Help! My Chickens are Molting

Chicken are MoltingWhat do you do if the chickens are molting? It’s the very end of summer and some changes are happening on the farm. The fiber goats are about to have their fall haircuts. The rabbits are eating a lot of food during the cooler evenings. The piglets are moving on to their new homes. Leaves are showing a slight change in color and the summer garden is waning in production.

But the most dramatic change occurs in the chicken coop and run, as the chickens begin to look a bit ragged. Ok, lets not sugar coat it. They look downright bad as they start to lose the glossy summer feathers and show balding spots and rough appearance. The chickens are molting!

chickens are molting

What Triggers Chickens to Molt

As daylight begins to shorten, molt is triggered. The hens may even stop laying eggs during the molt, because all of the protein intake is going towards feather growth. If you have extra eggs during the spring and summer seasons, you can freeze the extra eggs for the fall season when you most certainly will see a drop in egg production. You can read the instructions for freezing eggs in this earlier post.

As a first time chicken owner, years ago, I was sure that something was wrong with our flock. How could my beautiful birds be OK when they looked so messy? As it turns out, and I quickly discovered, this is normal fall chicken molting and a part of the chickens normal cycle. There’s even a pattern to the feather loss and regrowth. The molt will start with the head feathers and work its way to the tail and the fluffy butt.

chickens are molting

The Chickens are Molting ! How Can I Help?

The best thing you can do to support your chickens during molting season, is to feed adequate protein in the form of a high quality layer ration. Look for a ration that has at least 16% protein. While I have not switched feed because we feed a good layer ration all year through, you could also switch to a meat bird ration at 18% protein. Don’t overdo the amount of scratch grains during molt either. The chickens will still be happy to eat the chicken candy, but it will result in lower protein intake and a slower recovery from molt.

 

Not all of your chickens will molt at the same time

Not all of your chickens will molt at the same time

 

chickens are molting

Treats for  the Molting Chickens

Some recipes are available that will add some excitement to the life of a molting chicken.

My favorite molt muffin recipe was published last year in the book, Fresh Eggs Daily by Lisa Steele

I contacted Lisa, and she kindly gave me permission to share the recipe with you. But don’t stop there. I highly recommend this book for all who are interested in natural chicken keeping.  You can purchase your own copy of Fresh Eggs Daily,   here or on Amazon, Fresh Eggs Daily: Raising Happy, Healthy Chickens…Naturally

Molt Muffins
Rich nutrition for your molting chickens
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Ingredients
  1. 1/2 cup old fashioned oatmeal
  2. 1/2 cup shelled sunflower seeds
  3. 1/2 cup dried mealworms
  4. 1/4 cup wheat germ
  5. 2 tablespoons powdered milk
  6. 1/4 cup raisins
  7. 1/4 cup coconut oil, warmed to liquid
  8. 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  9. 1 cup natural unsalted peanut butter
  10. to hang the muffins you will need six large buttons (over 1" diameter so the chickens can't swallow them and baker's twine)
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients.
  2. Stir in the coconut oil and molasses
  3. then add the peanut butter and mix well. Set aside
  4. Line the muffin cups with paper liners
  5. If you want to hang the muffins in the run, thread the baker's twine through two holes in the buttons. Place one button in the center of each muffin cup, leaving the ends of the twine hanging over the sides of the muffin pan. Spoon the muffin mix evenly into the cups, making sure the button is centered in each cup. Refrigerate the muffins until firm. Remove them from the paper liners, hang them in the run and watch your chickens enjoy the treat!
Notes
  1. The only thing I did differently was to grease the muffin cups instead of using paper liners. When I made them using paper liners I had trouble removing the liner before putting the muffins in the run.
Adapted from Fresh Eggs Daily
Adapted from Fresh Eggs Daily
Timber Creek Farm https://timbercreekfarmer.com/

Other Helpful Treats for When the Chickens are Molting

Some treats you may already have around your home or feed room are great for this time of year. Chickens will always run eagerly towards a handful or two of meal worms. These are fantastic for protein intake and rarely will you see a chicken turn them down. There is evidence that the increased protein from grubs and mealworms will help chickens recover quicker from a stressful molt. Black soldier fly larvae, often marketed as grubs, are now available from Tasty Worm Nutrition. Our flock loves these, and the ducks think they are the best thing ever!

