It is very important when keeping poultry to be aware of how the pecking order works within a flock. If purchasing pullets for the first time best to start with birds all of a similar age and introduce them to the hen house at the same time. Best to purchase all from the same breeder and preferably birds from the same pen. Chooks have a strict pecking order within a group and each bird has its place within the flock (family). Usually age takes precedent and size is a factor. By adding birds to existing flocks this order is upset and causes stress within the group which can ultimately impact on laying.
We recommend adding equal numbers to equal numbers and to birds of the same size. For example if you have 4 laying hens then we recommend adding 4 or more new POL pullets. Please note these need to be at point of lay and not perching pullets. Never just add one bird! Adding chooks at night can also help to reduce stress when increasing flock numbers. Place new additions on perches amongst existing birds. Hopefully in the morning the newcomers will not be as obvious to the original girls. (To be honest it is impossible to fool them especially when they can recognise up to 200 other chicken individuals!)
Keep them busy by adding some distraction in the pen. Please read our informative news article on Bored Hens and How to Keep Them Hentertained for ideas. Hang silverbeet leaves to take their minds off the newbies and throw some maize into the wood shaving so they can have a good scratch around. Set up two drinker and two feeder stations so dominant birds do not keep the newer, less dominant ones from eating and drinking. Place one inside the house and the other out in the run. Keep an eye on all chooks once introduced. Their will initially be a period of confrontation. It will take a few days and sometimes up to 3 to 4 weeks to work out who fits in where in the new order. If there is too much aggression and blood is drawn we recommend removing the injured bird/s and penning it/them separately till healed.
New Tenants, New Order
When we think about how chickens interact within family groups it can be loosely translated to human families and societies. It is an interesting concept. How would we feel if another group of individuals shifted into your house? How would the dynamics work between the new individuals? Would there be confrontation? Would our status be threatened? Chickens are no different. If 3 lovely mature ladies (hens!) have been happily sharing their living quarters (coop) and suddenly 2 attractive teenagers (young POL pullets) shift in overnight how do you think the original 3 will respond? Threatened? Challenged? Will they want to give up their room (space on the perch) and their ranking within the group? The result will be one of confrontation. Possibly some sort of beak to head/body assault and sometimes it can get messy. A drop in egg production due to stress can result. For best results we recommend softening this introduction. Run a small coop alongside (borrow one or buy one) so the chickens can see each other. Always good get to know your neighbours. Grow the teenagers (pullets) on to POL (same size as your original hens). Keep the new ones penned in for a week or two. Then let both lots have access to free range so they can intermingle. At POL merge the two groups together in the main hen house. Giving them time to familiarize with each other will make the transition all the smoother.
Roosters Like to Rule
The problem with the males is that they want to gain supremacy and be the alfa male (sound familiar!) It is all about being the dominant rooster as the main man gets the girl(s)! Roosters are generally only kept to complete a family unit, for breeding or for fattening for the table. So keeping more than one requires some careful management. Here at Appletons we need to grow many of our young cockerels on to select for breeding.
We grow on our young cockerels in small groups and find that those that have been hatched and raised together (similar size and age) do best. We raise and keep similar breeds together. For example sussex cockerels grow fast, feather quickly and tend to be dominant in nature so best not kept in the same pen as the more gentle, less confrontational cockerels like faverolles or croad langshans. Neither do we raise light breed cockerels alongside heavy breed cockerels. Allow plenty of room in bachelor pads so the young males have the space to move away from each other. The larger the available range the more the boys will occupy themselves foraging and the less obsessed they will be with fighting.
Add obstacles (bushes/branches/drums /boards) to the run. These obstacles offer less dominant cockerels places to hide and avoid the more dominant cockerels. Low perches in the run also offer some escape for young subordinate birds as a place to jump up if chased. Have more than one feed station so dominant cockerels do not rule the feeders.
Keep an eye open for lineal hierarchy one rooster dominates all and watch out for gang mentality where groups of roosters corner and beat up subordinate cockerels. Best to remove any roosters that are bullied otherwise death can quickly ensue. Boys from batchelor groups will always bare battle scars. If wanting to grow on cockerels for showing they will need to be kept individually. Understanding how male chickens think and interact with each other goes a long way to better management.
Read our news article on The Pecking Order