Chickens can be vicious animals whether it be to members of their own flock or an outsider. The chicken hierarchy isn't referred to as a pecking order for no reason. They will relentlessly peck, bloody, and gang up on another bird to establish dominance. If you've ever seen it in action it can be painful to watch, and sometimes requires serious intervention. So when I recently purchased a couple of eight month old Silkie hens I was nervous about introducing them to my existing flock of nine hens and two roosters. Every spring I go through the process with chicks, but this would be the first time that I attempted to integrate full grown hens. It didn't end up being as bad as I expected, and much to my surprise went smoother than it typically goes with chicks. Prior to the introduction I read a lot of tips and tricks that seemed like much more work than they were worth. Although I wanted things to go as smoothly as possible, I am a realist and know that no amount of masking will hide the fact that there are a couple of little white hens in the coop that weren't there before. Nature will run its course, but with some patience and common sense you can help the process go a little more smoothly.
The quarantine process although a very important and necessary step, is the most trying on your patience. The excitement of bringing your new hens home will tempt you to rush right back and throw them in with the rest of your flock and see what happens. Don't. Unless your new hens came from a breeder or hatchery, there is the risk of disease or illness that they could pass onto your healthy birds. And if they did come from a hatchery or breeder, still don't because you are asking for a whole lot of trouble.
Before you go and pick up your new ladies make sure that there is a separate spot for them that is physically separated from your existing flock. A dog kennel does a fantastic job. Physical separation is key, because if your new girls have any kind of illness or parasite, you don't want to risk that getting passed to your healthy flock. Take advantage of the quarantine period to keep an eye on the hens checking for any coughing/wheezing, runny eyes or nostrils, and lice. I like to spike their water with some apple cider vinegar for good measure as well.
The quarantine period can last anywhere from a week to four weeks depending on the health of the hens. I personally kept mine quarantined for one week before the introductions. I got mine from a woman whose son showed them in 4-H and they were very well taken care of and healthy. After a weeks time without seeing any signs of illness, I felt confident that they were not sick and wouldn't pass anything on to my healthy flock. If I had started to see any signs of illness or was unsure, I would have kept them in quarantine longer to monitor them.
This process can last as long as you feel is necessary. Mine lasted a week, because that's how long I quarantined them. But, after a week the hens in my existing flock went from relentlessly pacing back and forth the opening where they could see the Silkies, squawking at them, and even chest bumping at the chicken wire, to not even paying any attention to their existence. After the week mark I felt that the hens were not only healthy enough to be introduced, but the flock had gotten as used to them being there as they were going to get. The only thing left to do was physically introduce them.
So the new hens were been deemed healthy, and the existing flock had gotten used to their presence through the safety of a physical barrier. The only thing left to do was bite the bullet and introduce them so nature could run its course. The morning of the introductions I opened the coop door and let everyone out like I normally would and made sure food and water was topped off. Instead of leaving the door to the run open so they could come and go as they pleased, I kept it shut. I went back in the house so the roosters could mellow out and to make sure that everyone had a chance to eat and drink.
After about an hour or so, I went back out and grabbed the Silkies from their quarantine pen. I walked into the run a few feet away where there was a little congregation of hens and set the Silkies down. I couldn't believe the lack of interest everyone showed. I was expecting some squawking, pecking, anything really, and got a whole lot of nothing. The Silkies roamed around `bravely undisturbed. I closely monitored them throughout the day, periodically checking in on them to see if there were any issues. Again to my surprise there weren't. The pair stuck together, skirting the perimeter of the flock the remainder of the day keeping to themselves.
At dusk I went out again to make sure there were no issues with the Silkies joining the rest of the flock in the coop. They were already inside, cuddled up together in a nesting box. It's been almost a week since the introductions and things have stayed very much the same. There is some occasional pecking, though not excessive or overly aggressive, nor are they being boxed out of food or water. My roosters have even started to mate with the Silkies. They have by no means been fully accepted by the rest of the flock. They still graze on their own, and sleep in a nesting box together rather than roost with the rest. This will come in time, but I am still amazed by how seamless this integration went and only hope future ones will go as smoothly (fingers crossed)!
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