How to Keep Chickens: When to Separate Your Flock

Posted on July 3, 2012

I currently have a total of eight pekin bantams, and 12 farm chickens. 10 of the farm chickens sleep in the large chicken house; one sleeps by the Workshop (not sure why, or when she decided to do that); and one sleeps by the old chicken house because she has just hatched 5 babies.

Of the eight bantams, there is one main rooster and his first two wives; as well as five babies that one of his wives had when I first got her (to a different rooster/father).

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Ginger with her five babies, the two in the front (Eenkie & Tweenkie) being the two she rejected.

 

Now, for some reason, the mother hen (Ginger) decided she didn’t want the last two chicks that hatched, who both happened to be grey/lavender in colour (like their father). Why hens reject certain chicks is a bit of a mystery; however, since they both had the same, lavender colouring, I did wonder if this was the reason behind the two being rejected.

I took in the two she rejected (quite happily, I must admit!); however, the interesting thing to note was, even though I fed my chicks all day long, gave them love, gave them insects to eat and sunshine daily; they grew about one third of the rate of the three chicks that Ginger kept. Perhaps this is why she rejected them? She knew on some level that they would be weaker than the rest? Survival of the fittest and all that? I will do some research into this because I’m very intrigued and will report on my findings.

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Tiny Eenkie and Tweenkie settle into their new home.

 

Anyway, back to the subject matter: when should you separate your flock?

As mentioned, I hand-raised the two lavender chicks that Ginger rejected (known as Eenkie and Tweenkie). When I felt they were old enough and had enough adult feathers to keep them warm, I stopped bringing them into the house and instead let them start sleeping with the other chickens.

At first they were quite quick learners. Well, Tweenkie (the female) was very quick to learn how to get up into the top portion of the chicken tractor. Eenkie is a bit slower to learn this. When it gets cold and dark he just wants to cuddle up to Tweenkie and doesn’t have a thought in his head about getting in the warmth with the other chickens; whilst Tweenkie is busy trying to get away from his cuddles so she can get up into the ‘roost’.

Something happened though, around about the time that Guinness, the guinea fowl chick, disappeared; and the chicks stopped trying to get into the ‘roost’ and would just get up on the top perch and wait for me to come and put them in manually. Was I spoiling them? Did they get lazy? Do they just not want to sleep with the other chickens?

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Eenkie (back) and Tweenkie (front) at approximately 4 1/2 months

 

The fact is, as we all know, there is always a pecking order with chickens. That means that there always has to be chickens at the bottom of the pecking order. Unfortunately, my two little darlings, being the youngest and I suppose parentless; made them the obvious favourites for picking on by the others.

It’s hard for a surrogate mother to watch; although I do understand that it is the way of nature and the way of things with chickens.

However, one month later, the chickens still refuse to put themselves up to bed; even as the winter gets colder and colder.

I realised today that every time I do put them up with the others; they fret and stress a little, and no wonder: they get pecked at every time, and in the morning, being in an enclosed space all together, they are pecked on constantly by the lot of them until I let them out.

So! Last night I realised this and today made a plan for my little ones. I gave them their “cot” back. The basket I had used for raising them: I filled with lots of dried grass to provide them with insulation and warmth. After all, if they are prepared to sleep ‘outside’ on the perch all night; this will be warmer than that. Plus, they won’t have to worry about being picked on in the evenings or in the mornings.

I brought them their basket this evening, so happy for them to have their own warm space again and to not have to ‘deal’ with the other chickens’ bullying.

I look forward to the morning and expect to see them all refreshed after a sound nights’ sleep without any stress!

Tips for when to separate chickens:

If you have more than one rooster and they are constantly fighting. This is always a good time to separate the chickens who are fighting (or even sell the extra males that you don’t need). If you do separate, try and keep the main rooster with his favourite hens, and ensure the separated male/males have their own hens – unless you don’t want them to breed.

Another time to separate is, again, if you have too many roosters and they are constantly ‘raping’ the females. Males tend to want their sperm to take, so what usually happens is, after one male mates with a female, the others want to mate to get their sperm in there and increase their chance of reproduction.

This behaviour can be stressful for the females and they can also lose feathers on their back and neck due to the constant mating.

Some people also choose to separate different breeds of chickens to keep them ‘pure’ or because they just don’t get along together.

I’ve kept large chickens and bantams together before and had no problems; however, I now have pure bred chickens so not sure I want to mix them with the regular chickens.  I couldn’t bear to see the bigger chickens pick on the little ones! It’s also harder to give them special treatment with the bigger, bully chickens around.

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