If you plan to introduce new chickens to your flock, you might think that it’s as simple as introducing a new friend to your other friends. But because they are not humans like us, it can be a bit challenging not only to the new chickens but also to the flock. First of all, your flock has already established themselves according to their social group. In terms of chicken, this is called pecking order. This means that there are dominant hens that are usually aggressive. The rest of the flock has their rankings, too. So once there’s a new member, all of them will have to adjust and it’s not that easy. Aside from this natural behavior, chickens also have a survival instinct. If they feel uncomfortable with the new ones or think they are a threat to them, they can suddenly attack without a warning. This usually happens when head roosters want to protect their position in the flock. They also go ballistic to remind the new ones not to touch their hens. On the other hand, the new ones may refuse to join them to keep them safe from potential diseases. You might also think there is a fixed pattern to follow. Well, there is. However, there are still some strategies that are not always applicable to all. Remember that in some ways, chickens are like humans. They also have different personalities, temper, and ways to react in particular situations. Therefore, it’s your responsibility as their master to help them. But just to warn you. You will need a truckload of patience, make an extra effort, and spend a lot of time. To help you out, here’s a step-by-step guide on how you can successfully introduce new chickens to your flock. So without further ado, let’s begin.
Table of Contents
- 1 Quarantine Your New Chickens
- 2 Test the Introduction
- 3 What To Do If Your ‘Sacrifice’ Chicken Gets Sick
- 4 How to Introduce Them Slowly
- 5 Introduce Chickens That Only Have Similar Age and Size
- 6 Put Cage Inside the Coop
- 7 Open The Cage Door With Caution
- 8 Free Range But With Caution
- 9 Surprise Introduction at Night (Optional)
- 10 Provide Some Distractions
- 11 Introducing a New Rooster to a Flock of Hens
- 12 Introducing a New Rooster and Hens to a Flock of Hens
- 13 Introducing a New Rooster to a Flock of Hen With a Rooster
- 14 How Long Should The Introduction Be?
- 15 Special Circumstances During the Introduction
- 16 Mixing Adult Chickens With Baby Chicks
- 17 Mixing of Different Breeds
- 18 Conclusion
Quarantine Your New Chickens
Quarantine or isolate your new chickens for quite some time before you allow them to join your existing flock. This is very important and you should never skip this part. In case you don’t know, most diseases can easily be transmitted from one chicken to another. Adult chickens are more prone to have health issues rather than younger ones. Nonetheless, it does not necessarily mean that young chickens are not susceptible to diseases. This is the main purpose of isolating your new chickens. So before bringing new chickens to your home, you should first prepare a quarantine area (coop) for them. It can be your old dog cage or an extra space in your garage. The amount of space depends on how many new chickens you have. Once your new chickens are already in place, check each of them thoroughly if they have external parasites such as lice, mites, fleas, and ticks.
You should also make sure that they have no signs of illness. Check if they have any of the following:
- Abnormal droppings
- Blocked nostrils
- Breathing difficulties
- Bumblefoot/ refuses to walk
- Droopy wings
- Feather loss (unless they are in the molting process)
- Nasal discharge
- Ruffled feathers
- Shriveled comb
- Swollen eyes/closed eyes
- Swollen purple wattles
You should also quarantine your new chickens even if they are not the same breed as your existing ones. If you have new baby chicks, you should quarantine them, too. Let them separate from their mothers for about 18 weeks, which is long enough for them to be of mature size. The separation will also protect the chick in case their mother hen got sick. If you have 5 suppliers for your new chickens, make 5 quarantine areas and batch them accordingly. This way, you can easily detect the source if one of them gets sick. Likewise, you should isolate new chickens even if they come from so-called reliable sources or tagged as certified free of diseases. And yes, don’t kiss your new chickens, no matter how cute they are! After checking, you should wash your hands thoroughly; change your clothes, gloves, and shoes before going back to your flock. Otherwise, you might be transmitting diseases to them.
How Long Should You Quarantine New Chickens?
Quarantine is usually between 7 and 30 days, but you can extend it if necessary. The longer you quarantine them, the more chances of discovering the manifestation of diseases. If during quarantine one or some of them show signs of illness, you should extend the quarantine period. Another benefit of a long quarantine is that your new chicken will get used in its new home.
How Far Should The Quarantine Be Away From Your Flock?
