Skip to Content

Introducing New Chickens to your Flock: Proven Step-by-Step Method

Introducing new chickens to an already established flock can be stressful for both the birds and you. The new flock will need to establish a new pecking order, which can be really tough for everyone involved.

Whether you’re expecting a batch of new chicks or bringing home a few mature hens, it’s good to be prepared ahead of time and know the steps to introduce these new birds to your flock.

Through much experimentation over the years, we’ve developed a great strategy for new flock integration. This strategy allows the birds to get used to each other gradually, so there’s less stress. We’ve used this method to introduce both new chicks and young birds to our older hens and it has been proven to be the best way to integrate.

This post contains affiliate links.

A rhode island red chicken looking through a fence.

Introducing New Chickens to the Flock

Before you begin these steps, and in fact before you even bring home new baby chicks or mature birds, you need to make sure you have enough space in your existing coop for the number of chickens that will live there.

Chickens on average need at least 3 square feet of coop space, but more is better.

If you have a small coop for your current flock you’ll need to add some space before bringing home new chickens.

You can do this by adding on a large chicken run, building a separate pen, making a chicken tractor, or tearing down the old coop and building a new one.

Either way, you need to make sure that your chickens will have plenty of space , because these steps will only lead to flock harmony if your chickens aren’t stressed in a too-small coop.

A flock of chickens.

Step One: Quarantine

All new members of the flock must be quarantined before being added to an established backyard flock.

Quarantine is done to ensure that the new flock members aren’t bringing in diseases or pests to your flock. They’ll need to be examined daily to look for signs of mites and lice, as well as common poultry diseases.

Quarantine should last for at least 30 days.

I know this seems like a really long time, but many chickens don’t show signs of carrying illness for several weeks, and many pests like lice could take a week or more to hatch and show up on your chickens.

It’s well worth it to keep your new hens away from your older chickens during this time so your beloved older birds don’t get sick.

To quarantine new chickens, keep them in an isolated area where they aren’t sharing space with the existing flock. A dog crate or large animal cage inside the house or garage will work well, or if you have a separate coop, all the better!

Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly in between handling new birds and the rest of the flock. You don’t want to inadvertently pass on diseases or pests.

After the quarantine period is up and you’re absolutely sure your new flock members are perfectly healthy, you can begin introducing new chickens to the rest of the flock.

Still unsure whether you want to quarantine? Don’t miss this post from our friends at 104 Homestead on what could happen if you don’t!

A young chicken.

Step Two: Cage Inside of the Coop

The next step is to place the new birds in a large animal cage inside the coop. If you don’t have a cage, fence off a corner of the coop for the new birds, making sure they’re protected on all sides, as well as the top. Remember chickens can jump and fly!

Placing the cage in a corner is a good idea, so only two walls of the cage are exposed to the rest of the flock.

The existing flock members will come to investigate the new additions, but won’t be able to get too close. This will allow everyone to adjust to each other gradually without any risk of fighting or serious injuries.

There will be some pecking through the cage wires, and this is normal, natural, and completely fine. The old hens are showing the new girls that they’re at the bottom of the pecking order.

Keep the new flock members inside the cage for the first 7-14 days.

The pecking and general interest in the new girls should fade day by day. Eventually your old chickens I will mostly ignore the new birds in the cage.

If it seems everyone is getting along well after seven days, move onto step three. If there is still a lot of pecking going on through the cage, keep them in there for a few more days. It’s better to take these steps more slowly than to rush through them.

A dominique chicken looking through a fence.

Step Three: Free-Range Time

When step two is complete and the birds are all comfortable with each others presence, it’s time to let them free range together.

This step allows all the birds to mingle in a place where they have plenty of space to get away from each other if they need, and lots of distractions to keep them from picking on each other too much.

We generally don’t let new chickens out to free range until they’ve been in the coop for at least two weeks. This gives them time to acclimate to their new home and recognize the hen house as a safe place. When we do let the new hens out to free range, they know to go right back to the coop if they feel threatened.

We like to let the old birds and the new birds out to free-range together for around an hour per day. This will give them time to interact with each other, and space to get some privacy if they need it. If you don’t free range your flock, let the new chickens out of their cage and into the run for an hour a day.

It’s important to supervise this time together so you can intervene if needed.

If the new birds don’t rush out of the cage the first time you open it, give them time. They may be frightened of the newfound space, but they will come out when they’re ready.

When the birds aren’t free-ranging together, keep the new flock members in the cage, including at night.

Continue letting the flock free-range together for a week or so, increasing the time they spend together outside. Timing is different for everyone, so when all seems well, move onto step four.

This step can be a little tough for everyone. It’s very likely that there will be some chicken fights now that the birds all have access to each other. It’s okay if a little fighting happens, this is how chickens establish dominance, it’s natural, normal, and necessary. If it goes too far, separate the fighting chickens or distract them.

