Introducing new chickens to the flock
Once your new birds have been through quarantine, it is time to introduce them to the flock. However, the process of establishing a new pecking order can be awful to watch. Sometimes adding new chooks is easy. But all chicken keepers know that chickens can be mean, and especially to new birds.
That is why it is so important to introduce new birds to the flock carefully. By setting up the right environment, you can help the new birds transition smoothly and avoid bullying.
Physically protecting new (or old) birds doesn’t work – believe me, we’ve tried. Except for one awesome hack, the pecking order has to be naturally established. A few scuffles are the normal result of new birds upsetting the pecking order of the flock.
But there are a few things you can do to make the introductions as civil as possible.
Introducing adult chickens to the flock
In order to have the smoothest introduction of adult birds to your flock, here are a few tips:
- No new colours
Chickens really do pick on birds that are different. In a mixed flock this isn’t so much of an issue because birds are accustomed to seeing different chicken breeds and colours. But it you have an all-brown flock, don’t introduce a lone white bird.
- Safety in numbers
Birds have strong friendships and tend to stick with their own kind. If you are introducing new birds to your flock, always introduce a few together. Not only will the new birds be happier, safety in numbers will usually prevent one bird being targeted by the rest of the flock.
- Age matters
Age matters to chickens. Young birds naturally rank lower in the pecking order. This can be to your advantage, if your flock is fairly mild mannered. Introducing young birds is not seen as a threat, so they will not be picked on so much as ignored. However, they will need a safe place with food and water, in case they are chased away from the main feeder.
However, in flocks that are less kind to newcomers, it is better to choose layers or point of lay birds that are adult size and can stand up for themselves.
- Look, don't touch
One of the best things to do before introducing new birds is let them spend a few days or weeks within pecking distance of your flock. A separate pen just outside the coop or run is perfect. Avoid using the same fence for both pens, as chickens are known to fight through the wire.
Because the birds can see each other, without being able to fight, they tend to get used to one another. By the time the new birds are put in the main coop, everyone is so comfortable that establishing the pecking order is no more than a couple of blood-free squabbles.
- Space it out
There are always more squabbles when chickens are cooped up in a small space, even in established flocks. It is even worse for new birds.
Introduce new birds in the run, where there is plenty of room to escape bullies. Open the coop as early as possible for the first few days. Hungry birds waiting to get out in the morning are the most likely to cause problems.
Introducing chicks to the flock
Introducing chicks to an established flock is a little more complicated than with adult birds because of the size and age difference.
Generally speaking, chicks shouldn’t be introduced until they are large enough to fend for themselves against full-grown adults. Once the chicks are big enough, you can follow the same procedure as for adult birds, ensuring the chicks have a “look, don’t touch” introduction and are provided with a sanctuary where they can access food and escape bullying.
Things are very different, however, if your chicks are being raised by one of your own hens.
Chicks with a mother hen
Some chicken keepers leave their broody hens in the main coop to raise their chicks in the flock from day one. This can be a risky proposition because certain roosters and hens will kill chicks.
Most chicken keepers have a separate pen for broody hens, where the chicks and their mum spend a few weeks before being let out with the flock.
If the chicks have a mother hen that is willing and able to protect them, introductions shouldn’t require interference. Generally, even hens that are naturally low on the pecking order will still successfully terrorise any bird that makes one of their chicks squawk. However, it is important to watch your chicks in the beginning to ensure all is well.
It is not recommended to introduce a brand new hen with chicks to your flock. She has enough to do raising chicks without having to establish her place in the pecking order as well!
Want to know more?
- Learn how to quarantine new birds effectively
- Find out everything you need to understand the chicken pecking order
Good luck with your chicken introductions! Happy chicken keeping!
Rachael at Dine a Chook Australia