Integrating A Single Chicken to Your Flock

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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.

Adding a single new chicken to your flock

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.

Adding a single new chicken to your flock

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.

Adding a single new chicken to your flock

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!


19 comments

  1. Dana O says:

    I soon will be introducing three new baby chicks to my girls and I’ve been contemplating on how to go about it. I really like the idea of putting chicken wire in front of one of the nest boxes for night time because I really didn’t want to move my dog crate in and out of the house every night! Great post on integrating a new member into the flock!

  2. Teri Danstrom says:

    This was very helpful! I am thinking on getting a new chicken for my old flock of two large hens. I really want to get a bantam sized chicken to save space and money, but will the bigger hens bully the bantam because it is so small? A reply would be fantastic and very helpful to me!! Thanks so much!

    • Liz says:

      Hi Teri! They are likely to bully any bird that you get, standard or bantam. You can definitely add a bantam to your flock, you might just need to stretch out the introduction period and keep a closer eye on them at first than you would with a full size bird that can hold her own with the bigger ladies 🙂

  3. Susan says:

    Hi! My flock of four bantam hens has slowly dwindled and the third old gal is nearing the end of her days. Do you have a suggestion about how to get the sole survivor some company? Can I introduce a juvenile, or should I get get a mature bird? Any tips?

    • Liz says:

      You could go either way. She will likely accept either young or old birds, she will just be happy for the company. Definitely get at least 2 new birds though so once the older girls passes the new ones will still have each other. I think I would lean towards getting young birds, an older bird would be more likely to pick on the old lady during the transition phase, but younger girls are likely to let her just be top hen

  4. April says:

    Hi. I know this is an old thread. I have one chicken left now (I had 3). I have a chance next week to get rescue hens. Would you advise getting just one to make a pair or 2 rescue hens which could help my present hen from dominating just one or might they then dominate her? Thanks for any advice

    • Liz says:

      I would get two – it’s a good amount for snuggling together at night and leaves you with still having a pair when one passes on. Still keep them separate for a few weeks so they can slowly get used to each other, but I bet your girl will be so happy to have a couple friends it won’t be too bad

  5. abbe says:

    Hi we have just acquired a hen back to our original flock as a friend of mine who once had her cant anymore so am wanting to introduce her again to the old flock.
    What should we do as she will be about the same age and is of same breed. Will we need to do anything different to your advice?
    I have her in a dog crate tonight in laundry. How long do you think it will take to reintroduce her?
    Thanks

    • Liz says:

      It is unlikely they will remember her if she has been apart from the flock for some time. I would still take the introduction slowly

  6. Rhonda Phipps says:

    We have 2 established hens & are trying to introduce 1 new nearly 4 month old. They have been free- ranging together for a couple weeks & I wonder if I should just stick her up on the roost next to the ladies & start that process but I’m concerned because she’s the only one left of 4. Any advice?

    • Liz says:

      It’s a good sign that they are free ranging together, so the next step would be to be together at night too. You can either sneak her on the roost after dark or just let them go in together on their own at dusk. I usually let them go in on their own. I worry about putting them in there at dark, when they don’t see well in the dark, and I am not there to see how it goes. So I usually stand by and watch as they settle in. There is likely to be a bit of fighting, it really just depends on your hen’s personalities. But at some point you will have to let them work it out.

  7. Nicol says:

    I added 3 new chickens to 2 mature chickens. One of the young ones was killed and so that left two mature and 2 young. It all went pretty well but now, Thelma, the eldest and only surviving chicken from the original 4 we inherited when we moved into this house, has stopped going into the coop at night. She goes into the covered chicken yard, but will not go in the coop. When i stick her in there, she just comes right back out. I don’t know why. The second elders, Princess – mostly keeps to herself. Thelma was the highest in the pecking order. But then I put in a few new roosting branches – becuase there were only two – and the two youngens were fighting with Thelma. But then the two young ones fly to the top and don’t want Thelma up there with them. She ended up sitting on the bar just under them, but then eventually she just left the coop. I don’t know if they bullied her out or not. Occasionally Thelma would just be on the floor. But now, even with some really cold weather for a few nights – she wanted to sleep outside. I forced her inside and blocked the door so she couldn’t get out. So, not sure what’s caused this or how to fix it. I live in Colorado and cold weather will be back before you know it. She has to be inside. What to do?

    • Liz says:

      Poor girl, sounds like they are all still working on pecking order issues and she has been booted from the lead hen spot. She might just not be sure what to do with herself now. Keep putting her back inside at night and eventually she will find a place to settle down. If you can do it around dusk and before it gets really dark that would be best. They can’t see well at night and it could be harder for her to find a roosting spot

  8. Mr Gavin Park Weir says:

    Very useful article thank you, we’ve followed the advice.

    We’ve introduced a new, young hen to our flock of 3. I built a large run inside the free ranging area for the new girl with her own coop, food and water.

    The runs were side by side for 2 weeks and they are all now ranging in the same area for 2 weeks. I am putting the new hen into the coop with the others each night. The coop Opens on a light sensitive switch at dawn. The 3 older girls are still chasing the new girl.

    How long do you think it will be until the new girl is accepted by the 3 original hens and they are one flock.

    Thanks

    Gavin

    • Liz says:

      Sounds like you guys have done all you can so now it’s up to your hens to do the rest. It’s hard to say how long it will be, it depends on the personalities of your chickens. Most times when I’ve introduced them fully it’s usually under a week, but I have definitely had a couple introductions that took over a month. It will help with the colder weather coming as they will naturally want to huddle together. I hope it happens soon for you guys!

  9. Jill says:

    We had to remove a hen from our flock a few months ago due to her being overly pecked. We wanted to give her space to heal away from the others. We think they were stressed at the time and caused the pecking. It has come time to reintroduce her back in with her original 5 hens. They are a mix of Buffs and Barred Rocks. I’ve had a couple different flocks over the years but rarely had to separate. What do you recommend?

    • Liz says:

      Even though they used to live together, this girl is clearly on the bottom of the pecking order so I would recommend you start out like she is a new chicken and keep her separated but where they can see her for at least a week

  10. Marci Babineau says:

    Hi Liz, This is a great thread! Just what I need, with the exception that I have a rooster in the mix. I have a rooster and 2 hens (Brahmas) and have one of their chicks that I have hatched (others didn’t hatch). Lilbit is 2 months old. I have been keeping her separate and putting her into the fenced run in the day while the big chickens are out. Then taking her out at dusk when the rooster and 2 hens come in. Now I have introduced the dog kennel at night (one of those plastic ones with a wire front) and will continue this for 7-10 days as suggested. I have not let Lilbit free range with the others because we are in the mountains and she is still small enough to be a snack. I may try this this weekend because the weather will be great and I can watch. Finally — the question– what about the rooster? Should I extract him when I try to integrate Lilbit? The hens might freak out because he is part of their hierarchy and the instability might make them worse behaved? ANy experience with this situation?

    • Liz says:

      That totally depends on your rooster. My rooster usually just ignores the littles when I add them, it’s usually the hens that peck at them. BUT some roosters are not happy with newcomers and could chase her off or even try to attack her. Stay close by that first day they are allowed to free range together. Hopefully all will go well and he will behave himself 🙂 Good luck!

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