Monday, April 13, 2015

Introducing New Chickens to Your Existing Flock Part 1

Japanese Bantam hen with chicks
So, you want to expand your flock with minimal work and hassle. You don't really have time for brooding new chicks and you want your existing flock of chickens to accept your new chicks without bloodshed. Well, here's the best way I know to accomplish this goal. Let one of your existing hens do the work for you. Let a broody hen care for and raise your chicks so you don't have to. 

Cruise through the area hatcheries and find chicks that you can order on short notice. Above is what Meyer Hatchery has available on short notice for this week. You will have to be flexible, since you will have to wait for your hen to go broody before you order your chicks. This late ordering will limit your choices. Be open and flexible to accept other breeds or a "hatchery assortment".

I suggest setting up a special cozy brooding box/nest for your hen prior to anybody going broody. Put it in a location somewhat away from the rest of the flock, like off in an unused corner. Place a few golf balls in there to encourage sitting and hopefully a hen will choose it as a safe place to raise her "brood". 

Broody Buff Orpington

Next step. Wait. Yes, wait for one of your hens to go broody. This will happen anytime from April 1 to July 1, and many times later than that.
Broody Easter Egger

If you have never seen a broody hen, it will be obvious when it happens in your flock.  One of your hens will start sitting in the nesting box all the time. When you approach her, she will start to snarl and growl and may peck at you, letting out what seems to be her inner dinosaur. You will swear this chicken is PMSing.... She'll be all puffed up and very clucky. She will refuse to leave the nest. If she does leave, (or you pull her out) her puffed up, clucky self runs back to the nest as quick as she can, screaming at you all the way. Once she has chosen a nesting site, she will not want to move it.

Old English Game bantam 

Some chickens are bred not to go broody. These include the modern hybrid layers like Golden Comets or any Black Sex-links and Leghorns. Most chickens bred for good egg production are not good mothers. The hens most inclined to go broody are Buff Orpingtons, Bantams of any sort, English breeds and Easter eggers.

Silver Seabright hen
Once one of your hens starts to exhibit these signs, you only have 20 days to get your chicks.  Call up your hatchery of choice and order chicks for 2-3 weeks from the first day your hen acted broody. You see, a chick takes 21 days from the beginning of incubation to hatch. Typically it will take 24 hours for all chicks to hatch. The hen has a inner clock that recognizes this three week time frame, and may not take chicks earlier or much later than 21 days.

Ok, your broody hen has been sitting on golf balls for 21 days. You have picked up your chicks from the hatchery and cuddled with them for a few hours. Late that evening, under the cover of darkness, take the fluffy balls of joy and gently place them them under your broody hen. You can fit up to 8 chicks under one hen.

Now, sit back and watch your momma hen do all the work. You will have to put out chick feeders and waterers that are easy reach for the babies She will keep the chicks warm, show them how to eat, how to drink, how to scratch in the dirt and hunt for worms and bugs. The broody hen will protect her chicks from other flock members and the chicks will benefit from her ranking in the flock's pecking order. This is by far the best method for expanding your flock naturally with a minimum amount of effort on your behalf.

Look for Part Two of expanding your flock with adult hens later this week.

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