Introducing new chickens to an already established flock will need careful handling. But before you deal with this, the first step 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.

How long does introducing new chickens take?

In any flock there is what is called the pecking order. This is a hierarchy, which is created as a means of attaining and keeping order. Each chicken knows where it stands in the hierarchy. Unless a member of the flock is removed or added, the pecking order may remain the same for a long time, although it is never permanent.

integrating new chickens
The pecking order will change when integrating new chickens.

When you are introducing new chickens, there will be conflict until the flock re-establishes the pecking order . Newcomers will quickly be shown their place ~ sometimes with quite violent displays of aggression or by denying them access to food and water.

For this reason it is best to integrate new birds in a way that reduces this initial confrontation to a minimum.

Being introduced into an already established flock can be very daunting for a solo chicken. Rather try to introduce two or more chickens together at a time. It would be even better if they already know each other. This will ensure that the rest of the flock will not isolate the new chicken. If there is bullying, it won’t just fall on just one poor chicken.

What might work is to put them in the coop at night, when the flock have settled down for the night. When they all wake up you will often find that the original birds give the new ones the benefit of the doubt and the job is done. Make sure you are around when they wake up though. If your original chickens aren’t fooled you will have a fight on your hands and it is best to separate them.

Close But Not Too Close

Another method is to allow the new chickens and the established ones to get used to seeing and hearing one another. House the new ones in a separate run either very close to the existing run or even inside it.  Provide the new chickens with somewhere to shelter and their own supply of food and water. This should arouse the chickens’ curiosity, but they won’t feel threatened. Try to keep this arrangement for a week for the best chance at success. After a few days you may be able to let the new additions roam in the main coop with relatively little harassment.

This is important if the new ones are young or smaller than the existing ones.

Will chickens hurt new chickens?

Chickens can be real bullies, especially when they have smaller, weaker birds to pick on. If you are raising chicks, keep them in a separate coop or enclosure until they are older. They need to be strong enough to stand a fighting chance against the higher ranked chickens of the pecking order.

Some experts suggest having a water pistol or a well washed washing up liquid container. Fill it with water and keep it ready by the coop. Although it might look as though several of your chickens are picking on the new ones, there is often one ring leader with its trusty henchmen. Once you have identified the instigator of the bullying, you simply squirt water at them each time they launch an attack. Just avoid their head so as not to damage eyes, ears or fill nostrils. They soon get the message and hopefully will settle down harmoniously. The chickens then see you as the dominant member of the flock and defer to you.

If the chicken are free range, they are likely to sort themselves out sooner.

Distraction

If they are in a coop, you might introduce a distraction. This can be in the form of a hanging cabbage, squash, lettuce, kale, spinach etc. from a string or bungee cord. Tie it to a fence or from the ceiling in the coop or anywhere else they might be able to play with it. Cut over-ripe squashes in half and the hens will enjoy pecking at them. They like large marrows too. Make holes in small plastic bottles and fill them with seeds. The hens will discover that when they roll the bottle a treat comes out. This should keep them distracted for quite a while.

If a bird develops a bloody or very red wound during a squabble then it is important to separate it from the flock until it heals. If you don’t, the other birds will attack the area relentlessly, making it much worse.

After a while they should have settled down into their new order.

To read more about poultry click here.

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