Chickens are like potato chips... You can never just have one... or even two. But adding new chickens to an existing flock is not as easy as it may sound. Last month we covered the pecking order, the hierarchical social organization in the flock, and how each member has a place on the hierarchy ladder. Adding new birds alters the pecking order. The resident chickens will most likely not welcome the newcomers and defend their positions instead. Meanwhile the newcomers will try to figure out where they fit and challenge the residents. Introducing new chickens to your flock can be quite stressful. But you can do a lot to ensure that old and new flock members integrate fairly peacefully. First, it helps to add at least 2 birds at the same time so no one gets all the attention from the resident flock. Also if you are introducing young birds, wait until they are fully feathered and more than half the size of the adults. By following the next 4 steps, you will make sure that the introduction goes as smooth as possible. Step 1 – Quarantine Make sure the new birds are healthy. The last thing you want is to bring parasites and diseases into your coop. Install the new chickens in a quarantine area where they have no contact (physical, sight, smell) with your flock. It could be in your garage, a spare bathroom, or a coop at the other side of the house. Keep them in quarantine for 2 to 4 weeks. It may seem long, but it’s needed to effectively assess the new chickens and treat any illnesses that they may have. During that time, look out for any signs of parasites or diseases like diarrhea and respiratory difficulties. Perform a thorough health check on each new bird. Avoid any cross contamination when going between the coop and the quarantine area: wash thoroughly your hands and change your boots. Step 2 - Visual introduction Start with a slow introduction. Have them see each other without physical contact. Use a pen, a fence, a crate, or another coop to separate the newcomers from the residents. They will start figuring out the new pecking order without hurting themselves. A week should be plenty of time for the existing flock to get used to having the new chickens in their presence.
Step 3 - Physical introduction Let the newcomers out first in your largest roaming area, and then the residents. When the chickens meet for the first time, there will be fights. This is a necessary phase. Watch but don’t intervene unless someone looks injured or starts bleeding. If the fight is too intense and lasts more than several minutes, separate the new chickens and re-introduce them the following day. Repeat this every day until they have settled down. In most case, you will only need to do this once and they will be fine. However if you have a more aggressive chicken, it might take 3-4 attempts to succeed. Finally after they met and are hanging together, they should all go back in the coop at dusk. If the new ones are going back to their crate, let them. Move them to the coop at night when everyone is asleep. Step 4 - Settling in After the chickens have been successfully introduced, keep a close eye on them for about a week. Make sure they are all eating and drinking properly. You may need to temporarily add an extra feeder and waterer. In total you are looking at around 5-6 weeks from getting your new chickens home to fully integrating them into your existing flock. Plan for it. All of the steps above might seem time consuming. However, in my experience it’s better not to rush these things.