Chickens have their own form of government we humans call the “pecking order,” and it doesn’t take kindly to strangers attempting to enter the fold. there is more to Introducing new chickens than one might think. Here’s a quick guide with the steps you must take.
The pecking order demands that you use a carefully devised strategy which introduces new members to the fold gradually and without bloodshed. You may get lucky after throwing a bird to the masses without an introduction, but most often you will either end up with a deceased chicken, or a bloodied mess that needs weeks of TLC to rest and recuperate.
A flock of young pullets will be the easiest going because they haven’t yet had time to establish a pecking order. Any newcomers will, therefore, have a chance to get in on the ground floor.
Established flocks which have had time to tap out the pecking order (Understanding the Pecking Order) will be an entirely different, and sometimes violent, story. It can be the fight club of chickens when a new bird enters the fray.
Place New Chickens in Quarantine
A new bird may pose a health risk to the other chickens, so a period of quarantine is mandatory to ensure it is free of disease. Adult chickens are the most likely to be carrying disease or infection, so some chicken keepers skip this step when they bring home new chicks from trusted sources.
Quarantine is a coop separate from the main flock where you can keep an eye on the chicken to ensure they are fit and healthy and free of disease.
Signs your chicken may be sick or carrying parasites include:
- Signs of lice or mites
- A shrivelled pale comb
- Watery eyes and blocked nostrils
- Scales on the legs and feet
Quarantined chickens can benefit from supplementation of minerals in their feed and water, so they are as fit and healthy as possible before being introduced to the other chickens.
A quarantine session can last anywhere from a week to a month, with the longer period giving you the best chance at spotting a disease or infestation and keeping it contained. (Sick Chickens Signs, Symptoms and Treatments)
Look but Don’t Touch – Introducing New Chickens to the Flock
The most efficient method for introducing new chickens to a flock is to keep them physically separated while allowing the chickens to see and become used to one another.
Some chicken keepers will use chicken wire to section off part of the chicken coop. The chickens can see other, but the new ones are kept safe from harm from the more rambunctious and bossy hens in the flock. It’s a convenient solution, but it does keep the new additions confined to the one location.
A more convenient solution is to create a small portable coop which can be moved around the yard to wherever the primary flock is free ranging at the time. The new chickens will also appreciate having access to fresh, clean areas of the farm or backyard every day.
When the chickens seem like they may be amicable to each other – usually after about a week – access to the flock may be granted via an opening in the portable coop.
For the first few days, the new arrivals will maintain a close distance to the coop, but they will soon feel comfortable enough to range further afield and mingle with the rest of the flock.
There will be some internal shuffling as the pecking order gets sorted out with the newbies and you’ll notice a few of the established flock members making their leadership status clear to the new recruits.
However, if things get excessive and the new chickens are forced to live in a state of fear due to excessive chasing, pecking, and aggression, then the flock might not be quite ready to accept new members and they will probably need another few days of separation.
Just about anything can be used to construct a portable coop. Some breeders use dog cages, while clever chicken keepers make portable contraptions that are easily transported to each location as needed.
More Introduction Strategies
Separating the chickens via a wired partition or portable cage is an often-used system which gets results, but there is more than one way to introduce new birds to a flock.
After keeping the birds separated for at least a week, you can pop the newcomers into the coop at night. If you use this system, you will want to make sure you are near the coop at the crack of dawn to take care of any outbursts, as some of the flock may take issue with the newcomers suddenly making an appearance.
Another strategy which has been used with some success is to locate chickens to somewhere which is new to all of them. It will throw the established flock off balance as they work out the boundaries for the new territory, giving the new arrivals some time to integrate.
This system works best if you are lucky enough to have wide open spaces which will provide the chickens with enough room to give each other a wide berth while they get used to each other’s company. Large free-range areas also give the new chickens room to run away without putting themselves in danger if the pressure gets too much.
Other Tips to Keep in Mind
You can give the birds a distraction to keep them from focusing all their attention on the new birds. Shiny CDs spinning in the sun will catch their eye, as will fresh greens which you have hung at random locations throughout the run.
If at any time blood is drawn, then the new chicken will need to be separated from the flock immediately. Chickens are drawn to bloody wounds. If the new chicken sustains an injury from one, then the others of the flock are sure to join the fray and make matters worse.
Keep younger chicks separate from the growers until they have matured a little. The youngsters can easily catch diseases from the older birds because their immune system hasn’t had time to develop.
New chicks will be no match against an older bird who takes issue with them – especially when you consider a month means the older bird will be about twice the size of the youngster.