Introducing 3 New Hens To Our Flock

We currently have 2 hens – A Bluebell called “Sienna” and a Black Rock called “Phoenix” – both are laying machines and we get close to a dozen eggs a week from them.

Phoenix and Sienna
Phoenix and Sienna

Sienna has always been the dominant one – and a little bit of a bully.

A week ago a friend came to me and asked if I could look after his 5 chickens for a month. He was in a desperate situation and so I really couldn’t say no.

Introducing new hens would be seen as a challenge to Sienna’s authority. And I was expecting a few pecks here and there as the ‘pecking order’ was re-established or should I say reaffirmed in the case of Sienna.

What I wasn’t expecting was just how violent it would be!

I have read much about the topic of introducing new hens to an existing flock and there are a few different schools of thought out there. Some people recommend you wait until it is dark and the existing hens have put themselves to bed.

They then introduce the new hens into the chicken coop. You the owner would decide where in the coop they will sleep for the night and you pretty much put them down where you see fit.

Others suggest a more staggered introduction. The idea is to keep them separated but ideally within eye contact over a course of a few days to a few weeks. This gives them time to get used to each other. They should not have any physical interaction during this period.

Phoenix and Sienna
Phoenix and Sienna

There is also the point that keeping them apart for a longer period lessens the chance of disease being spread.

I guess you can never be certain whether or not your new birds are carrying anything, and at least if you keep them separated for a week or so, any disease or problem should make its presence known and you can deal with it before spreading it amongst your existing flock.

You should also always try and avoid introducing just one hen as this can lead to the flock taking exception and all having a go at the new arrival.

Anyway….

I arranged for the hens to be dropped off at dusk. That way everyone would be less stressed out as chickens tend to be less active and more calm when night falls.

Luckily I have a spare ark that I popped them in for the night and that was that. Sienna and Phoenix had put themselves to bed so weren’t really aware of the new arrivals.

The next morning I was up early to watch and see the action. For the most part our two just minded their own business. But later on as they approached the ark it became evident who the dominant hen was in each group.

After a few more days of rotating the 2 groups between the ark and the large enclosed run I decided to release two of the new hens into the pen with our Bluebell and Black Rock.

Sienna straight away had a go at them but it wasn’t too serious and there was no fighting back from the two new ones.

I kept the dominant one of the new group inside the ark to give both dominant hens more time to get used to each other. After a day or so the other 4 had integrated well enough, with the odd peck here and there from our dominant Bluebell.

But I still had two very aggressive hens not willing to relinquish their status in the pecking order.

After now almost 6 days together I decided it was time to settle this once and for all. I released all 5 together in the morning and for a while they were all busying themselves with filling their crops.

But eventually paths crossed and they caught sight of each other and the fight was on.

It didn’t last as long as I had thought it would and luckily there wasn’t too much damage done. A little bit of blood drawn from the comb of the newcomer but I remedied that with a mild antiseptic spray. It was shocking at first to see the bird bleeding but the next day it had healed.

That night all 5 went to sleep in the hen house together. I made sure Sienna was the last one to go to bed. I put her in the ark and waited to well after dark. When all had settle in for the night I moved Sienna from the ark back into the hen house and plonked her next to Phoenix and watched with a torch light to see what would happen.

As previously stated – after it gets dark, hens become docile, and there weren’t any problems apart from a bit of hasty movement from the hen that had taken Sienna’s favourite roosting spot.

The following morning while it was still dark I went down to check on them and they were already out and about. No doubt as soon as Sienna stirred the others thought it was probably best that they got out of her way!

Sienna has had a few more goes at all three of them during the course of the day but none of them stand up to her and they all manage to get away without any injuries. So I guess the pecking order has been successfully established!

What did I learn from this experience?