Black oil sunflower seeds are another high protein snack. The chickens will enjoy the variety of different supplements while they grow some beautiful new feathers.

Weigh all the Advice Carefully

An old country method is to give the chickens some dry cat food. Cat food is characteristically very high in protein.  I will be honest with you. I used to do this occasionally as a new chicken owner. We did not have any problems from it. Then, many times in a row, pet food recalls were occurring. Pets were even dying from toxic pet food. If the food can sicken a cat, that it is intended for, I decided to no longer treat the chickens to occasional cat food. 

chickens are molting

Everything in Moderation!

Even though the molting chickens will look pleadingly at you, there is no need to over do the treats during the molt. The old adage, everything in moderation, still applies.

chickens are molting The time it takes to molt varies from chicken to chicken. It is good to support chickens with good nutrition so the hen can return to egg laying as soon as possible

The time it takes to molt varies from chicken to chicken. It is good to support chickens with good nutrition so the hen can return to egg laying as soon as possible

 

How Long Will the Molting Last?

One last thought. Even though your chickens will look horrendous during the molt, do not give up hope. As long as your chickens are eating, drinking, running around and acting fairly normally, then all is well. Expect new feather growth in your chickens after 4 to 6 weeks. Some chickens molt and recover feathers quickly and some take FOREVER. Fear not, your flock will soon be fully feathered again and ready for fluffing up their feathers for chilly winter nights. Take care when handling your chickens during the molt as the new feather shafts are delicate and can be injured easily.

Roosters will molt, also.

Take care when handling roosters, anyway! This rooster is showing the beginnings of molt.

Take care when handling roosters, anyway! This rooster is showing the beginnings of molt.

Now go show your chickens some love.  Ugly chickens need love too.

You may enjoy these other recent posts on poultry

Hatching Eggs with Broody Duck

Best Ever Chicken Advice

Keeping Your Chicken Coop Smelling Fresh

 

Second edition available soon  




What Causes Weak Egg Yolk Membranes

weak egg yolkHow do you correct weak egg yolk membranes and get perfect sunny-side up eggs? When you cook the egg does it run all over the pan? This was a question I received recently from a reader. It’s fairly well known that a firm, strong egg shell requires plenty of free choice calcium for the hen to indulge in. But what about yolks that break apart as soon as the shell is cracked. The egg hits the pan and poof, there goes the yolk, spreading all across the pan. 

The reader who contacted me had done some experimenting of her own. It didn’t seem to matter which eggs she tried. The yolks still broke easily. She tried refrigerating eggs, not refrigerating, fresh, not as fresh, new hens, old hens….. you see the picture. 

I was intrigued by the question of what causes a weak egg yolk and did some research of my own. The results were all across the board! Some thought the eggs being stored in the refrigerator caused this. While others swore it was from keeping the eggs at room temperature. Even the storing in the carton was brought under the microscope, as in should they be pointy end up or down, in the carton. (the correct way is pointy end down)

weak egg yolk

How is Egg Quality Determined?

Eggs are graded for external and internal quality. The external qualities of the egg are the cleanliness, texture and shape of the egg shell. It’s not uncommon to find occasional odd eggs in the nest box.

The internal grading looks at the albumin’s cleanliness and viscosity. The other factors of internal quality are size of the air cell, yolk shape and yolk strength.

weak egg yolk

Possible Causes of Weak Egg Yolk

After weeding through many other research articles, forums and posts, it seems there is no definitive answer to the question of what causes a weak egg yolk. However there are some areas of possibility.

Protein

Low protein diet. A low protein diet can affect the egg yolk and cause weak egg yolk membranes because the membranes are formed from protein. The entire internal quality of the egg is affected by the protein available in the hen’s diet. A low quality feed may appear to be the budget conscious choice, but if the protein is not of good quality, the chicken’s body may not be absorbing enough of the protein. Feed with a heavy percentage of corn can have an adverse effect on protein availability in a feed.

weak egg yolk

Stress

Stress. Both environmental and physical stress factors can cause a hen to lay an egg with a weak egg yolk. Molting can be a stress factor in weak egg yolk. Increasing protein in the diet should help eliminate the problem. Weather can also affect the hens and possibly cause stress to their system. Extreme heat would be more likely the cause than too cold. 

