When deciding to increase the poultry number in your yard, the first question is how to introduce new chickens to your flock. As expected, newly arrived birds always upset the well-established hierarchy, causing potentially aggressive behavior among existing flock members.
Luckily, a little extra care and keeping an eye on the flock for a few days is enough to hold all feathers in place. The best way for initial flock members to accept newcomers after the quarantine period is to keep them separate but close to each other for a few days. Let them see each other from a distance during the day and roost together at night.
Ways to Introduce New Chickens to Your Flock
When planning to introduce new chickens to the well-established flock, late spring and early summer is the best time for doing that. There is enough fresh food, and the weather is ideal for letting your chickens spend time outdoors, making introduction more effortless. Remember that spending enough time with them is crucial to monitor their behavior.
1. Monitoring new arrivals
Fowl usually travel long before finding a forever home, meaning they can spend days or weeks with other poultry and domestic animals. Unfortunately, this close contact often leads to catching various bacteria and viruses that can endanger a hosting flock once new birds arrive at their destination.
Ensure that newly arrived chickens are healthy before introducing them to your flock. Therefore, you need to organize quarantine and keep them separated for at least a month. That time is enough to monitor new fowl, their behavior, and general health condition.
Keep an eye out for any suspicious changes in feeding habits and how much feed new chickens eat. Any deviation may indicate symptoms of bacterial or viral infections and parasitic infestation.
While working with these two flocks during quarantine, keep your hands clean, sanitized, and protected to prevent cross-contamination. Keeping new arrivals separated gives them a chance to adapt to your yard and existing conditions quickly.
2. Give chickens time to get to know each other
Once a quarantine period ends, you can slowly introduce new chickens to the existing flock. The best tactic is to pair newly arrived fowl of a similar size and maturity level with those already living in your yard.
There is a high chance of providing a smooth transition that way. Most owners never think about chickens’ individual characteristics, but combining birds with similar traits may prevent fighting and pecking.
Another strategy is to place these two groups next to each other for about a week. Keep them separated by a barrier, like a see-through fence, that allows flocks to see each other but prevents direct contact.
It is often enough time for both groups to get to know and get used to each other presence. Besides, it is a safe and comfortable solution that allows monitoring chickens’ behavior and noticing potential aggressive behavior between some members.
Finally, it is time to merge two flocks and let them move freely through the yard. The most painless way is to let a new group out first and then allow the existing flock to join them. This way, both flocks will be preoccupied with the surroundings rather than each other.
The procedure is a bit different when you want to join only a few chickens to the existing flock. In this case, using a cage can make their introduction more effortless. Place newcomers in the spacious cage and put them in the chicken run.
You can see the dominant chicken exploring the cage and new members almost immediately. Once you see that birds are used to each other, join new birds to the existing flock and let them roost together.
3. Create distraction
Unfortunately, you should count on aggression among old and new flock members before establishing a pecking order. The best way to prevent heavy fighting is to distract both groups by keeping them focused on something else.
For instance, toss some greenery on the ground and provide sticks and grit they can peck on. Nowadays, you can even find chicken toys and various supplies in the stores and place them in the coop and chicken run. Let your fowl explore new items and forget about the fight.
It is also a perfect moment to introduce a new food type to your flock. This way, both old and new flock members will be too occupied with exploring new things to fight and peck each other.
The next thing to consider is to enlarge the existing area where chickens spend most of their time. Besides, you can add wooden shelters they can use for getting away when the yard becomes a bit crowded.
Find enough time to spend with your flock. Be aware that monitoring both new and old chickens in that initial period is crucial and a period when you can notice potential behavior changes.
As soon as you see something is wrong, immediately separate newcomers and repeat the process after a few days. As tiring as it can be, it is better to do this job properly. Otherwise, you may face severe issues with victims of undereating and weak chickens’ injuries.
4. Save the routine
The excellent idea is to take advantage of the period of new chickens’ introduction to the flock and change old feeders and waterers with new ones. Such a change can prevent new and old members from fighting for feed.
Additionally, you should increase the number of heaters. Since new circumstances stress new chickens, they need supplemental heat until getting used to the new flock.
On the other hand, never let introducing new chickens to your flock disturb the existing schedule. Chickens hate changes, and disturbing well-established habits can make the situation worse. In other words, newcomers must adopt the existing flock’s routine, not vice versa.
Let them out at the same moment, give them time to roam freely and explore their surroundings, and let them roost at the established schedule. Your goal is to prevent old flock members see new arrivals as a threat by keeping the existing routine.
That is how to reduce aggression and prevent attacking newcomers in an attempt to keep the old lifestyle unchanged. Be aware that chickens have a precisely established pecking order, and new members are in the lowest social position at arrival.
Such a situation is untenable in the long run, and you can expect dominant chickens to fight for better positions in a hierarchy. Your task is to make this transition as painless as possible.
5. Prevent nasty behavior
Every flock has its own hierarchy, with one dominant rooster and a mother hen. When newcomers arrive in the yard, they aim to force the flock to establish a new pecking order, provoking fighting. Be prepared to physically separate birds that try to hurt and even kill each other.
If you can’t defuse aggression and chickens keep hurting each other, finding another home for the most aggressive ones is sometimes the only solution. Check flock members for possible bleeding and broken body parts that sometimes require professional help.
6. Isolate when necessary
Even though introducing the new flock members is stressful for both natives and newcomers, most chickens get used to new conditions quickly and adapt to the flock dynamic. However, the new situation can be too much for some birds, so you sometimes need to take extra measures.
The best way to help troubled chickens to transition into the new flock is to isolate them for a few days. It may sound contra productive, but getting them away from the flock can help them and others. Otherwise, these birds will fight and miss eating regularly and drinking enough water.
Consider possible troubles on time and create a separate space in your yard for this purpose. That way, you can accommodate a troubled chicken, reduce its stress, and calm it down.
Always offer this chicken enough food, fresh water, and space to roam and explore the new surroundings. Try to reintroduce it to the flock after a few days.
In most cases, you can notice that the aggression level is reduced. Besides, the chicken is prepared to keep the established schedule more effortlessly and is less aggressive to other chickens.
Be patient since the whole process of getting used to new circumstances can take up to a month. Some chickens never adapt their behavior or get used to new flock members. In that case, the only option is to remove it and allow others a comfortable and peaceful life.
Mixing new and old flock members can be time-consuming and tiring. It is crucial to be patient and persistent until the flock accepts new members and includes them in the existing hierarchy. Introduce new chickens gradually, give them time to get used to new circumstances, and be alert to remove over-aggressive birds timely.