It's the time of year when spring chickens have reached that awkward age in between chickhood and adulthood- they've outgrown the brooder but seem too vulnerable to join the established flock (hereinafter known as: the Flockers). The prospect of integration is always nerve-wracking, whether they're 8 weeks old or 8 months old. Will the new kids like their new home? Will they make friends or will they be bullied? Will the Flockers be upset with the arrival of uninvited guests? Can they all co-exist peacefully or will there be bloodshed? All valid concerns. All completely manageable.
The Playpen Method entails creating a confinement system ("playpen") for the newbies in the vicinity of the Flockers. This can mean that the Flockers remain in the run with a small, separate playpen near or in the run for the newbies. It can also mean that the Flockers free-range, with the newbies in a playpen near the Flockers.
I have used several different playpens for my newbies but the technique is always the same: look but don't touch. After the confinement period of approximately a week, provide the newbies with an opening from the playpen to venture out at their leisure. They will stay close to the playpen and maintain a safe distance from the Flockers initially, but eventually they will become comfortable mingling freely.
Here are a few of the Playpens I have used over time:
These three, 8 week old bantam, Cochin Frizzles were the first addition to my existing flock. The pen was a rudimentary chicken wire and tomato stake enclosure that I put near the run (note the Flockers in the background). It is vital to provide the newbies with water and feed in the playpen.
Here are Monica, Rachael and Phoebe in the new chicken tractor my husband built.
This set-up was originally intended as a maternity ward for my broody hen (who loathed the idea and summarily rejected it) but it has been used as a playpen ever since. The Flockers are checking out the residents, as intended.
Martha, the white Plymouth Rock saunters by, casually feigning disinterest, so as not to seem uncool to the newbies (Blue Splash Marans, Windy & Madonna).
I hatched wo different groups of chicks a few weeks apart and wanted the littles to have a chance to spread their wings for a few days before letting them play with the big girlz. It's safer that way and the older chicks became caretakers of the babies soon after being brought together.
With the construction of my new coop completed, I put a temporary playpen in the corner, which can be removed easily. This is the ideal set-up for the Playpen Method as the newbies are trained to know that this coop is home and they will always return to it at dusk.
This shows the removable top of the playpen in the Little Deuce Coop. It keeps the flighty birds out.
The dog crate below is subdivided for two different age groups of chickens. The 'teenage' chickens (the Black Copper Marans hen and roo in the back of the crate) will only reside here for a week until being moved to the grow-out coop next door.
When they are moved, I will close off the nest boxes for the first week or two, which will prevent anyone from hiding or sleeping in them and teach them to sleep on roosts as they should. When chickens get into the habit of sleeping in nest boxes, it's difficult to break the habit. It is not desirable to have chickens soiling the nesting material where eggs will be laid. Good coop management leads to clean eggs. Never let your chickens sleep in the nest boxes.
Newbies whose playpen is NOT in the coop, are put in the playpen every morning and returned to the brooder at night until I'm certain they're reasonably comfortable with the Flockers. It's a little tricky to get them to undersand the concept of going into the coop at night, however, as they have not been trained to the coop yet. When they are placed into the coop full-time, they will be confined to the coop itself for a week or so in order to reinforce the new bedtime routine. Again, close off the nest boxes as described above to discourage sleeping and pooping in them.
Some minor conflict is to be expected as the established pecking order is rearranged. If, however, there is any persistent bullying or bloodshed, remove the victim from the general population immediately, clean their wounds and keep them segregated until they are fully healed. This will not affect their position in the pecking order upon return and is necessary for their own safety. If the victim is bullied upon her return to the flock, separate the bully in a playpen for a few days, after which she should play nicer with the other kids.
|Mission accomplished- flock harmony!|
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