Frequency of Egg Collecting

Frequent collection of fresh eggs, and proper storage in room temperature area for the short term storage is advised. This is especially important during heat waves. Longer storage times leads to decreased internal quality. When an egg is freshly laid, the yolk is round and firm. The vitelline  membrane holds the yolk in place. As the egg ages, the yolk absorbs water from the egg white. The yolk increases in size and causes a weakening of the vitelline  membrane. The yolk becomes flatter and weaker. Any factor that hastens the aging of a fresh egg is going to have an effect on the quality of the egg.

weak egg yolk

Illness in the Flock

Prior illness in the flock or individual hens can cause weak egg yolk. Also, older hens tend to lay eggs with the weak egg yolk issue more than the younger hens.

Handling of Eggs

Rough handling during collection, can lead to a weakening of the internal membranes. 

Breaking refrigerated, cold eggs, into a hot pan can cause the yolks to break upon contact. This is easily remedied by allowing the eggs to reach room temperature before cooking.

How to Correct the Problem of Weak Egg Yolk

The main reasons found for weak egg yolk issues are the age of the egg, storage temperature, water absorption, and handling practices. In addition, disease in the flock, protein in the diet, and age of the hen come into play. If you are finding weak egg yolks in your fresh eggs, assess the list given here as a starting point to determining the cause in your flock.

weak egg yolk

My first thought would be to increase the good quality protein in the hen’s diet. Adding meal worms is one tasty way to entice your flock to eat more protein. Black oil sunflower seeds are another tasty protein treat for chickens.

weak egg yolk

Consider any external stress that may be present in the environment. If heat is a factor, consider adding a fan to the coop to increase air flow and cool the coop down. Add cooling herbs such as mint and lavender to the area so the hens can peck at the herbs. Parsley, Marjoram, Fennel, and Borage are good to add when egg problems exist. As a result, the hens will be more comfortable while providing delicious strong, high quality eggs. In any event, adding more quality ingredients to your hen’s diet can only help them build stronger immunity and live healthier lives.




How to Use the Whole Pumpkin

How to Use the Whole Pumpkin timbercreekfarmer.comDo you try to use the whole pumpkin when you cook? Pumpkins are simply amazing, as a decoration and in taste, and nutritionally.  A great vegetable all wrapped up in a very cute package.  Since the pumpkin is such a wonder of nature we should learn how to use the whole pumpkin!    I look forward to pumpkin season every year, and as soon as September gets rolling, I am looking for ways to decorate with pumpkins in my home and yard.  I have  been accused of rushing the fall season by getting the pumpkins out early.  But, hey, some people rush the Christmas holiday, I rush the fall holidays. Its my thing! 

Use the whole pumpkin timbercreekfarmer.com

The first festival that includes pumpkins in a big way is Halloween.  Not necessarily my favorite of holidays but I forgive it and put up with it because jack o’ lanterns are so much fun to make.  Actually, my favorite holiday is Thanksgiving.  The fall colors and delicious food combine to fill my senses.  And pumpkins play a part both in the food, and in the decorations. 

November starts the annual cooking of the pumpkins at our home.  This year I gathered quite a collection of different pumpkins, most of which we grew here from heirloom seeds from last years pumpkins.  Last year we had a gift of many organic heirloom pumpkins from a local grocery (David’s Natural Market in Gambrills)  and after feeding the  pumpkins to the pigs, they nicely obliged by planting the seeds and tilling them into the ground for us!  We had pumpkins growing everywhere! 

How to Use the Whole Pumpkin

1. Cook the pumpkin to make delicious pumpkin puree

2. Save the seeds from heirloom pumpkins to plant more next year.

3. Roast the seeds for a delicious snack food.

4. Treat your livestock to fresh or cooked pumpkin.  The health benefits are good for them too. And pumpkin seeds contain something that is a natural de-wormer.  Feeding pumpkin and pumpkin seeds to your chickens will encourage good intestinal tract health. 

5.  If you don’t know me or someone else with farm animals, place the pumpkins near the back of your property and help the wildlife!  The birds, deer, squirrels and chipmunks will all enjoy your leftover pumpkins.  

Really, why let any part of the pumpkin go to waste when there are so many ways to use the whole pumpkin.

