This is the flock of chickens we’ve been raising since last year (though we lost two in this picture):
This is the group of chicks we started raising this spring, on their first adventure outdoors:
This weekend, now that our chick-lets’ voices had all changed from baby peeps to real chicken noises, and at almost-14 weeks they had grown to a decent size, I decided to blend the flocks together. The younger girls have grown up in a brooder cage that I put right in the coop, so the two groups were at least semi-used to each other. At one point I migrated half the new flock into another brooder outside the coop, but rotated which chicks were in each periodically.
That being said, I was still nervous. The older chickens never paid much attention to the younger ones, so I wasn’t sure they actually understood that they were other chickens. I’ve of course read many cautions about bringing in new birds to an existing flock, about the fight for a new pecking order, and what happens if someone gets bullied too much. Having lost one of our birds to just such a fate, I was hesitant to put any bird into that situation.
So, I read some more about different techniques. When E and I attended a workshop on raising chickens put on by the cooperative extension, the teacher said to add new chicks at night, in the pitch dark, and the old chicks would wake up and basically just assume the new girls had always been there and they’d just never noticed. Many people swore by that method, but I was a bit skeptical. No way my nine older birds would let the addition of 14 new chicks go unnoticed. Others said to gradually introduce them over the space of weeks. Some suggested letting them all free-range together, or put a smaller enclosure in the coop so they can “see but not touch” each other.
In the end, I decided on a mix of a few techniques. I started with five new birds, planning to do groups of five, five, and four over the course of three days. It’d be fast, but I figured that would minimize the stress on both flocks by eliminating repeated re-arranging of the pecking order. I took the old dog kennel that I’d used to pen the chicks out in the backyard, and put it in the chicken run. That way, the littles would be in the bigs’ space, but they couldn’t get to them. Then, when the bigs were roosting (which my girls do pretty early), I’d tuck the littles into the coop for an attempt at that, “wait, have you been here the whole time?” thing.
Here’s what the first day looked like:
The older chickens definitely were more curious about these new gals than they had been out free-ranging. They got close to the enclosure, made a good deal of noise, and tried to figure out what was going on. The young ones, for their part, paid little attention to the outside and mostly focused on each other and the new food.
I didn’t get to wait until it was totally dark to bring the chick-lets in, because they ended up trying to roost on the edge of the enclosure, but the older girls were pretty much settled in and didn’t pay much mind to the overnight visitors.
The next morning, no one seemed the worse for wear. I repeated the process with the next group, although one of the previous day’s group snuck back in with the littles (the same thing happened the next day with a different chick). The third day, the blending happened before nightfall, as we had some strong storms with heavy rain and the enclosure had no shelter, so I had to let them out to get in the coop (although they mostly needed to be placed in there, not understanding how to get out of the wet).
There has been a little bit of pecking here and there, but nothing major. The littles are still mostly sticking together and often are inside the coop where I think they feel safer, but I have noticed a few hanging out with the bigs, and even roosting tucked under their wings. The past two nights, only two (though I think a different two each night) have required being brought into the coop at night. Everyone else has pretty much figured out the routine, and is securing a sleeping spot. Some are hanging out on the floor for now–not sure if that will change as they get a little older–but some are on the roosting bars, and after the first night, no one seems to be trying to roost on the window frame or huddled by the door.
I think over the next few weeks they’ll probably integrate more, and of course I’ll keep an eye on things to make sure no one’s getting bullied, but I think I can call my first flock blending a success!