I think we all get ‘that’ craving every time spring comes round- should we get a few more chicks!? In fact with our first flock, it didn’t even take us this long, after the first weekend we went and got another six pullets. Before we knew it we had twelve pullets in our coop staring back at us!
Fortunately as the first six pullets were still establishing their pecking order, introducing six additional pullets was surprisingly easy and it happened without too much squabbling. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case and introducing new chickens to your existing flock can be a distressing and problematic time for both you and your chickens.
Quarantine New Chickens
Adult chickens are much more likely to be carrying a disease or infection, whereas chicks from a hatchery SHOULD be disease free. As a rule of thumb we say if you are introducing chicks or pullets from a reputable dealer this step isn’t required.
The first step when introducing new chickens to your flock is quarantining the new chickens and ensuring they don’t have any infections or diseases.
When you get your new chickens home, make sure you have a separate coop (or a large crate) prepared for them. From this separate coop you can observe them to check they are fit and disease free- the last thing you want to do is give your existing flock a disease from your new chickens.
The key things to look for are:
- Signs of lice or mites.
- Dull/ shrivelled comb.
- Blocked nostrils/ fluid coming from their eyes.
- Scaly legs.
If you are relatively new to raising chickens and are unsure what you are looking for, ask a more experienced friend to check your new chickens or failing that, head over to our Facebook page and ask us.
Whilst your new chickens are quarantined it’s a good idea to supplement their water with minerals to make sure they are fully fit before they meet your existing flock. Also, if you notice they look slightly underweight make sure to feed them well to get them strong and healthy before they meet your existing flock.
Quarantining should last anywhere from 7 to 31 days. The longer you quarantine your new chickens the safer it is for the existing flock, because you have more time to spot any illness/disease.
During this quarantine period make sure you thoroughly wash your hands in-between visiting your new chickens and existing flock. This will prevent any disease and infections spreading between the two separate camps.
Introduce Your New Chickens Slowly
We can’t stress this next point enough- don’t rush introducing your new chickens. Even if your new chickens don’t need quarantining, don’t just place them straight in with your existing flock. This will cause lots of unnecessary trouble and fighting.
You need a period of time where your existing flock can see the new chickens but can’t ‘touch’ them. The easiest way to achieve this is to place the new chickens in their own pen which is placed next to the existing pen. This way, your existing flock can get use to the new chickens without instantly squabbling.
Another popular method is to place a crate inside the existing pen and place your new chickens inside this crate. We’ve not used this technique as this is a more aggressive tactic.
Whichever method you decide to use, it’s important that for around a week your new chickens are visible but kept separate from your existing flock.
Give Your Chickens a Proper Introduction
After you have successfully quarantined and ‘visually introduced’ your new chickens it’s time to physically introduce them to each other.
If your chickens free range, the best way to introduce them is let the new chickens out first to free range and then after a few minutes open the existing coop up and let your existing flock join the new chickens to free range.
If your chickens don’t free range and are in a pen then the same principal applies, place the new chickens in the pen first and then let your existing flock out to greet the new chickens.
When your existing flock ‘greet’ the new chickens you will find there will be some scraps and jostling as they establish the new pecking order. This is perfectly normal and is a necessary step when successfully introducing new chickens. You should only stop this jostling if one of the chickens looks injured or starts to bleed- you don’t want your chickens to experience any permanent injuries.
If you find that the jostling is getting more and more intense and it lasts more than several minutes, separate the new chickens and re-introduce them again tomorrow. Continue to do this once a day until within a few minutes of introducing them, they have settled down.
You will find that each breed reacts to new chickens differently. Hybrids and Buff Orpington’s are normally very laid back and welcome newcomers. However you may find that Silkies or Rhode Island Reds can be very territorial and don’t take well to new chickens.
After the chickens have met and can stay outside together it’s time for the final play- that’s moving the new chickens from their crate and into the existing coop. You should find that after free ranging for the day the new chickens will follow the flock into the coop and settle themselves in. However, if this doesn’t happen and they try to return to their old crate- let them.