Cooking the Pumpkin

 Slice the pumpkin in half.  Scoop out the innards and put them in a colander.   Put the pumpkin halves face down on a foil lined baking sheet.  Bake for 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees F or until fork tender.   You can also read more about making pumpkin puree here from The Easy Homestead.

How to Use the Whole Pumpkin Http://timbercreekfarmer.com 

 

The pumpkin is cooked when a fork pierces the skin and flesh easily. 

    How to Use the Whole Pumpkin https://timbercreekfarmer.com

Separating the seeds  for saving and roasting.

In the meantime, decide how you want to use the inside goopy part of the pumpkin.  If my chickens had their way, every single pumpkin and gooey seedy inside goodness would come their way.  And since I cook so many pumpkins for our winter eating, the chickens receive plenty of pumpkin goodness.  And so do the pigs, master gardeners that they are.  But first, I grab some seeds from this line of pumpkins and roast some seeds. Start by rinsing the seeds and pumpkin guts under cold running water. How to Use the Whole Pumpkin Timber Creek Farm

The stringy gooey stuff does end up in the chicken pen and I try to leave a few seeds for the chickens too.  After separating the seeds from the goo, drain the seeds on paper towels.  Be careful, they are slippery little devils!  I saved about three dozen seeds to save for planting next spring.  These seeds were laid on a paper towel to dry for about a week.  Then they were stored in an envelope, saved for future years to use the whole pumpkin in baking, and cooking.

The rest of the seeds I  prepared to roast.  Melt a table spoon or two of butter, depending on the amount of seeds.  This was a small pumpkin so I only needed one tablespoon of butter.  Mix the seeds and seasoning and salt in a bowl with the butter.  I used a seasoned salt and regular salt this time.  You may want to try some garlic salt, a spicy blend or your favorite seasoning.  Olive oil can be used in place of butter if you prefer.   Bake in preheated oven 350 degrees F for about 20 to 25 minutes, looking for the seeds to be a light golden brown.  Be careful because towards the end, the browning can turn to burning, quickly.  I also recommend this post from The FlipFlop Barnyard on roasting pumpkins seeds.

How to Use the Whole Pumpkin https://timbercreekfarmer.com

timbercreekfarmer.com

use whole pumpkin - Do you try to use the whole pumpkin when you cook? Pumpkins are simply amazing, as a decoration and in taste, and nutritionally.  A great vegetable all wrapped up in a very cute package

What to do with the cooked pumpkin?

Okay, the pumpkin is cooked.  Now what?  After it cools, scrape the flesh from the skin.  Put it in a bowl and using a potato masher or an immersion blender, puree the pumpkin.  Store the pumpkin in the refrigerator and use with in a few days, or freeze it.  Do not  attempt to can pumpkin puree.  If you choose to pressure can the pumpkin, it must be in chunks not puree.  The skin?  Well that can be fed to your chickens or you can dehydrate pieces of the skin in your dehydrator for crispy pumpkin chips! Now that’s a way to use the whole pumpkin!Use the Whole Pumpkin timbercreekfarmer.com

Many people bake delicious recipes while using the whole pumpkin.  Mom Prepares has compiled a list of  ten recipes that you can try.  Pumpkin is a tasty ingredient in pancakes, cookies, breads, and desserts. I used the pumpkin puree to make a decadent Chocolate  Chip Pumpkin Bread.  Give that recipe a try soon! I am sure you will agree, it’s worth the effort to use the whole pumpkin!

How many of these methods do you use when you have pumpkins?

 

 

Use the whole pumpkin

For more on feeding healthy pumpkin to your chickens and livestock check out these posts>

Chicken Gardening

Pumpkin, Garlic and Nasturtiam Soup for Chickens

 




6 Fall Chicken Coop Preparations to Make Now

Fall chicken coop preparationsThe end of summer is the perfect time to think about fall chicken coop preparations. This isn’t a huge job for most of us. The chickens most likely spent a lot of time outside the coop during the summer. Feathers are everywhere at this time, due to the fall molt, so it’s a good time to clean up. Making sure that you are ready for the changeable fall weather, makes life much easier. Some years we have gone from beautiful fall weather to an over zealous cold front over night. Scrambling to get warm water to the flock, close up gaps and make sure we had plenty of straw and feed ready was a rush! Spending an afternoon running through my list of fall chicken coop preparations will save you many headaches later on.

