Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Integrating two new hens into a small flock

After the death of our second-in-command Scots Dumpy hen, we were down to three Australorps: Rosie, Queenie and Olive.  We decided to get two hens to replace her, as introducing just one hen without a companion would be very stressful and would make her an outsider and a victim for a very long time.

Before we went to collect two new bantam Australorps, we prepared the 'wee hoose' for our new arrivals.  This is a small guinea pig house from a pet store that we store flat packed into our shed.  We also set up a caged area within visual distance of our hen house.  I kitted it all out with clean bedding, a perch, waterer and feeder.  It rained a lot during the first week of the new hens being here so we also put some corrugated plastic sheeting over the cage to provide extra shelter.
the wee hoose

We left our two new girls in this wee hoose for a week.  The first night, our top hen Rosie was squawking and marching around the yard.  We think she was calling to the new girls to hurry up and come inside the big house, so sweet of her to be marshalling the troops before the impending dusk!  That only happened the first night, from then on the other three hens would come over and see the new girls whenever they wanted to, but unfortunately it rained a lot that week, so they only came over when we sprinkled the wheat seeds near the cage in the evenings.
the wee hoose with the big house in the background
I used this first week to get them used to feeding from my hand through the cage.  Bluebell was the more confident one and started taking meal worms from my hand on day two.  Sunny took about five days to get used to my hand coming into the caged area.  I used this opportunity to put coloured rings onto their legs.  Sunny's legs were too big for the yellow ring so she got an orange one instead.  Bluebell now has a blue ring.
Sunny on the left and Bluebell on the right

After that first week, we then opened up the cage and let the new hens come out into the garden with adult supervision for a couple of afternoons.  This was really to watch out for any potential violent behaviour from our three established hens.  Once we could see that our older girls are really only interested in seeing the two new young girls off, and chasing them away, so that they can be by themselves, we then let them have free wander of the garden all day with the others.  We always leave the cage open though in case they need to retreat.  The new girls were laying eggs happily inside the wee hoose too.  But every night they have tottled back to the wee hoose to sleep and have only shown curiosity in the big house when the other three are far away.
L-R: Olive, Queenie and Rosie, staying far away up the other end of the garden
After one week of cage living then one week of integrated daytime, I decided it was time to start introducing them to the big house for sleeping.  Once it was dark I went out and scooped up one hen and placed her on the perch in the big house, followed quickly by collecting the other one.  On the second night I collected one hen and when I turned around Sunny was heading over to me, not wanting to be parted from her friend.  So I herded her into the run at the bottom of the big house and locked her in.  She made her way up the ramp and I closed the pop door, then reached in and settled her onto the perch.  On the third night I herded them both into the run area and they went up the ramp themselves.  And at last, from then on they went to bed with the older ladies every night.
I still need to reach in and put Sunny up on the perch sometimes, but this could be because they've gone to bed and it is still light enough for the others to see her.  Sunny is at the bottom of the pecking order and so possibly they are making her wary so she stays on the floor of the house.

All in all, 2 and a half weeks later and my hens are a flock of 3 and 2 and just sometimes a flock of 5.

Here is a little video of them, demonstrating that the three older hens chase the two new, younger hens away.
video