Introducing new chickens is not my favorite thing about having chickens. They’re SO MEAN to each other. It’s so hard to watch! Unfortunately I’ve had several rounds of introducing new birds because I’ve also had several rounds of my new girls getting gotten by predators. Is the predator activity related to how well the new girls were introduced? I think maybe so.
For instance, the first three red girls I got refused to ever coop up in the hen house at night. They made a habit of roosting on a roosting bar that is down in the covered run. Generally, this would be okay. And it was. Until one of the nights after I returned home from Africa and was so jet lagged that I fell asleep at 7pm and failed to close up the run. That night a predator was able to get the girls on the roost in the run, but the girls in the hen house were safe.
After that I installed an automatic door that runs on a light sensor. The door automatically opens in the morning and closes at night. Shortly after I got the automatic door, I also got three new birds.
These birds were all different breeds. As it turned out, these three were younger than I am used to getting. I held them out separate for a couple of weeks to let them get older and bigger before I subjected them to the existing flock. Finally I did introduce them and one by one they got picked off by predators. As it turns out, introducing new birds and counting on them to deal with the automatic door was a recipe for disaster.
So. Now I have decided to add to the flock again. This time just two new birds. A good reliable big red bird, and a slightly smaller girl who I believe is a Leghorn.
I’m committed to making sure they get throughly integrated into the existing flock. Here’s a day by day rundown of what I’ve done.
Saturday: We started the day by putting the chicken fencing back up. I had taken it down and put it away because the owner of the land needed it mowed. So, first order of business was creating an enclosed space for the flock so that a) the new girls couldn’t get lost and b) the existing girls would HAVE to deal with the new girls and not just stay away from them.
Then I went and got the new girls and originally I put them within a baby play yard that I have just for this purpose. I gave them shade, food and water and went to a birthday dinner for a friend. After dinner my husband and I came back to the pasture and what did I find? Not a single bird had gone into the coop before the automatic door had closed. This is VERY unusual. The four existing birds are as reliable as the sunrise cooping up. But, there they were. Not in the coop. So, we went around scooping up all six birds and putting them in the coop. Part of the issue for the existing girls may have been that I cleaned and moved the coop before I went and picked up the new ones. This of course moved where the door was. But, I do move it every couple of weeks. It is a chicken tractor. They’re used to it moving. But, moving and new girls all at one time was too much evidently.
Sunday: Checked on them before church and they seemed to be fine. The automatic door had opened and peace reigned supreme although they weren’t really hanging out together. I went back about 8:15pm to oversee the cooping up process since it had gone so far off the rails the night before. The small white new girl has discovered that I will protect her from getting picked on by the existing girls, so I held her until right before the door closed, then I tossed her in. Once she was in she marched right up the ladder and tucked herself in with the existing birds. The new big red one stayed neslted in in the closed run. Safe enough, but I still want her to be up in the coop.
Monday: Didn’t see them until after work. The little white bird was all about visiting with me again. When it came time to coop up, the original four did fine. The new red one nestled in over by the baby gate that is still up rather than going into the coop at all. I went and got her and moved her into the coop. The white bird I had to toss into the run at the last moment while the automatic door is closing. She just doesn’t like to leave me. Once she was in the run she finally got up on the roosting bar. From the roosting bar she could see into the hen house and all of the sudden she took flight and flew right into the door. I heard momentary struggle, then peace. The big red bird just nestled in on the ground of the enclosed run, not even up on the roosting bar. That bird does not have the hang of going to bed like a regular chicken!
Tuesday: Once a month I have an informal dinner party and that was tonight. So, I didn’t make it out to the pasture until about an hour after it got dark. I found all of the exising girls cooped up properly, and the two new girls out of the run entirely trying to sleep just exposed in the pasture. I picked up the new girls and put them in the hen house. *sigh*
Wednesday: There were storms in the area. I went out to the pasture about 30 minutes before sunset and after a couple of minutes all four existing girls happened to be in the run, so I hit the close button on the door to close it early. Then I just caught the two new birds and put them in the henhouse. No idea how they may have cooped up or not if I had let it happen naturally, but I didn’t want to get caught in the rain. They’ll get it eventually, right?
Thursday: When I got to the pasture, the two new girls were already in the hen house. That was suprising. Before the door closed, all of the existing flock had gone into the covered run. Before I left, all six chickens were in the hen house safe and sound for the night. VICTORY! I don’t trust them yet though. I’ll keep watching them for a while yet.
Friday: Didn’t go until after I attended Friday night service. All of the existing hens and the new red one cooped up just fine. I had to put the white one in.
Saturday: Didn’t go until well after sundown so that I could see how they would do without the disruption of me being there. I got there and found the original four, plus the red one all cooped up. The little white one had wedged herself between the wheel and the wall of the run. She was absolutely stuck. So, I had to crawl in there…and under the henhouse where she was (ick), take off the wheel and let her free. She slept on the ground in the secure run that night.
Sunday: I went to the pasture at 10am to do a hive inspection. As I got out of my car I saw a large bird, probably a white tail hawk, flying away from the pasture. I thought to myself “I sure am glad I’m here to scare off that hawk!”. As it turns out, that hawk had already done his damage to my flock. The new red bird and my sweet little white buddy were gone. I didn’t find remains anywhere which points to an airborne predator.
So, I’m about to leave on family vacation. When I get back I am building a new chicken tractor and putting four new birds in it. I guess my existing four birds are freaks of nature that just have a sense about how to get away from predators and I can’t expect that from any other birds. I’ll create a nice safe place that the new girls will just be in all the time and I’ll move the tractor around, and the existing birds will use the existing coop like they do now.