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!

The Fresh Egg Test

How do you know that an egg is fresh? Well there are a few things you can do to tell just how old those eggs you bought are.

  1. Gently place egg in  bowl of cold water.
  2. If it sinks to the bottom it is very fresh.
  3. If it sinks to the bottom but floats at an angle it is more than a week old.
  4. If it sinks, then stands on end it is about two weeks old.
  5. If the egg floats it should be discarded.

fresh-eggs

When you start to keep chickens and you crack open your first couple of eggs you will notice that they are probably a  little different to the ones you picked up in store.

Fresh eggs have  rounded plump yolks and much thicker ‘whites’.  In fact the older the egg, the more ‘runny’ the white becomes and the yolk also gets flatter.

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.

Red Mites: Do this and You Won’t Have a Problem!

Red mites hide away in the dark corners of the chicken coop, emerging at night to feed on the blood of your poor unsuspecting chickens.

The level of irritation from a red mite infestation can cause broody hens to abandon their nests and pluck out their own feathers. Other symptoms include weight loss and a general loss of condition and lower egg yield.

Since they feed at night, they are notoriously difficult to spot during the daytime. Birds will be restless at night and will have a severe skin irritation from the biting mites. Red Mites are almost white before they feed, blood red after a feed and a greyish black colour with partially digested blood so you will see various colours of mites.

How to test for red mites: Simply wipe a white piece of kitchen towel or a white tissue along the underside of a perch in the dark. Any blood stains will indicate the presence of Red Mite!

Prevention is the easiest way to deal with mite. When you get started with keeping chickens more than likely you will have a new mite-free coop. Make sure to give this a real good dusting of red mite powder before you put your chickens in. Aim to leave a noticeable layer of the powder in the corners and cracks of the coop.

As soon as you can handle your hens comfortably, dust them too with mite powder, making sure to work the powder in under their feathers.

By doing this every 4 to 6 weeks, you greatly reduce the chances of red mite taking hold. To date we have never experienced a red mite problem because we follow this method.

If at a later stage you introduce a new bird to the flock make sure that they are very well dusted down with mite powder.

There is a whole host of products available to you. The main ingredient in these powders is D.E (Diatomaceous Earth) which is a 100% natural and non toxic powder that typically provides protection for up to 6 weeks with just one application.

Lice

The same applies to biting lice, which lay their eggs at the base of chicken’s feathers. Again, dust all your chickens with powder, regardless of whether they are showing symptoms or not, and give the hen house a really good layer too.