Fall and winter, in many areas of the country, are wet and cold. There are areas of the country that don’t see bare earth after the snow begins to fall in late October,or sometimes earlier!  Here are a few key items to focus on while preparing your chickens for fall and winter weather.  

6 Fall Chicken Coop Preparations to Make Now.

1. Start the Season with a Clean Coop

Start by emptying all the nest boxes, bedding, and what ever you use to cover the coop floor.   When your coop is completely swept out,check for rodent damage.  Walk around the outside and look for areas where rodents might be entering the coop.  If you can enter the coop, do the same thing on the inside.  If you can’t fit into the coop to inspect, use a flashlight to look for structure damage and holes.  Look for any holes or openings and repair them.  When the holes are in the floor or lower portion of the wall, I recommend using some cement to plug the holes.  Roost bars should be cleaned and dusted with DE powder to remove any mites.  Placing the roost bar in the sun for a few hours will help with insect control and disinfecting.  Remember clean and dry surfaces are healthy.

 While you are in  the cleaning mode, pick up debris that may have accumulated around the coop.  Weeds, sticks and  trash give rodents a place to hide.  If the area is cleaned up, the rodents are more exposed and may not try to mooch dinner from the chickens.

fall chicken coop preparation

2. Check the Coop’s Ventilation 

Grab the broom again, but this time look up. Dust off the ceiling of the coop and make sure the roof ventilation is not blocked by debris, dust or leaves. Ventilation is just as important to the coop atmosphere in the winter.  Without adequate ventilation, moisture will collect in the coop. Moisture during cold temperatures can lead to frost bite on combs, wattles and feet.  It will also contribute to unhealthy accumulation of ammonia in the air, making your chickens more susceptible to respiratory illness.

3. Inspect the Roof

 Next, check the roof. Check that the shingles are in good condition, and still firmly attached to the roof.  Make the repairs now while the weather is fine.  It is no fun at all to be repairing the coop roof during a heavy rainstorm. This will be a fall chicken coop preparation that you will wish you paid attention to!

4. Check the Lights (for you, not the chickens!)

 Check the cords for any light you may depend on to brighten the coop once day light savings time is over.  Sometimes extension cords stop working. They may have shorted out, or been damaged somehow.  While I don’t recommend extending daylight in the coop for the chickens to lay more eggs, I do appreciate being able to turn on a light when feeding in the fall.  When daylight savings time ends, darkness comes so early!  

fall chicken coop preparations

5.  Check on the Water 

One of our fall chicken coop preparations is to check the water system.  If you use a hose to get water to the coop area, check that it is in good shape. Does it have holes in it? Right now, our hoses are a mess. The connections are bent, leaving puddles along the way to the water bins. I need to bite the bullet and buy some replacement hoses or connections. Where do you hang the hose when not in use so that water doesn’t freeze inside of it? If you don’t drain the hose after use, the water in the hose freezes. You won’t get any water through this hose unless you find a way to thaw it out first. 

fall chicken coop preparation

6.  Grab a Little More Feed

Now is the time to stock a little bit more feed than you normally stock during the warm summer months.  Using this method you will not run out of feed during a winter storm.  Summer storms seem to be shorter in duration than winter storms.  Afterward, the chickens can go back to foraging for weed, greens and insects.  During the winter, the storms may dump large amounts of snow.  When the storm ends, your chickens will need to be fed grain and may need to be kept inside for an extended time.  Be ready for this possibility by having chicken feed on hand beyond what you normally use.  

What do I do?  We normally use 100 lbs of feed per week, give or take.  During the winter I like to have 2 or 3 bags of feed in the feed room at all times.  This way, if I can’t get to the store, or the store does not get it’s delivery of feed, I can easily wait.  Of course your amount will be whatever works for your flock.  I just don’t recommend playing it too close to empty during the winter. This is one of the simple fall chicken coop preparations to make.

Chickens are rather cold hardy beings and have built in insulation with the thick feathers that come in after molt each year.  Keep the coop draft free, well ventilated, and dry, and have plenty of grain to keep them fed along with fresh water.  Your chickens won’t mind winter one bit.  

 

fall chicken coop preparations -The end of summer is the perfect time to think about fall chicken coop preparations. This isn't a huge job for most of us. The chickens most likely spent a lot of time outside the coop during the summer.

