Introducing new chickens to the flock

Introducing new chickens to your flock can be quite an experience if you have never done it before because the established chickens will peck and taunt the new ones. They do this because introducing new chickens to the existing flock upsets the current pecking order and an entirely new order must be established. Don’t worry, the chickens won’t be harmed, it is natures way of choosing who the leader of the pack is all the way down to the lowest chicken in the order.

NOTE: Always introduce at least two new chickens to the flock to keep the flock from zeroing in one just one. Multiple new chickens will keep the older chickens spread out and too busy to pick just one out to pick on. Also be sure to keep any new chickens in isolation for at least 2 weeks prior to introduction to the flock to make sure they do not spread disease. A 2 week isolation is usually plenty of time to tell if the new chickens have problems. Any chickens who show signs of disease MUST NOT be introduced into the flock and either be treated and fully cured or culled immediately. The culling of a single or a few diseased chickens are much better than culling your entire established flock.

One great way to begin the introductions is to make an enclosure out of hardware cloth or chicken wire. A simple round enclosure is good enough, nothing fancy is needed. If your chickens are free ranged, the enclosure can be placed on the lawn where the older chickens can visit but not bother the new ones. Be sure to provide food, water, and shade for the new chickens. If your chickens are penned, the enclosure can be set in the pen, again making sure food, water, and shade are provided. Doing this a week or two before placing the new chickens with the older ones will minimize some of the stress because they all are familiar with each other.

Here are a few pictures of my new chickens being introduced slowly to the existing flock. The new chickens are currently housed with the flock of meat birds for another week or so. At that time the new chickens will be moved to the chicken coop to live with the existing flock of layers. Until the move, I let the new chickens out of their coop each day and let them forage, eat grass and bugs. I do this for short periods and stand close by to watch the interactions between the new and older hens. I also stand nearby to ensure the new chickens don’t get run off and lost which has happened in the past.

The older hens have taken a very small interest in the new chickens up to now. The Gold Laced Wyandotte in the picture is the leader of the pack and has already pecked at a few though.
Introducing new chickens to the flock

Edgar, the Arucauna doesn’t pay much attention to them, in fact, she just walked right into the coop and started eating. A few meat birds and the newer chickens paid her a visit but she left them alone.
Edgar eats with the new chickens

Next week will be a bit hectic for the new chickens. They will need to adjust to the new coop and run as well as learn to roost with the older hens, all while being pestered by them. For a week or two I will have to check to be sure the new chickens are inside the coop each night and on the roosts.

New chickens tend to want to stay in the nest boxes, far away from the older hens to keep from being pecked. This MUST be discouraged. Chickens who are sleeping in the nest boxes will result in the older hens being discouraged from laying in them. Also, the new chickens will poop in the nest boxes and if an egg is then lain in the box, the eggs will be soiled and need to be cleaned. I have had on occasion eggs that were so soiled I chose to toss them out.

Another reason to discourage sleeping in the nest boxes is to minimize the possibility of a hen eating eggs. If the new chicken is used to being in the box when they are not actively laying, the likelihood of eggs being broken is much greater. Once an egg is broken a chicken who hangs around the nest box may investigate the egg and begin to eat it. An egg eater is VERY hard to break and may need to be culled from the flock. Egg eating can be a learned behavior so doing all you can to discourage it is best.

A hen who visits a nesting box to lay an egg may also begin to eat the broken egg. The broken shell may cause her harm and the messy yolk and whites are a great environment for disease and bacteria, something you do not want in your nesting boxes.

Lastly, if the new chickens are not immediately removed from the nest boxes and placed on the roosts, they may be very hard to break at a later date. removing them when they first begin to do it and placing them on the roost teaches them where they should and shouldn’t be at night. It will take some time and effort but will pay off in the end.

Although I have never tried it, I am told hanging a head of cabbage just above head level during the introduction will make it much easier. The cabbage is supposed to keep all the chickens distracted. I am sure there will be pecking going on but supposedly at a minimum.

What is your method of introducing new chickens to your flock?

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