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 brutal for everyone involved.
Through much experimentation over the years, we’ve developed a great strategy for new flock initiation. This strategy allows the birds to get used to each other gradually, so there’s less stress.
There are plenty of good ways to go about introducing new chickens to an established flock. But when we’re introducing chicks to the flock (or pullets) this is the method that works for us every time.
Introducing New Chickens to the Flock
Step One: Quarantine
All new flock members must be quarantined before being added to an established 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 a week.
To quarantine new chickens, keep them in an isolated area where they aren’t sharing space with the existing flock. A dog cage inside the house or garage will work well. Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly in between handling new birds and the rest of the flock.
After the quarantine period is up and you’re absolutely sure your new flock members aren’t introducing any diseases or pests, you can begin introducing new chickens to the rest of the flock.
Step Two: Cage Inside of Coop
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.
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.
Keep the new flock members inside the cage for the first 3-7 days. If it seems everyone is getting along well after three 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.
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.
Let the old birds and the new birds out to free-range together for at least a few hours a 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 a few hours a day.
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. Timing is different for everyone, so when all seems well, move onto step four.
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.
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.
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 and 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.
- If you’re introducing chicks to a flock of adult birds, wait until they’re at least six weeks old, but eight weeks is better. The chicks can get killed by the bigger birds if they aren’t big enough to defend themselves.