 




When Can Chicks Go Outside?

when can chicks go outsideOne of the top questions I am asked is when can chicks go outside. The need for warmth is key to a growing chick. The growing period is important and making adjustments at the right time is crucial to their future health and well being. The answer really depends on you providing the need for warmth, safety, food and water, where ever you house the brooder.

The first weeks of life you are dealing with rather fragile beings. They require a very warm environment. Even if you have a shed, garage or coop with electric, the heat source will be needed 24/7.  As the chicks grow, you will see them venture away from the heat source more and more. The chick’s downy covering will give way to new feathers. You can start to reduce the heat level gradually. Starting with the brooder near 100 degrees F, gradually reduce the heat by 5 degrees each week.

when can chicks go outside

If the chicks are mostly feathered and the weather is warm enough at night, you can gradually begin to wean them from the heat. This won’t happen for the first few weeks of life, however. Chilling is one of the leading causes of chick death. Once a chick gets chilled, it is hard to bring them back. The first few days are critical in giving your new chicks the best start. 

when can chicks go outside

 

When Can Chicks Go Outside?

As the chicks begin to grow, the mess becomes messier. You may begin to wonder if they will do just as well, outside of the brooder, in the coop. I want to encourage you to wait as long as possible before doing this. Not only can the chicks become chilled and suffer illness from being moved too early, but you set them up to become ill from bacteria and parasites.

Chicks are growing rapidly and need free access to food and water. Moving them to a coop situation where they will come in contact with staph, e-coli, coccidia, and Mareks disease is risky. Chicks need good nutrition, and time to build a strong immune system before being moved outside.

when can chicks go outside

I hedge a little on my answer, because each breed feathers out at a slightly different rate. And each area of the world has different weather patterns.  Sometime between 6 and 10 weeks of age, depending on the weather, the chicks may be able to begin living in the coop. 

Some people are successful with leaving the chicks in the coop and run during the warmer daytime, and bringing them into the garage or home at night. The answer to when can chicks go outside is a variable situation!

This does not mean that the chicks are ready to be integrated with the big chickens. You will want to take that slow and easy, when they are a little bigger.  

when can chicks go outside

When Can Chicks Join the Flock

If you watch a mother hen take care of her babies you will see that she protects them from other flock members. It takes a bold chicken to mess with a mama hen. In the case of chicks raised by humans, we have removed this protective barrier. We must use safe practices to integrate the new young pullets to the flock. Gradual and slow are the terms to keep in mind. 

My usual time line for introducing the new chicks to the flock is around 10 weeks. The chicks must be fully feathered, and on their way to similar size of the chickens they are joining. Adding small bantams to large breed, more aggressive hens is not always going to end well. A sharp hard peck on the head can damage a tiny bantam pullet. In addition, a full size rooster trying to mate with a small bantam pullet can damage or hurt the little one. I have had some bad outcomes from integrating small breeds into large breeds so I don’t recommend it. On the other hand if they are raised together, I  have had no such issues.

when can chicks go outside

When chicks are losing the baby appearance, feather growth has come in, get some sort of enclosure to put them in as they begin to experience the big kids area. I do not recommend just tossing the chicks into the big chicken’s area. Let them both get used to each other through a fence, dog crate, or some other wire enclosure. The chicks will still have their own food and water so they are sure to get plenty to eat and drink. You may need to keep the food and water in the middle of the pen so they big chickens can’t reach in for a snack. 

when can chicks go outside

Fully Integrated Flock

Once the chicks don’t seem to be getting much attention through the fence, from the flock, you can try some short intervals of letting them out.  I try to keep an eye on this and I do rescue anyone who seems to be picked on. Placing some hiding spots around the run.  One year four of our pullets liked to hide out behind the coop door. I have also leaned a piece of plywood against the fence for a lean-to. A fallen tree limb with leaves can provide cover, too.

when can chicks go outside

Is There a Right Answer?

When can chicks go outside and when can chicks join the flock are important points to consider when raising chickens. I think that the answer depends on a lot of factors. Weather, coop set up, and breeds of chickens, are some of the variables involved. What tips would you add about when can chicks go outside? How did you introduce your chicks to your flock? I’d love to keep the discussion going in the comments.