Integrating chicks into the flock

My art-room / spare bedroom has been a chick brooder since January of this year. The weather is warmer and I’ve decided I’ve had enough – my smallest chicks (one month old) have most of their feathers, and it’s been getting warmer lately.  I wouldn’t be in such a rush but the escape artist has taught the others to escape – I’ve changed them to 3 different brooder boxes, each one taller, and they keep getting out and pooping everywhere.  I’ve been thinking about ways to get them outside permanently.

I’ve had my older chicks (2.5 months old) outside for about a month, but separated from my adult chickens.  They could see and hear each other, but not interact.  We decided to try to integrate them, in order to bring the smaller chicks outside – I planned on putting the big chicks with the adults, and then putting the babies in the separate part that the older chicks had been in.   I’ve heard to try to do it at bedtime, so they don’t really realize what’s going on, in order to keep the transition smoother.  We did not do this for some reason.  A few hours before I put them in for the night, we put the six 2.5 month olds in with the ten adults.  They are very nearly the same size.

It was a mess.  My poor chicks were traumatized.  I figured my rooster would be the main culprit, but my hens were really mean.  I know that they need to work out their pecking order, and it can take some time.  First it was like two cliques – adult birds on one end of the run, the chicks on the other.  Then somehow a couple chicks got separated and my hens started chasing them and trying to mount them, I guess.  Then the chicks were in two groups of three.  I went inside for a few minutes to let them work it out.  I came back out and heard loud squawking. I found one of the chicks cowering in a corner of the run, trying to get back into their old run.  It ended up with the chicks hiding inside a corner of the coop, and all the adults hanging out in the run.   I was going to just let them sort it out, but I felt really bad.  My chicks were really scared –  one even kept losing feathers – I don’t know if it was from stress or from being pecked by the hens.  I figured we will have to integrate them eventually, and they’ll work it out.

Then I brought the small one month old chicks out to the newly empty temporary coop/run. They were very happy out in the run.  I wondered how they would get on with the older chicks, and if it would be better to integrate THEM right now, and then put all the chicks in with the adults later once everyone is the same size.  I tried bringing the older chicks back in, one by one, and putting them out in the run with the tiny chicks

It seemed to go a lot better.  The 2.5 month olds are quite a bit bigger than the 1 month old chicks, and they have been picking on them a bit, but they’re not obsessed with them like the adults seemed to be with the older chicks.  If the small chicks stay away from the older ones, they don’t get pecked at all.  The small chicks don’t seem too stressed, anyway.

My big chick and large chicks together.
My big chicks and large chicks together.
Another picture of them together.
Another picture of them together.

I had a couple of issues when putting them in for the night though – first, the little chicks had no idea what was going on.  I have to get them trained to go in at night (usually I clap and follow the chickens in, the older ones have learned this pretty well) –  so they didn’t go into the coop on their own when I did this.  I picked them up, put them inside, and then a couple of them ran outside but their run was open so they ran into the yard.  I had to catch them – that wasn’t too hard.

My biggest issue when putting them to bed was that the older chicks were hanging out right under the heat lamp, which was in the corner of the coop.  The baby chicks found a nice spot on a pile of hay that they liked, since it was far away from the older chicks, but that wasn’t close to the heat lamp, and I worry about it getting cold at night if they can’t access the lamp.  My husband was smart and just moved the heat lamp to the middle of the room for me – so that problem got solved.  I also gave the babies some straw to go on their hay pile, because hay is NOT very soft, at least compared to straw. I put the water and food a bit more in the middle, so that the babies wouldn’t have to go too near to the older chicks to eat or drink, and risk getting picked on.   We checked on them through the night before we went to bed, and they were doing ok.

This morning I went out, and the poor little babies were huddled in their corner.  It got into the 30s last night, and while the heat lamp makes the inside of the coop quite a bit warmer than the outside temps, they were still pretty cold.  They were doing ok, but the big chicks kept going over to them and pecking them, just in the time I was out there this morning to let them all out.  The big chicks were also hanging out under the heat lamp in the middle, so the little guys couldn’t go over to the heat light, or the food and water without getting pecked.  So I got fed up, and stuck the big chicks in with the adults again, and said “you are all just going to have to figure it out. ”

The babies are now doing good.   The larger chicks are hiding out in the coop, but the food and water are in there, so they will be ok if they decide not to go outside today with the adults.  Like I said, they are almost adult sized, so they should be a lot better able to defend themselves against the adults, than the tiny chicks are with them. They’ll just have to work it out on their own.  I didn’t realize it would be this much of  a mess to integrate them all.

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