These are general recommendations that can be applied to both hen and rooster introductions to existing flocks. Most hens are easygoing in temperment and can be safely introduced to the flock without much more than a little supervision. Roosters, however, require more preparation for introduction especially if they have been badly treated, bred for and provoked into fighting. Ample space and an interesting environment are essential for these naturally peaceful flocks. Overcrowding and boredom are the most common causes of behavior problems.
A rooster¹s mission in life is to protect and serve the flock. They are hardwired to watch for danger, alert the flock to run for cover, fight off predators, find food for the flock and stand guard as they eat, find good places to build nests and preserve peace in the flock by breaking up spats and looking after the weak, young and old. There are always individual exceptions, and relationships between birds can also change over time and circumstances, so close observation is important to intervene if there is any bullying. As long as you can remember their mission, their behavior will make sense and they will teach you many things. One-on-one time for you and the bird is crucial for trust. Hold them, carry them, treat them, scratch their ears, stroke their combs and wattles, talk softly and cluck to them. I sing to mine. Above all respect them.
Before introducing a new bird to an existing flock, it¹s good to let them get acclimated in a quiet environment. New birds who have been housed indoors need to be very gradually acclimated to any drastic temperature changes before adding the stress of introductions. We keep newcomers separate from the others for at least 2 weeks to watch for signs of illness and to allow them to feel safe and gain confidence after the stress of impoundment and whatever bad situation they have come from. Sick or injured birds must be healthy before being introduced. See our chart ³Physical Exam for Chickens² available at http://www.brittonclouse.com/chickenrunrescue.
"Vincent Atlas with new flock" by Jodi Hesse
TEMPORARY INTRODUCTION PENS
Temporary introduction pens allow visual contact and interaction with a safe barrier of 2 ft vinyl hex fencing added to wire or chain link fencing to prevent pecking injury. New birds should be kept separated by secure fencing where they can all see each other yet remain protected until acclimated and desensitized. Fencing should be reinforced with a 3/4² vinyl poultry mesh at at least a 2 foot height. Our pens are 4 ft. x 4 ft. high moveable wire panels fastened together to make a 4 x 12 ft. area. We use wooden lattice for tops. We also have a 6 x 12 x 6 ft high chain link pen with a kennel cover on it. All the pens open out into an open garden where everyone takes turns having the run of it. The importance of having multiple comfortable and safe enclosures for your flock insures that you can cope with any behavior issues that might come up and still have a secure home for all.
CALMING GROUP ACTIVITIES
Calming group activities such as picking at scratch (cracked corn, sunflower seeds & oats) strewn on the ground on both sides of the barrier allow a sense of communal scratching. Favorite ³family-style² foods like watermelons can distract attention and have a calming effect - eating is a very social activity for birds. Wedging a whole head of romaine or other greens in the fence so both sides can tear at it gives them a communal activity that involves their beaks with attention directed at a common object instead of each other. Provide dustbathing materials and hay and roosting spots for them to entertain themselves and prevent sparring out of boredom.
"Friends" by Carmen Vaz Altenberg
BEAK TO BEAK INTRODUCTION
Beak to beak introduction to others should be made in brief intervals (ie. 5 minutes every half hour) under close supervision and gradually increase the length until everyone is relaxed enough to preen, scratch the dirt or eat and appear indifferent to the presence of the other birds. The enclosure should be neutral territory and have plenty of space and obstacles for all to evade unwanted attention. The new bird should be given time to become familiar with the space before sharing it with others. Sometimes it works better to start with a few calmer flock members and gradually add the others. Have a first aid kit and several enclosures ready in case you need to act quickly.
AFTER DISPLAYS SUBSIDE and normal scratching, dustbathing and and feeding behaviors resume, supervised face to face contact in a larger space can be done in short sessions. Some sparring may still occur. If it does, after a minute or two, calmly separate the boys and place one in a smaller secure area and allow the other to remain. Alternate who has to take ³time out². Some fighting roosters may develop friendships with other rooster breeds and even with others of the same breed, but sometimes two roosters of the same breed and a history of fighting may need to be permanently separated-- taking turns with freedom. They get accustomed to the routine and look forward to their turn. They will still enjoy their friendship with you and being part of the flock activity with a safety barrier.
Other students of roosters have noticed the pacifying effect of another avian species. One of our adoptors writes-- ³Turk (a turkey) used to be a force in our barnyard and would frequently break up fights and keep roosters (and hens) in line. Lucky, our large African Goose, used to break up little tussles between roosters Kermit, Visitor Bob and DeeDee. Now these roosters are further along in years and have settled their flock ranking. As a prey species Geese and Turkeys don't want loud commotions in their confined areas that could alert predators, so it's to their benefit to intervene when roosters start commotions. Hence, a well placed, large, strong, vigilant Tom Turkey, Pekin duck or Goose can be a pacifying force. ²
OBSESSIVE AND CEASELESS AGGRESSION
If there is obsessive and ceaseless aggression once all birds are together, separate the offenders and try again later. Sometimes even the time of day can affect behavior. We¹ve noticed that first thing in morning or near dusk testosterone and adrenaline levels seem high for roosters. On first free encounters, some challenging and sparring is to be expected to establish who is to be in charge of flock security. Sometimes order comes in minutes, sometimes over a period of days. Trimming of flight feathers and blunting or trimming spurs on larger birds may give smaller birds an advantage until behavior normalizes but should only be done if necessary. Like people, each bird is an individual and interaction with others can be difficult to predict.
"Common food project" by Mary Britton Clouse
ACCEPT, RESPECT AND ADAPT
Like people, some roosters, regardless of breed, will sometimes never get along. Their personalities clash or they have some unresolved conflict that might never be resolved. Chickens can recognize and remember a remarkable number of individuals in a group-- especially the ones they don't like. Instead of giving up on them, accept that we humans do not control others. Respect their complexity and preferences by accommodating the behavior. Provide separate spaces where they can take turns cohabiting normally with other flock members but don ¹t have to deal with ³that other guy².
Illness or injuries may trigger aggression between roosters who usually get along.
Access to females can trigger aggression, but separating the sexes calms down the competition even if they can see the hens. The girls are relieved by "boys time out" too.
Hormone levels will be highest during a rooster¹s first season of sexual maturity. In most cases aggressive behavior decreases with age
Mating and breeding season can vary by weather but generally aggressive behavior intensifies in early winter and subsides within a month, and resurges in early spring tapering off as summer approaches.
A hen hatching eggs can trigger very aggressive behavior. Not only is it bad for the peace of the flock, but for every chick hatched, that is one less home for a chicken who needs one. Collect the eggs daily and hard boil them as treats for the flock.
United Poultry Concerns, Inc.
PO Box 150
Machipongo, VA 23405-0150
FAX: 757-678-5070 www.upc-online.org