Yellow hen standing in grass next to black silkie chicken pecking at the ground.

Step Four: Cage Door Open

After a week of free-ranging together, open the door to the cage and leave it open. The new flock members can come and go from the cage as they please. It will still be a safe place for them to go when they need, and they’ll likely still sleep there at night. The entire flock can now mingle together whenever they please. Continue letting them out to free range together.

If you are introducing baby chicks to a flock of older birds, it’s a good idea to make the door to the cage smaller so only the chicks can get through. You can do this by attaching some cardboard to the wire.

This allows the chicks to have their own little clubhouse that the big girls can’t get into, which keeps them safe. Don’t be alarmed if your new chickens still get pecked at once in awhile. This is totally natural and necessary as the flock adjusts.

Remember that chickens aren’t the same as people, and their social order works in a different way. This method is meant to make this transition easier for everyone, but there will still be some adjustment before the birds are all comfortable with each other.

Flock of chickens going through a coop door.

Tips for Introducing New Chickens into the Flock

Add a second roost in the coop if necessary

The new birds may get pecked when they start trying to roost. Give some extra room so everyone can roost comfortably.

Provide places for new flock members to get some privacy

Placing roosting bars high up in the run can allow a safe place. Another option is to leave covered spaces inside the coop for birds to retreat to if they’re getting picked on.

Keep an eye on the new birds

Look for signs that they’re getting pecked too much. Missing feathers, wounds, or bleeding are a bad sign and those birds will need a little extra time and TLC to get established.

Don’t introduce tiny chicks to adult birds

If you’re introducing chicks to a flock of adult birds, wait until they’re at least six weeks old, but eight weeks or older is better. The chicks can get killed by the bigger birds if they aren’t big enough to defend themselves.

Sharing is caring!

Cody

Sunday 5th of November 2023

When new hens are caged off from an existing flock during the day do they sleep in a separate coop also?

Marsha

Thursday 10th of August 2023

Hi Meredith! I just happened on you after doing a search about this introduction thing.I have 6 very bossy and unfriendly Barred Rocks and 4 Buff orpingtons ( 1 Cockerel) with a Easter egger. The BR's are a year plus old and the others are 16 weeks old. All about the same size now. The BRs are in the main large coop with a large run and right next to it is a smaller coop and smaller run. I had to build the extra coop because I did exactly as I was told to put a cage inside the main coop with the new girls in it so they could all meet. I did that for 2 weeks then slowly let them out a little at a time with lots of places to hide and get away. Didn't work. One of the sweetest Buffs got killed and eaten by the Rocks. They ganged up on her and tore her to pieces. I was in another part of the farm when it happened. I was sick! Therefore the 2nd coop. They now see one another all the time, free range together and chase each other around but each flock stays with their own. I'm ready to integrate them into the main coop but scared to do it. Should I make a smaller area inside the main run so they're at least all be in the same area? I have 2 babies I'm wanting to get into that smaller coop but don't want to rush into this. The 2 smaller ones are in a room in the barn and too small to be out running around yet. I have barn cats in that barn and well I don't know how they'd react if they were out. Thanks, Marsha

Doug

Saturday 11th of March 2023

I have a chicken that I hatched using an incubator 3 weeks ago. I have another 12 eggs in the incubator that are to hatch in 1 week. Can I integrate the then 4 week old chick with the new born?

Anneke

Friday 12th of August 2022

Hi, we had 3 Isa browns a couple of years old, but something got into their run and killed 2 of them and now we just have the one hen remaining. First priority obviously is reinforcing the run to keep the remaining hen safe, but we don’t want her to be on her own. Any tips for introducing new chicks to just one older hen rather than a flock? Are the steps to follow still the same? We don’t want more than 3 in total because we don’t have a huge space.

Meredith

Tuesday 30th of August 2022

Yes I would follow the same steps if you're introducing to just one chicken. The idea is the same, slow introduction to avoid big conflicts. Your remaining hen is likely still feeling the stress and trauma of the attack so slow is best!

Stephanie

Tuesday 19th of July 2022

We have 5 hens a little over a year and 4 babies about 7 weeks. I have the babies in a poop up mesh pet tent with zip openings I found on Amazon inside the run and babies go in there at night. During the day everyone is free ranging together. There is one hen that likes to go after the babies tries to peck them but chases them off and then to be satisfied! My question is when should I allow the young ones to go roost up inside the coop at night with them? And when do young chicks know to go up into coop at night? Will the eventually follow older hens? Right now we are out gathering them up to go in their tent which isn’t always easy! Than you in advance for any advice!

Meredith

Tuesday 30th of August 2022

Yes they will eventually get it. It takes time for them to acclimate to a new situation and feel comfortable joining the rest of the flock. Give it a month or two, they'll eventually just become one of the big girls and do the same things the older hens do.