hens, each is introduced in the same manner. If it happens that any of the newly introduced birds are not accepted, they are removed from that flock. We have had new roosters totally rejected by a flock of hens and it is not uncommon for hens to kill a rooster that they reject. It is also not uncommon for an established bird to suddenly be rejected, if so, that bird must be removed to avoid injury or death.
Though we have shared our method of integrating younger birds to the flock here on the farm, it is paramount that you monitor regardless of time of day that the new birds are introduced. Diverting attention with feed or treats, introducing more than one at a time and making certain they are of an age and size to defend themselves are the keys to successful integration.
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