This may be tough if you have a small area. However, you must realize that some chicken diseases are airborne or can be transmitted through the air. Most poultry owners agree that the ideal distance between the quarantine area and your coop is 100 feet. But if it’s not possible due to lack of space, it should be at least 12 yards or 36 feet. You should also not place it in areas where a contaminated chicken used to stay. Otherwise, the new chickens might pick up diseases even if they are healthy when they arrived. If you have free-range chickens, don’t allow them to go near the quarantine area. However, it will be better if you let them see each other from afar. This will also help both parties know that they will soon have new companions.
Test the Introduction
First of all, this technique may not always be applicable. However, it is something highly recommendable to do especially if you have a huge flock. Some chickens are asymptomatic or do not show signs of illness. So if you introduce an asymptomatic chicken to your flock, chances are all of them will get sick, too. To start with, choose a “sacrifice” chicken that can be used as a test subject to check if your new chickens are healthy or not. Choose the one that is not that close to your heart. During the mid-quarantine period (or around 21 days of quarantine), place the chicken inside the quarantine area and monitor its health very closely. If the chicken will get sick (or die), then you’ll know that it’s not yet the right time to introduce your new chickens to your flock.
What To Do If Your ‘Sacrifice’ Chicken Gets Sick
Assuming that your “sacrifice” chicken gets sick or will die of disease, what will do to your new chickens? This is quite hard to decide especially if you have a lot of new chickens. This is also why you should have multiple quarantine areas if you have multiple sources. If your ‘sacrifice’ chicken was cured after treatment, this does not mean necessarily, all your new chickens are safe. And if your ‘sacrifice’ chicken died from serious disease, is it a good reason to perform culling (mass killing) of your new chickens? The first thing you can do is to understand the cause of the disease. Seek assistance from a vet who can help you decide what to do next.
How to Introduce Them Slowly
Finally! Your long wait is over and you can now introduce your chickens to your flock. But of course, you should do it slowly and carefully. Never, ever, let them be together right away as they might end up fighting and hurting each other. As mentioned earlier, it is better to let them see each other during the quarantine period. You will notice that one of them will “talk” and the other will respond. If you have done this, it will be easier for you to do the next step – the physical introduction. You can do it in several ways.
Introduce Chickens That Only Have Similar Age and Size
Before letting the new chickens and resident flock finally meet, you should first sort them according to age and size. Otherwise, the introduction might not go well. Introducing chickens to each other is also like introducing a new roommate or neighbor. If they don’t share the same likes and dislikes, they will find it hard to get along. For chickens, if one of them is more superior and bigger than the other, chances are the smaller one will get bullied. On the other hand, the opposite might happen if the older chickens are fewer than the newcomers. Therefore, both parties should also be of the same number. Also, if you have hens that are likely to have baby chicks, place them in a separate coop or cage. Chicks should be big and strong enough before mixing them with the high-ranking, aggressive chickens. Otherwise, they cannot fight well are likely to get killed.
Put Cage Inside the Coop
Place your new chicken inside a cage and put it inside the coop. This will allow them to start bonding with each other. For safety reasons, place the cage at the corner of the coop so that only two sides of the cage are exposed to the chickens inside the coop. This will also be easier for you to separate them once tension arises. Shortly, the flock will go near the cage to check the newcomer. If you think that the new chicken is being intimidated or the flock starts to be aggressive, remove the cage from the coop and try again next time. Otherwise, let it stay for 3 days to 1 week until they are completely relaxed. During the first three days, you may notice some pecking, which is normal. But if this will continue after a week, you may want to extend the time. This stage of introduction may be a good start but it does mean you can already put them together.
Open The Cage Door With Caution
If you think everything is going smoothly, you can open the cage door while it is still inside the coop. Be cautious while the flock is going near the cage, as some of them might attack without a warning. If the new chicken slowly goes outside the cage, it is a sign of confidence that there is no threat. But again, chickens may suddenly change their behavior so you should watch out and be alert. This may also take time before you finally allow the newcomer to free-ranging.
Free Range But With Caution
Allow your new chickens to free-ranging. Let them roam around and observe the environment. This will help them be familiar with their new backyard. It’s also their chance to discover places where they can hide in case the older ones will bully them. After a while, free the established flock and let them start getting to know each other better. However, ‘getting to know’ here does not mean they have to be together. It means they are facing each other but with a low fence between them. This is to avoid them from fighting in case they start to be aggressive to each other. Make sure also that your flock will not feel that the new ones are invading their home. Alternatively, you can free your old chickens while the newcomers are inside their pens. You will notice that your flock will slowly go near the pens. If you think it’s already safe enough, put your old chicken inside the pen and closely observe their actions. If you noticed some pushing, it may be because they are establishing a pecking order. But if this action becomes fiercer, you should separate them at once before they become violent. Continue the introduction some other time. The introduction will also likely be successful if you introduce them to each other in groups, or the same breed, traits, age, and size. This will help minimize the chance of bullying.
