Introducing New Chickens Into an Existing Flock

“We have 3 chickens about 6 months old just started laying, could we introduce chicks into the same coop? Thanks.” ~ Gayle Kiernan

Hi Gayle thanks for the question.

Introducing new birds into an existing flock requires following a few key principles to be done successfully.

There is a definite pecking order within a flock of any size. Someone gets to be in charge. If there is a rooster, it’s usually him.

Our flock didn’t include any roosters for a long time, we then found ourselves with four roosters (not on purpose) when we expanded.

One of the roosters quickly ascended to the top of the pecking order. He had his preferences regarding the hens but one was his favorite. After the roosters were culled from the flock, that hen assumed the position of being in charge.

The point is this; it is not necessarily the larger or older birds that find themselves towards the top of the pecking order. There are some scrappy little birds that can really hold their own. Once the flock has established their hierarchy, everyone seems pretty comfortable with it, except for maybe the bird on the bottom. There will be adjustments in the pecking order from time to time but they are typically not drastic

When new birds are introduced into the flock, there will be some bullying as everyone tries to keep their place in the pecking order.

Eventually they work it out but frequent monitoring within the first few days is necessary. Intervene only if it is absolutely necessary to prevent injury.

Provide places in which the bullied birds can run and hide if they need to. It can take up to two weeks or so for everyone to get settled.

For this reason, it is important to add birds only when they are fully feathered and big enough to defend themselves.

I’d highly recommend that the existing flock be exposed to the new birds before the two are combined.

Keep them near each other but separated. We accomplished this by building an annex to our run. Once our new birds were old enough to be outside, we added a second run area abutting the existing run. In this way, the old birds got used to the smell of and the presence of the new birds. Once the new birds were old enough, we opened the door and let them get to know each other.

For the first few days, the new birds wouldn’t leave the comfort of their area. The roosters were the first to venture into the unknown territory, followed by their favorite hens. Eventually, everyone found their place and the new pecking order was established.

A few more tips that may make the transition smoother;

Introduce new birds at night, after everyone has gone to bed. Because they’re sleepy, the old birds may not cause much of a ruckus. The new pecking order will still need to be established but maybe everyone will feel a little more comfortable with each other in the morning.

If possible, introduce at least two new birds at a time. By doing so, you are assured that no one bird is the recipient of all the bullying.

I haven’t personally tried this one but it sounds plausible: put vinegar on the backs of the new birds and on the old. To some extent, chickens identify each other by their scent. If they all smell the same, maybe the old birds won’t pay attention to the new because they all smell the same. It’s worth a try.

Finally, a few words of caution; always buy chickens from a reputable supplier. If you purchase them from an individual, be sure you personally see the conditions in which the birds have been kept. Check to be sure they have clean water and feed. Is manure piled up everywhere or does it look pretty well maintained?

Look at the other birds, keeping an eye out for disease. Carefully check the birds you are purchasing do not be afraid to offend. You must understand that if you bring a disease home to your existing flock, you could loose them all. If an individual will not let you see the conditions in which your new birds have been living, move on. Find someone who has nothing to hide and make your purchase from him.

This is the most important point: Even if the birds are old enough to defend themselves, keep them completely separated from your flock for awhile.

I’d recommend a 30 day quarantine as it can take that long for a disease to show symptoms. Make absolutely sure they are not carrying any diseases by watching for signs and symptoms in the new birds. At the end of 30 days, it is time to move them to the near but separate area you have set up.

Also, when you have had to separate an individual bird from your flock because of health or injury, be certain that it is strong when you reintroduce it into the flock. When it was removed, it lost its place in the pecking order. It will be the object of bullying upon return. Keep a very close eye on it for the first few days until the new order has been established.

Occasionally you might get a bird that just can’t get along with the rest of the flock. It may be too aggressive or be the one everyone picks on. If injuries are occurring, you might need to cull it from your flock.

The introduction of new birds is stressful to both the existing flock and the newbies.

Do not introduce new birds at times when there are other stressful conditions present. Some examples would be in extreme weather, a recent close call with a predator, construction next door, you understand. Make sure there is plenty of feed and water available. If possible, provide more than one feeder so everyone is assured enough to eat.

They’ll work it out themselves but by following these steps, you’ll be making the transition easier on all of you.

Gayle, thanks again for the question, I hope this helps.