  • It was a lot more violent than I was expecting – I really was quite shocked at the sight of blood on the comb of both hens.
  • It took less time than I have thought. When the two hens were having a go at each through the wire of the ark I honestly thought I had a much bigger problem on my hands.
  • The fight didn’t last as long as I had thought it would and luckily there wasn’t too much damage done. A little bit of blood drawn but I remedied that with a mild antiseptic spray and by the next day it had healed.
  • And finally not to bet on who you think will be the top of the pecking order. My money was on the new hen that had previously been in charge of 6 others and had the battle scars to prove it. I was expecting Sienna to quickly get put in her place. But the complete opposite happened.

 

Have you ever introduced new hens to an existing flock? Comments below welcomed!

My Hens Are Eating Their Eggs. What Can I Do To Stop Them?

First of all, this is a fairly common problem.

The habit most often starts when an egg breaks accidentally and the chickens start pecking at the broken egg.

It is necessary to stop the habit early, because if this goes on too long it will be nearly impossible to break. It could have started with a hen producing a soft shell egg which probably broke and that’s why she started to eat it.

Or it could have fallen on the floor and broke because of this.

The answer is to try and limit the chance of the egg breaking. To this end, you need to ensure there are sufficient nest boxes for the number of birds you have — ideally one nest box to maximum 4 birds- and make sure the box is well lined and protected.

Eggs should be collected regularly and removed from the nest. If an egg breaks, clear it up immediately to prevent them from getting a ‘taste’.

Your hens may need a calcium supplement to strengthen the shells but at least make sure there is plenty of oyster shell or similar calcium available to your hens at all times.

Some people recommend a dish with milk be made available for your hens over several days which will decrease the problem of egg eating (University of Florida Extention).

Another suggestion is to put artificial eggs (golf balls have been used!) in the nest so if a hen is deliberately trying to break up the eggs she will be in for a nasty surprise!

If there is one particular culprit and it continues, it might be necessary to separate this bird from the flock or even cull it.

My Chicken Is Sneezing – What Should I Do?

As with humans, chickens do sneeze –normally to clear the nasal passage.

If it is a regular thing then it could also signal a temporary cold.

Hens can suffer from colds during the wet and cold months, it’s not uncommon. Using Citricidal drops and Apple Cider Vinegar, added to their water, can be helpful in keeping the auto immune system healthy.

Keep an eye on them and if it persists or gets worse, the vet might be necessary.

If they have other symptoms like coughing, gasping for air, bubbly or mucousy eyes with a rattly chest then this could be Mycoplasma. Treatment for this is normally with antibiotics and a visit to your vet is recommended.

Birds suffering with respiratory disease should always be isolated from the other healthy hens, given lots of TLC and be given veterinary attention where necessary.

How Many Chickens Do You Need?

So how many chickens should you start with?

I would suggest that if you are completely new to keeping chickens to start with just two or three hens to begin with and see how you get on. Chickens like to live in groups (birds of a feather and all that) so never keep less than a pair.

If laying properly, three hens will provide a family of four with enough eggs to keep the fridge stocked and the poached eggs flowing, so to speak.

Just how many eggs can you expect?

According to the International Egg Commission, the UK average egg consumption per person is approximately 180 eggs a year, or just under 3.5 eggs a week. So, on paper a family of four would eat about 12 to 14 eggs a week, which is exactly what you would expect from three happy and well-fed hens.

You should also know that egg production does vary depending on what breed of chicken you keep. For example, a Light Sussex may lay up to 220 eggs a year, while a showier breed such as the Orpington may only produce 80 eggs a year.

Also, egg production does vary between winter and summer. During the summer months, most hens will lay an egg a day, but in winter, they will lay fewer, and may even stop altogether. Egg production will also decrease when a hen moults which can happen at any time but is most common at the end of summer. As hens get older, their egg production also slows.

What I have found since keeping chickens is that we seem to get through a lot more eggs at home than we used to. Maybe it’s because in the past it was just another item on the list to pick up at the supermarket and now it’s just a short walk in the garden. And it’s a conscious thing; I find myself frying up a quick egg whenever I’m in a rush and feeling a bit peckish.

The girls also bake a lot more, as we don’t want to let any extra eggs go to waste!