I’m lucky to live in a city where there are no limits to the number of chickens you can have in your backyard flock. Still, when I got my first batch of chickens, I aimed low, as I was a bit nervous about having them. The problem is, I fell in love! And then, I instantly wanted more chickens! The first new chickens I introduced to the flock were easy. I’d only had my original batch for a few days and they were all small, fluffy, new to me and new to each other. They were also all less than a week old. The introduction went off without a hitch.
Then, as the chicks grew, I was surprised to find out that one of them was a rooster. Although we can have roosters here, I didn’t think my neighbors would appreciate it. So, I made a trade with a local chicken farmer. He got the rooster. I got two new chicks. Unfortunately, those two new chicks were half the size of the original girls back home. This fact would make the introduction to the flock harder, although not impossible.
A Gradual Introduction
The first order of attack was allowing the two groups of chickens to get to know each other without being let loose with each other. To accomplish this, I put the new chickens in an upside down crate in the middle of the chicken coop. The existing girls were quite interested in the new girls, but the new girls stayed protected and got to meet the older chickens from a safe distance.
During the day, I’d let all the chickens out into the yard and supervise ‘recess’ for them all. This way, they got to mingle with each other under my watchful eye. (I’d like to make note right here that there was some picking on by the original chickens, but I didn’t break up the bullying unless it became intolerable. It’s important to allow them to establish their pecking order with as little interference from us as possible.)
After a week in the crate, I let the younger chickens out into the coop. For the most part, the other chickens ignored them, but occasionally, they’d get picked on. Because of this, the younger chickens hung out in the chicken coop by themselves during the day while the other girls spent their time out in the chicken run.
Although this behavior mildly concerned me, I just monitored them and made sure they were all safe. Eventually, the two new chickens ventured out into the chicken run and now everyone gets along well whether they’re inside or out.
How a Chicken Thinks
When introducing new chickens to your flock, it’s helpful to think of things from a chicken’s perspective. For one, chickens have a very strict pecking order. Subtracting and/or adding chickens upsets that balance and they will need time to re-establish themselves. This is normal behavior and it helps to prepare yourself for this dynamic.
Because of this pecking order, it’s often more effective to add new chickens if you’re taking away others, as it brings further imbalance to the established order. In my case this worked wonderfully as I get rid of a rooster and I added the new chickens the same day.
Second, chickens are very territorial, so new bodies in their space represent an invasion in their eyes. Allowing them time to get to know each other in a protected way will help the old chickens gradually get used to the new without it being such a shock to them.
Another way of helping them with the transition is to remove ALL the chickens and put them in a new space all together. This way the established flock won’t be defending their turf. Instead, they’ll all be on equal ground, so to speak, as their surroundings will be new to all of them.
Some people swear by the technique of introducing new chickens in secret. They wait until it’s dark and put the new chickens into the coop while everyone is sleeping. In the morning, the new chickens are just sleeping amongst the rest of them and are more easily accepted.
Others have said that distracting them with treats helps with the introduction.
Regardless of what you do, or how you do it, being mindful of chicken behavior and being sensitive to the needs of your flock will help ease the transition. It might take a couple of weeks for them all to work out their differences and adjust to each other, but eventually, you should have peace in your flock again.
I’ve introduced chickens to my existing flock several times now. It helps knowing what to expect so that I’m not thrown off by their behavior. It also helps to work with the chickens in ways they understand. Each time I worry that the new chickens will be beat up or abused and not accepted. Yet, each time, the chickens come through for me. They adjust and calm down and eventually all is well in their world again.
Kerrie Hubbard lives in Portland, Oregon with 10 chickens, 1 cat and several small raised bed gardens. Her website, City Girl Chickens ( http://www.citygirlchickens.com ) is an urban guide to raising chickens in your backyard or other small spaces.
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