The eagles, so to speak, have landed. Operation Instant Flock is completed! And no one is more surprised than I am at its success. The time-tested “recipe” for mixing new birds with established hens is to wait until the young birds are sixteen weeks old before blending them with an existing flock. We miraculously managed to cut that timeline in half. Ava, Bella and Nugget turn eight weeks old today and I am happy to say that they are out of the brooder and into the coop with Pippa and Ginger. The Three Graces have officially moved in with the Odd Couple.
How did we do it? A fortuitous mix of luck, weather and desperation. Back in January, I had baby chick fever (it strikes on at least an annual basis…) and thought, oh, we’ll be at home for a couple of months, plenty of time to raise a few babies. It wasn’t until the chicks were home in the brooder that I penciled out the timeline, and, to my horror, saw that I had only allotted half the recommended time to raise, mix and blend a flock. Uh-oh.
We went straight to our fast-tracking strategy:
1. Early acclimation was key. Our mild winter temperatures of 65-70 degrees in February allowed us to give the chicks brief forays into the pen, well before they were feathered out. We protected them from the other birds with a temporary fence partition. The adult birds showed very little interest in the newbies but the visual contact was there and increased daily. By six weeks of age and nearly feathered out, I carried the babies out to their “corral” early in the morning and brought them inside at dusk.
3. Safety in numbers. A practical rule of thumb in war and flock keeping is to have a larger number of invaders than defenders. We hadn’t planned on the sad loss of two of our four hens last month, but the attrition resulted in a ratio that may have made things easier for the new birds.
4. Chickens will surprise you. Throw away the rulebook. All our concerns were focused on the reaction of our Ameraucauna, Ginger, who chases, bullies, and pecks Pippa all day and who we expected to terrorize the little ones. Because of our unfavorable timeline, we were forced to introduce the babies to Ginger when the little ones were only seven weeks old. We held our breath – and…nothing! She has not made one aggressive move toward them. Go figure. Meanwhile, they get bigger every day and will soon match and exceed her in size.5. Ample resources. Everyone has plenty of space and plenty of food. We added extra food and water stations in the pen to minimize competition. If the chicks are feeling vulnerable, they can retreat to a corner or inside the little dog house that has become their daytime mini-coop. After several weeks of separate-but-equal daytime coexistence in the pen, and then a few days of highly supervised commingling, we moved the babies to the coop. Under cover of darkness, of course. Well after Pippa and Ginger had bedded down for the night, I carried the little ones from their inside brooder to the coop and quietly set them on an unoccupied roost bar. In pitch darkness, no one was the wiser. Unused to a perch after living in a cardboard box, Ava promptly fell off the bar and spent the night resting comfortably on the countertop.
I rose before dawn to oversee any possible commotion in the coop when the light of day revealed the interlopers to the adult hens. Ginger regarded them with brief curiosity and then went peacefully on her way outside into the pen. Pippa, however, wasn’t having it. She flew down from her perch in the rafters and gave chase before flouncing off in a huff. Too bad, Pippa, they are here to stay.They are all sharing space during the day, the chicks giving Pippa a wide berth. Come dusk, they follow the adult hens into the coop and have quickly learned to climb up to their roost bar for the night. I’m sure there are challenges to come – there has not yet been a reckoning around the sharing of treats and that will likely bring out Ginger’s less charitable instincts. But the hardest work is over, and we’re still a full week ahead of our travel-induced deadline. Whew!
I don’t necessarily recommend the fast-track approach, but under favorable circumstances, it can be done in a pinch. Welcome to our flock of five – we’ll have plenty of eggs come July!