If you have a flock of backyard chickens, you may want to replenish your flock or expand it. This means adding new birds to your existing flock. Best practice is to maintain separate pens for birds of different ages. However, for the small flock owner, this may not be practical.
Chickens are social animals, forming a community within your flock. Within that social group is an order of seniority. By adding new birds to the flock, you disrupt the social balance. To determine the pecking order, established birds will peck and bully the new ones. To avoid injury and death of your new birds, you want to carefully introduce them into your flock.
Below are some tips for creating a smooth integration of new birds to your existing flock.
Keep Separate as They Grow
When you receive your new, day-old chicks, it is critical to keep them separate from the rest of your flock for the first few months. This allows them to grow and develop in peace, while receiving the proper temperature, feed and space to promote healthy growth. You don’t want to introduce new birds to your flock until they are large and strong enough to handle the larger, older birds and are ready for the same feed ration and house conditions. To compare the needs of birds at different ages, check out our resource guides on raising day-old chicks and ready-to-lay-pullets.
NOTE: If you rescue older birds from another farm or family, you expose your flock to the risk of illness or disease. By keeping your new birds in quarantine for 3-4 weeks, you can spot any illness before it spreads to your flock. As an NPIP participating commercial hatchery, Moyer’s Chicks takes every precaution to protect against the spread of poultry diseases.
Create a Safe Space
While your younger birds are growing, prepare the pen of your older flock for the new arrivals. Ensure that they will have adequate floor space, as well as plenty of feeder and waterer space. Create perch space and varied terrain (using bales of hay) to provide submissive birds refuge from the dominant members of your flock.
Introducing to Your Flock
When your new chicks are large enough, you can begin the process of integrating them into your flock. The first step is to introduce the existing flock to your new birds. You can do this by keeping the young birds in a cage within the pen, or by fencing off a portion of the pen for the new birds. Be sure to provide each portion of the flock with feed and water. After a week, you can remove the barrier and permit the birds to be with each other.
Another option to integrate new birds more quickly is to introduce the new birds to the coop while it is dark. (Remember to create a new nest area within the coop for the new birds.) Be sure to open the door to the run at first light; otherwise, the older birds could corner the young ones and start pecking.
Handling Aggressive Chickens
If you have followed these recommendations, your flock will gradually accept the new birds. There will be some confrontations as they establish a pecking order, but the transition should be smooth. However, you may notice a bird who continues to be aggressive. If this bird has not accepted the new birds within a week, it is best to remove this bird from the flock to ensure the entire flock remains peaceful and healthy.
Tips for Pastured Poultry Flocks
If your flock is free range, another way to introduce your new chickens to the flock is by letting the new birds out first, waiting a few minutes, and then releasing the existing birds from the coop to join the new birds in the field. Let them interact with one another, then follow these steps the next day and every day until they have settled down and are integrated.