It’s starting to feel a bit like fall, so it’s time to think about integrating pullets (the female chicks that hatched in the springtime) into the main chicken flock.
It seems that we’ve had female chicks (which have grown into pullets) to introduce into the flock every fall for the past several years, and every year we get a little better at getting them introduced without “pecking order” scuffles.
The process described below is for chicks that have already been on your property for at least thirty days, any new birds should be quarantined for 30 days for biosecurity reasons before being integrated into the flock (very important for preventing the spread of disease to your flock – see Practice Biosecurity!).
Also, it’s always better to introduce several new birds together, that way the mature hens don’t have just one interloper to concentrate on.
Why the “Integrating Pullets” Process Should Be Done
Your flock knows that the coop and run are “their” territory, and will not welcome any new chickens. They also have a pre-established “pecking order”, and will immediately peck at new birds to try to put them in their place. This can become vicious, and new birds may be injured if they can’t escape.
Because of this, many guides on chickens suggest sneaking the new birds into the main coop at night, thereby mixing up the pecking order and giving everyone a fresh start in the morning. When introducing young hens (pullets), I haven’t found that this works that well. The mature hens know who the pullets are and immediately start “picking” on them in the morning anyway.
To ease the combination process, we’ve found that it’s better to let the pullets mingle with the adult birds – without each group really having access to each other. To do this, we put a portable coop and run in the adult chicken pasture and house the pullets in that coop for a week or two. That way, when it’s time to let the pullets out into the larger pasture, the two groups are already familiar with each other. It also introduces the pullets to the sights and sounds of the chicken pasture without exposing them to any of the dangers.
When To Integrate Pullets
Fourteen weeks is generally when I think pullets are large enough to integrate into the main flock, and it usually coincides with the arrival of fall if the chicks were hatched in the spring. It’s a good idea to try to introduce them a couple of weeks before they start laying, so it can vary depending upon the breed. The Leghorn and sex-link (black sex-link, golden buffs, etc.) egg-laying breeds usually start laying at 17 – 18 weeks, so introducing them beginning around 14 weeks makes sense. Most of the purebred breeds (Rhode Island Reds, Buckeyes, Barred Rocks, etc.) start laying a few weeks later, so you can start introducing them a couple of weeks later.
After a week of coexisting in the main pasture, when we open the door on the portable coop and let the pullets out into the pasture with the adult birds, there are usually no fights or pecking order scuffles (the pullets concede that they’re on the bottom of the pecking order). The older birds are usually more interested in getting into the pullets food in the portable coop than in the new pullets themselves.
What To Feed
At first, we let the pullets continue to eat and drink from the portable coop/run and return there at night to sleep (we close the coop at night to protect the birds from predators). But after about a week, we let the adult birds finish the supply of layers ration in the main coop, and replace it with the grower’s ration that the pullets have been eating.
Then, we do introduce the pullets into the main coop one night. We find that they like to sleep in the nesting boxes at first, so we just introduce them there one night (we don’t try to put them on the roosts with the adult birds – they always seem to prefer the nesting boxes or coop floor).
After the pullets begin sharing the main coop with the flock, it’s better to feed the entire flock the grower/conditioner that the pullets have been eating, rather than feeding the layer ration that the mature hens have been eating. The higher calcium levels in the layer ration aren’t good for the growing pullets (can damage their kidneys) until they start laying, so it’s better to feed the grower/conditioner and supplement the mature hens’ diet with free-choice oyster shell for a couple of weeks until the pullets start laying.It’s a good idea to have several feeding and watering stations available so that the younger birds have access even though they’re lowest in the pecking order. We’ve found that having two in the main coop and maintaining the feed and water in the portable coop provides enough access for everyone. It’s also best to have plenty of space available with lots of things for the pullets to run behind or under so that they can escape from the adult hens if necessary.
The pullets always seem excited about the larger pasture, but stay together loosely in their own small flock(s). They generally do fine foraging and getting along with the adult birds. It’s a good idea to watch carefully as the groups mingle; occasionally one of the mature hens can become overly aggressive. In that case, it’s best to isolate just the aggressive hen for a few days. When she’s returned to the flock, she’ll be worried about returning to her place in the “pecking” order rather than picking on the pullets.
Using the method described above, we’ve not had any pecking injuries. However, if pecking does occur and blood is drawn, it’s best to treat with something like Blu-Kote immediately. It’s a blue antiseptic spray that masks any red color so the chickens don’t continue to peck at any injuries (they like to peck at red). If there still is serious pecking and scuffling going on throughout the flock after going through the process described above, it’s probably best to start over.
In the past, I didn’t look forward to integrating pullets, but this process has worked so well that it’s not a concern anymore. And, just as the older birds are slowing down on egg-laying in fall, the new egg-layers should be getting started!
Thanks for sharing this Lesa. I integrate them this way too and it has worked well with minimum pecking or chasing.Even so, I still get a bit anxious every time I let the newbies in with older hens, and am now about to add two pullets.Reading your post made me feel more confident.I have found the hardest part is the older ones not letting them on the roost at night,but it eventually works out.
I have 14 6 month old hens 1 6 month old rooster and just was given 12 bantam hens that are 11/2 years old. I have them in a coop separate but they can see each other. Any suggestions?
Hi Melissa, I think that you could integrate the 6 month old hens and rooster now, but should wait a couple of weeks before integrating the older hens in. Just let them watch each other for awhile. When you do combine them, the younger hens may be higher in pecking order since it’s “their” coop and the bantams are smaller. Just follow the process above and watch them carefully after integrating.
We did this almost like you described. We had a small run beside the big run to let the two groups see each other for weeks. And then we added the pullets to the coop. The smaller chickens don’t seem to want to integrate. The older chickens peck at them a little here and there. But nothing major. We did have one aggressive hen we took out for about 5 days and then reintroduced her. She is not chasing them like she was. She had not been letting them eat. But now she is. Our pullets have been in for 9 days. One of the 3 seems to be integrating. She will go on the roost pole. But the other two seem to just run away from the older hens even if they aren’t coming to peck. They can all be out in the run scratching and pecking the ground and if an older hen walks toward a pullet. The pullet will run away. Is this normal? This is the first time we have tried this.
Hi Cheri, what you’re describing is normal. The young pullets are lowest in “pecking order” and they know it. It will take time for them to completely grow up and be fully accepted and perhaps start climbing in pecking order.
Lee Oliphant says
I’ve had to integrate four pullets recently. I thought I’d done everything right but alas, had to get “rehome” one of the hens for being too aggressive. Thanks, Lesa for the great detail. I’ll re-read you post before getting any new pullets.
Shawn Hall says
Great suggestions! Every chicken owner needs the info. By the way; who sells the pictured pulled coop & run?
Hi Shawn, it’s sold by Omlet, you can google them to find there products online!
Leila Blair says
I used to just put new babies under a broody hen and it worked fine, she accepted them as her own. But one year the he’d had stopped being broody when I came home with babies and I didn’t know it.
The babies started disapearing one by one and I thought they had found a hole in the fence. Until I saw a hen run past with a chunk of meat and fwathets. They were EATING THEM!
I quickly picked up the last chuck who was hiding between my legs and built a pen inside the enclosure just for her. When she old enough I let her out and they accepted her.But I will never get over the guilt of my stupidity causing the death of 3 little babies.