Your baby chicks aren’t babies anymore, and the brooder house is crowded. How do you move the young chickens in with the older ones? This is an important question because it can be a problem. Use these steps to help make it go well.
Piling and Smothering
Baby chicks respond to stress by diving underneath the mother hen’s feathers. This is instinctual, so even incubator chicks do it. The problem is, if there’s not a mother hen available, the chicks will hide in a dark place, typically the corner of the chicken house, and heap themselves in a big pile. Birds have very weak lungs, so the ones on the bottom smother.
Practice perches can be a solution. As it happens, when the chicks learn to roost, the roosting instinct replaces the piling instinct. So, the earlier the chicks learn to roost, the shorter the danger period. Chicks learn to roost by roosting, and the way to speed up the process is to give them something to roost on. I set long 2”x2” s on the floor of the brooder house to start with, when the chicks are just a few days old, so the chicks can roost before they can fly. Later I move them a couple of feet up in the air.
Chicks also panic more easily in the dark, so when they are placed in pasture houses, it is a good idea to hang a flashlight from a rafter and leave it on at night.
Another gimmick that works well is to move chicks into the chicken coop in poultry shipping crates, set the crates inside the coop, open the lid, but don’t remove the chickens. They’ll gradually start jumping out, but it takes a long time before the timid ones emerge, and in the meantime, the crates are sized to make piling impossible. It’s a long time before there are enough chickens in any one place to get a good pile going.
Keeping the older chickens away for at least a day or two also helps prevent piling. Electric garden fence about 18” high, does a pretty good job, and doesn’t exclude the farmer, who can step over the fence without bothering to turn it off.
Being bullied to the point of death happens mostly when you add a few chickens to a large existing flock. Surrounded by strangers, every one of which wants to shove you to the bottom of the pecking order, is hard on the new chickens, who will retreat into a hiding place and refuse to come out, often starving to death. There are some time-honored ways to prevent this:
Add large numbers of new chickens at a time. The bigger the group of newcomers, the less trouble they will have, because of flocking behavior. The new chickens will band together and head to the feeders and waterers as a body, and the old chickens will back off in the face of the mob. This only works when the new chickens all know each other, though.
House the new chickens separately. If you think you can get away with just one chicken coop, you’re fooling yourself. You need at least two. Life is much simpler if you can house the new chickens in their own coop. They can share a yard with the other chickens. Keep the new chickens cooped up in their new house for a couple of days so they know where home is, then let them loose to mingle in the yard with the others. Just make sure that the older chickens have equally good feed as the new ones, so there’s no incentive to raid the newcomers’ coop. Segregate the newcomers.
Keeping the newcomers fenced off from the oldsters for a few days helps. The chickens can see each other and interact somewhat, which helps. It also lets the newcomers get used to their new environment without having to deal with the older chickens. This technique can be used when housing two groups of chickens in the same coop, by partitioning the coop with chicken wire temporarily. Provided by Robert Plamondon. You can visit his website at Plamondon.com.