Monday, February 18, 2019

Introducing our new silkies to the flock. Mistakes were made

Our family lost one of its members over the summer holidays.
We came home to the sad news that Saffie, our little bantam chicken with the red crown, had flown over the fence and been attacked and killed by an animal. My neighbour had been looking after our animals while we were away, and was very upset to have to break the news.
I had put the chickens and their coop in an open run area over the Christmas period. I thought they'd enjoy having more room and trees to play in, since I wouldn't be there to bring them fresh material each day like I do when they're in their enclosed run.

Fluffles and Saffie had seemed fine in the open run leading up to our departure, and I hadn't seen them try to escape once, but apparently we had abnormally high rainfall here just after we left, and I suspect Saffie went exploring for drier land. The area I had put them in at the bottom corner of our section does tend to bog up in really heavy rain. (I hadn't thought that would be a problem in the middle of summer. My mistake.)

So Saffie is no more, and Fluffles has been a lonely little chook without her bestie. She's taken to crowing at dawn to call for her friend (sorry neighbours!). I rang Bird Barn a few weeks ago to ask if they had any silkies for sale, and was told they would have some ready in about four weeks.

The kids and I popped into the store on our way through Henderson on Thursday to check, and bought the last 16-week old silkie that was definitely a female. We also bought a younger silkie that the guy in the store was pretty sure was a female. (We can exchange the younger one if it turns out to be male.)

We bundled our new silkies up in a cardboard box and brought them home to introduce to Fluffles.
At first we put the silkies into the coop area, which I lined with fresh wood chips to make it smell more neutral for them. They explored around in there for a couple of hours, while Fluffles stayed out in the run area - avoiding them.

A couple of times I spotted Fluffles peaking her head into the coop and then backing out again. It was only when she got frightened by me watering the garden, that she went right into the coop with them and sat there quietly.
Fluffles came back out when I stopped watering, and a little while later the littlest silkie, Rosie Posie, followed her out into the run. The 16-week old silkie, Nut Fox, took a little longer to adventure out, but eventually did too.
All seemed calm.
We sat watching them for a long time, and they were all friendly to each other, cuddling up and exploring the area happily.
But then as the evening went on and it was getting time to bed down for the night, Rosie Posie, started to get upset, calling for her brothers and sisters and looking for a way to escape.
She even jumped up onto the kale, looking for a way out.

This seemed to upset Fluffles, who then became territorial, pecking at Rosie Posie and even Nut Fox when she got too close. The pecking began to escalate in ferocity and I grew concerned.

I had L climb into the run to rescue the new chickens and I quickly bundled them back into their travel box (which was fitted with breathing holes) and put that in the coop area so everyone could go to sleep safely for the night.

That solved the safety issue temporarily, but how could we keep them safe from Fluffles the next day? Our family was heading out early in the morning to catch a ferry to Tiritiri Matangi, and would be gone for the whole day. I had visions of Fluffles pecking Rosie Posie to death if I left them all in the same run area unattended.

As soon dawn broke and it became light enough to see outside, I was out there unrolling chicken wire and cobbling together a makeshift run area next to the existing one. I had read online (in a mad feverish research panic) that it's good to have new chickens in sight of the existing flock, so they can get used to each other visually before trying to assimilate them physically into the flock.
It took about an hour and a half to get the new run enclosed. I was deeply grateful to Paul for getting the kids all ready for our day-trip inside while I hammered and assembled. We would have missed our ferry for sure without his help.
I nailed the chicken wire to the outside of the raised bed with scrap pieces of wood to make the area really secure. (I had visions of wee little Rosie Posie falling down between the wire and the outside of the raised bed if I didn't, and the vision wasn't pretty.)
Because there's a gap between the two raised beds that the runs sit on, I had to block the end of the gap off with bricks. I then used an old BBQ tray to bridge most of the gap, and covered it with the nesting box from inside the coop, so the chickens would have somewhere off the dirt to snuggle down during the day for rests. They can even go underneath the bridge into a little patch of grass if they want to. I put a footstool in the gap to act like a step for them down to the grassy area.

I only had the one waterer, because I hadn't been anticipating separating the new silkies, so I quickly made another one out of an ice cream container. I just cut a corner off the lid to make a gap for the chickens to drink from, while the remaining part of the lid protects most of the water from dirt and evaporation.
It took the new chickens a while to figure out how to drink from the ice cream container. I don't think they had drunk from it at all before we got back from Tiritiri Matangi, and they were really thirsty by the time they finally did. (I kept pouring water into the container to show them it was there.)
Even then, they were just pecking water drops off the lid at first, until Rosie Posie accidentally discovered the proper water gap by falling in a little bit. It was a happy accident because now she and Nut Fox are drinking from it like pros.

My plan from here is to keep putting the new chooks into the coop with Fluffles at night, separated by the cardboard box. After a week of letting them get used to each other in the side-by-side runs during the day, I'll try moving them all to a new neutral run area on one of the other raised beds. I just have to dig up my potatoes first, so I'll have a space to move them to.

If you've had experience introducing new chickens to a flock (or to a single, older chicken like in my case), please share your wisdom. I realise a little bit of pecking does happen as they determine the pecking order, but Fluffles is so much bigger than the other two, she could do real damage if we're not careful about this.

The new chooks are so adorable. They get super excited when I come to visit them, and come right up to me, chattering away. I don't want anything bad to happen to them.


  1. It sounds like part off the problem was also the new hens not knowing where to sleep, so they should be more confident when you're ready to combine them again. The establish habits and get confused when things change. - Liz (Eight Acres)

    1. Thank you, Liz. Hopefully you're right. We've got them all in the same run now, and Fluffles is still picking on the younger two, but they seem to be handling it okay. And they've figured out where to sleep now, which doesn't require our intervention anymore, so that's good.


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