Then, during the night take the chickens out of their crate and place them into the existing coop.
How Long Will It Take To Introduce My New Chickens?
All of the steps above might seem time consuming and unnecessary to some backyard chicken keepers out there. However, in our experience it’s better not to rush these things and make sure due diligence is paid.
Quarantining: This shouldn’t last more than a month. This will give you plenty of time to effectively assess the new chickens and treat any illnesses which they may have.
Visual Introductions: A week here is plenty of time for the existing flock to get used to having the new chickens in their presence.
Physical Introductions: If you get lucky you will only need to do this once and they will be fine. However if you have a more aggressive/territorial breed of chicken it might take 3-4 attempts to successfully physically introduce them.
Settling In: After the chickens have been introduced you need to keep a close eye on them the following week. Make sure they are all eating and drinking properly and also keep an eye on egg production. Sometimes when you introduced new chickens to the flock they go off lay.
So in total you are looking at around 5-6 weeks from getting your new chickens home to fully integrating them into your existing flock.
Introducing baby chicks to adults
If you let nature take its course and have a broody hen that hatches her own eggs, she will protect her own chicks. However if you buy an incubator and hatch your own chicks and try to introduce them into your existing flock you’re going to have problems.
For the first 15-16 weeks you need to separate the chicks and keep them in their own pen. You need to wait until the chicks have their feathers and are a similar size to the chickens in the existing flock. Once they are a similar size you can follow the process above without the quarantine stage.
If you are intending to introduce different breeds into your flock then this can also cause some unique issues- the main concern being the potential size difference.
Larger breeds will always be more dominant so it isn’t fair to introduce a smaller breed (i.e. Silkies) to a larger breed (i.e. Jersey Giant) as the larger breed will bully the smaller breeds.
I know some backyard chicken keepers who have successfully integrated smaller and larger breeds into a flock but it can be difficult.
Tips and Tricks
Relocate Both Flocks: If possible when you introduce the new chickens, move the existing coop and pen to a new area so the existing chickens and the new chickens are starting with a new piece of land.
Same Size Matters: Try to only introduce chickens which are a similar size to your existing flock.
Extend Before You Introduce: Ensure there is enough room in your existing coop and pen before the introduction of new chickens.
Isolate Aggressive Birds: If you notice one chicken in particular is being overly aggressive to the newcomers, place the aggressive chicken in isolation for a few days to put her in check.
Distract With Treats: When you do physically introduce the new chickens make sure to have some treats at the ready to use as a distraction if needed.
Don’t Introduce Just One: Make sure you don’t introduce just one new chicken. Instead introduce at least two new chickens so the jostling/bullying from the existing pack is spread between them.
Patience is Key: Remember, chickens need to establish a pecking order amongst their flock. New members upset the already fragile balance that has been created and established by your current chickens.
Sometimes, it can be hard to stand back and watch the drama, but as long as it isn’t turning extremely bloody, or deadly, it’s ok to wait it out a bit.
After you’ve introduced new chickens to a flock a few times, you will start to notice the typical pecking order behavior. And, you will be able to see if the behavior is too aggressive.
Roosters: Unfortunately once roosters have reached maturity, it is unwise to try to introduce a new rooster to an establish flock (with a rooster). The fights that ensue will be bloody and exhausting for both roosters, and it may end in death. So unless you’ve kept your roos together since birth, and give them plenty of hens, you cannot keep roosters together.
Protect Yourself: Make sure that you are prepared to break up a chicken fight if things get a little out of hand during introductions. Beaks and claws will be flying, and if you do need to intervene, protecting yourself with leather gloves and strong denim jeans will pay off if you must insert yourself.
Have a Toolkit Handy: If you have to break up the brawl, have towels, boxes, and spare cages on hand to contain the rowdy flock members until things calm down. Also keeping a first aid kit with blood stop in it nearby may come in handy if things get bloody.