If you are raising backyard chickens there may be several different scenarios that would cause you to have to introduce other chickens to your flock. I am trying to keep my egg production up so I am constantly adding new chicks as I am able and rotating some of the older ones out of my flock. But this is not as easy as it might seem. It causes a great deal of stress on a flock and the owner if you were to just buy some chickens and throw them together and see how it goes.
For health reasons you must always quarantine new chickens and watch them for disease before introducing them to a new flock. If you don’t do this you run the risk of wiping out your whole flock with a pathogen that they are not immune to. But aside from the health quarantine, what about the “social aspect” of introducing new chickens to your flock? I’ve spent a lot of time watching the behavior and interaction of my flocks and these are a few of the things I’ve learned:
Allow time to get to know each other….
I’m sure we’ve all heard of the “pecking order” and boy can I attest to this being a very REAL thing in the chicken world! Chickens can be pretty ruthless to the one on the bottom of that pecking order. They will keep the lower ones on the wrung from food. They will peck them if they come near it and just generally pick on them. One of the tricks I use is to expose them to each other safely by keeping them in an adjoining pen or cage for a couple of weeks so they have the safety of a fence between them but they have the close enough proximity to get to know each other. I know not everyone has access to adjoining pens. In the past I have divided up a small portion of their existing pen and put the new flock in one side or placed the new chickens in a chicken tractor next to their new home for the purpose of familiarizing them to each other. Depending on your set up this may take some creativity but in my opinion it is worth the effort to do for at least a week. When it is time to incorporate them it is a much easier transition then just throwing them together without having seen each other.
Make sure the chicks are old enough…
I was very careful with this during my recent incorporation of new babies to the older flock. Older hens will automatically gang up on the youngsters and it won’t be pretty. I waited until the chicks reached or were very close to laying age of approximately 5 months before adding them to the older flock. There is a real danger that the older hens will injure the young birds if they are very young, especially an older rooster.
Place the new chickens in the coop at night….
There is some level of confusion when you add new chickens to an existing run and coop. They are creatures of habit. They have trouble knowing where to roost at night in an unfamiliar area. The less stressful way of incorporating them is to take them at night and set them on the new roost of the coop they will be living in. They will tend to go back to the same place they woke up and there will be less confusion. Also the flock that is already there will be more likely to accept them easier if they just wake up with them in the coop rather then throwing them into the pen during the day.
Share the grub….
No matter how slowly you go about it there will still be a pecking order and the new chickens will more then likely be at the very bottom, at least for a period of time. The higher up chickens will try to hoard the food and my concern is that the new chicks won’t receive enough sustenance, especially in the winter time. So I will go into the pen and throw some feed down in handfuls spread out away from each other. This gives the new chicks a chance to get some food because the older ones will have difficulty guarding all of the little piles at the same time. This works like a charm!
Watch for a bully….
Sometimes you just simply have a chicken that gets way to big for their britches and is relentless at bullying the new ones. I try to keep a sharp eye on this situation and if it doesn’t let up in a week or so I might remove the bully before an injury occurs. Sometimes just removing the bully and allowing a new pecking order to be set up and then reintroducing the offender to the flock will solve the situation and they will find themselves at the bottom of the ladder and less likely to be aggressive. There may be times that this does not work and it may be necessary to remove or cull the bird that is causing injuries to the other birds. It’s not pleasant for sure but sometimes necessary. Once a bird is pecked and blood is drawn you run the risk of other birds picking at this same bird and then you will be treating lots of injuries all of the time. This is not fun for the caretaker or the flock, so sometimes it’s better to keep the peace and remove the offender altogether.
I’ve been fortunate, by using these guidelines we’ve had really easy transitions when incorporating several new flocks together. Chickens are more complex then most of us realize in how they form their communities and behave in their flock. By just taking a little time each day when you go to gather the eggs and watching how they interact within their flock you will learn so much about what goes on in your backyard coop and have a much more peaceful flock for you and them.