As your flock grows and changes, there will be times when you want to integrate a new chicken into your existing flock. You might find a gorgeous hen at the feed store or an ad online for the rare breed you have been looking for. This can be a stressful time for both you and your chickens. It can be hard to watch your old, friendly flock turn vicious while picking on a newcomer, and it’s hard to watch your new chicken friend get bullied.
There are a few things you can do to make the transition as smooth as possible, but there WILL be fighting as a new pecking order is established. Sometimes fighting can even break out among the old flock mates as some take advantage of the commotion to move up the pecking order ladder. If possible, try to avoid adding just one new chicken. It lets the new chickens have at least one friendly face in the flock and helps to spread out the bullying behavior so it’s not the entire flock picking on one new chicken. It is possible though, with patience and care to add a single new chicken. I would strongly recommend against introducing a single chick to an adult flock. The adults could easily kill the younger bird. Click here for tips on introducing chicks to your older flock.
First, you should always quarantine any new chickens for about a month before you begin the integration process. Failure to quarantine new chickens can result in illness or parasites being introduced into your healthy flock – you don’t want to risk the health or life of your existing flock. Quarantined birds should be kept at least 30-40 feet away from your old flock, and you should be careful not to carry pathogens yourself by sharing equipment between the flocks. During the quarantine period carefully monitor the new chickens for signs of illness such as coughing, sneezing, discharge from eyes or nostrils, lameness, discolored wattles or combs, unusual droppings or lack of appetite.
When you are ready to begin the integration process, you don’t want to just throw the new chicken in the run and let them sort it out. Use a wire dog crate to allow the chickens to get used to each other without the risk of injury. If you don’t have a large enough crate, try separating off a section of your run. Click here to see how I built a mini coop for $2! The first day, I like to have the dog crate just outside the run. The old flock can see the new chicken, smell the new chicken, but she isn’t in their space yet so it’s not too big a deal.
IMPORTANT – Don’t forget the food & water and don’t leave the new chicken(s) outside at night in the dog crate. It doesn’t provide adequate predator protection, and the chicken will be very stressed out left in the open after dark. At night, either move the new chicken back to the secured quarantine area, or section off part of the coop where they can sleep (and don’t forget to provide food & water!). We like to block off a nest box with wire for the new chicken to sleep in.
On the second day, move the crate into the run. Give everyone lots of treats! Have some of your flock’s favorites on hand and pass out the treats often, helping them interact and get used to each other.
For the next few days, continue keeping the new chicken in the crate in the run during the day, and secured at night. After a few days, try letting the flock all out together to free range. Free ranging in the yard gives the newbies space to run away if needed and is a more neutral ground than the coop & run.
After 7-10 days it’s time to mix your new chicken in with the flock! The best way to do this is to wait until dark when everyone is roosting, quiet and calm. Take the new chicken and put her on the roosts with the old chickens. Set your alarm for sunrise the next morning – you don’t want to sleep in and leave the new chicken with no where to escape locked in the coop! Let the chickens out in the run together as early as possible that day. Check on them several times per day for the next week or so. Make sure everyone finds their way into the coop at night, some chickens may need you to pick them up and put them to “bed” for a few days while they get the hang of flock life.
Some bullying is to be expected but keep on eye out for injuries. A quick peck or swipe is normal, as is chasing the new bird away. If any of the chickens are injured or bleeding, remove them from the flock right away until they are healthy again. If there is one chicken in particular (usually the top hen) who is relentlessly picking on others, take that chicken and put HER in the wire crate in the run. Sometimes a “time out” is needed until she can be nice to her friends! Make sure the new chicken is getting adequate water & food, and that the older flock members aren’t keeping them away from it.
Before you know it, the flock will be one and everyone will be happily scratching about the run again!