Surprise Introduction at Night (Optional)
Making a surprise introduction at night might work. To do this, simply put the new hens on the perches or bedding of the coop while the older hens are in deep sleep. Once they wake up and see the newcomers, they may think that the new hens have been there all along. However, it might be the other way around. If the older hens realize that they are just being fooled, the trouble begins. For this reason, this technique may only apply to submissive chickens. So if you want to try it, please do it with extra caution. If it will not work for the first time, chances are it will never work at all.
Provide Some Distractions
Yes. Sometimes, distractions also have some advantages. In this case, the purpose of the distractions is not to let your flock and the newcomers focus on each other all the time. Instead, they will spend some of their time scratching pecking the soil. To do this, you may give them some treats such as scattered seeds and leaf piles. However, overdoing it can be bad for their health. Therefore, here are some things you can also offer to them.
- Bales of hay
- Extra perches
Introducing a New Rooster to a Flock of Hens
If you plan to introduce a new rooster to a flock of hens, everything is likely to work out fine as there will be no adjustment needed in the pecking order. However, problems may arise if the hens are used to having a rooster around them. Otherwise, it may only take a day or two.
Introducing a New Rooster and Hens to a Flock of Hens
If you do this, chances are the new and existing hens will establish a new pecking order. The same thing will happen if you introduce a new hen to a rooster and a flock of hens. Both of them may take a couple of weeks to adjust.
Introducing a New Rooster to a Flock of Hen With a Rooster
This can be a very challenging part on your part because the two roosters are likely to fight over the hens. The original rooster will defend his “throne” and will fight hard to prevent the new rooster from stealing his hens. On the other hand, there might be some “agreement’ between the two male chickens if there are too many hens. If this will be the case, then you will have no problem. Otherwise, remove the new rooster to avoid violence.
How Long Should The Introduction Be?
As mentioned earlier, it may take time to introduce newcomers to the existing flock and there’s no exact time frame. Aside from the unpredictable result of quarantine, it will mostly depend on the reactions of both parties and how you introduce them to each other. The result of the visual introduction will depend on how far or close they are. Placing the cages side-by-side will help a lot in getting to know each other. Note also that there will be some adjustments in their pecking order or social group. Ideally, the newcomers will be at the bottom of the hierarchy. Docile hens are very likely to spend less time adjusting along the process. Nevertheless, the re-establishment of the pecking order usually takes 5 to 6 weeks.
Special Circumstances During the Introduction
The steps mentioned are effective enough in integrating the newcomers into your existing flock. But just like other animals, mixing different breeds and ages can be considered as special circumstances.
Mixing Adult Chickens With Baby Chicks
There will be two different scenarios here. Hatching chicks by mother hens and hatching them using an incubator. A broody hen loves hatching her eggs rather than laying them. So if they are mixed with baby chicks, she is very likely to treat them like her own babies. As a result, she will also introduce them to the flock. On the other hand, baby chicks that were hatched in an incubator are likely to find it hard to get along with adult chickens. This is why you have to separate them until they are 15-16 weeks old. At this age, they can now easily adjust to the surroundings.
Mixing of Different Breeds
Raising chickens of different breeds at the same time can be fun. You can expect to look at different colors of chickens getting along with each other. It’s a beautiful sight to see different egg colors in one egg basket. But if you introduce a particular chicken breed to another breed, that’s a different story. The biggest challenge is that bigger breeds will most likely bully the smaller ones. Other factors include coop size, the number of each breed, and resistance to diseases. Although there are success stories of breed mixing for adult chickens, they are very rare. So if you want to try it, do it with a lot of safety precautions.
- Introduce new chickens in pairs or groups. Introducing a single chicken may only lead to prolonged bullying.
- Provide extra space for the newcomers.
- Don’t make your existing ones feel that the new ones will replace them.
- Monitor continuously even if the introduction was successful. Chickens can easily their behavior.
- Provide an escape route or a place to hide for smaller newcomers if ever they are being picked on.
If you have done all the tips above and still no or little success, it’s not your fault and there’s nothing wrong with the chicken. Chickens tend to be territorial, as it is part of their instincts. If you notice a small problem, act on it at once and don’t ignore it. You should also be more patient and have a creative mind. Improvise if you have to.