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    12 Tips for Introducing New Chickens to Your Flock

    Authored by Gail Damerow

    Introducing new chickens into an existing flock is a common practice. If not done right, though, it can have two unpleasant consequences. It upsets the established pecking order, resulting in stress all around. And it carries the possibility of introducing diseases along with the new chickens. But many backyard chicken keepers do it anyway. Let’s talk about how to safely introduce new chickens to your flock.

    1. Safety in numbers

    Introduce chickens in groups

    Avoid introducing just one chicken at a time. Chances are pretty good the old chickens will gang up on a single newcomer. By introducing a group of chickens at once, the existing chickens’ attention will diffuse among the newbies.

    Introduce at least three new chickens together. They will serve as something of a support group for each other. If possible, you can further minimize animosity by introducing the same number of new chickens as you have in your existing flock.

    2. Space counts

    Give your flock enough room

    Make sure your coop is big enough to accommodate more chickens. Allow 2 square feet of indoor space per bantam, 3 square feet per lightweight chicken, or 4 square feet per heavier breed. Provide at least 8 inches of perch for each chicken, 10 inches for the larger breeds. The yard should allow 8 to 10 square feet per chicken.

    All around, more is always better. Crowded chickens become irritable and therefore less likely to accept newcomers.

    3. Breed matters

    Choose compatible breeds

    If you have a mixed flock, you would probably be okay to introduce any breed. If all your chickens are the same breed, stick with that breed. Otherwise the newbies are likely to be singled out and bullied.

    Or at least select compatible breeds. Active, flightier breeds tend to bully calmer breeds. Large, aggressive breeds can intimidate the smaller breeds, especially bantams.

    4. Quarantine the newbies

    Keep your new chickens separate for some time

    Even if the new chickens look perfectly healthy to you, quarantine them for at least four weeks. During that time, watch for any signs of illness.

    Check the newbies for external parasites (mites and lice) and treat as necessary. Also deworm them. Feed your existing flock before visiting and feeding the new birds.

    5. Get chicks

    Chicks can be easier to introduce

    Chicks you raise yourself are less likely to carry any diseases or parasites. As they grow, chicks will more easily acclimate to your local environment and your particular management style. Their transition to the coop will therefore be easier than it would be for chickens acquired after they are already grown.

    6. Age appropriate

    Stick to 8-12 week old chicks for introductions

    If your new chickens are considerably younger than your older ones, make sure they are big enough to defend themselves. You don’t have to wait until the news ones are full grown, but they should at least be fully feathered. Six weeks old is the minimum age for integration; 8 to 12 weeks is better.

    7. Separate housing

    Keep new chickens separate, but available for hearing and seeing

    When you’re ready to introduce your new chickens, house them near the existing flock. The two groups should be able to see, hear, and smell each other, but not intermingle. You might, for instance, set up a small kennel in the existing chicken yard. Or inside the coop, if it’s big enough.

    If you don’t have enough space for separate housing, put the newbies into a corral or large cage or other enclosure for a few hours each day. Be sure to furnish them with feed and water. A week or two with a barrier between the two groups should be enough time for the chickens to get acquainted without having physical contact.

    8. Old to new

    Move existing chickens to the new chickens

    Peck order jostling will be reduced if you are able to move your existing chickens in with the new chickens, instead of the other way around. The old flock, being less familiar with the new location, will be less likely to attack the newbies. By contrast, the old flock, left in its established location, will be inclined to fiercely defend its territory from the newcomers.

    Or you might switch the two groups. Put the old ones in the holding area for a few days while the newcomers explore their new digs without harassment.

    9. Night stealth

    A much debated tactic of introducing chickens

    Whether or not to introduce new chickens at night, after the old chickens have gone to roost, is a matter of much debate. If the old chickens have had time to become acquainted with the sight, sound, and smell of the new ones, finding them on the roost in the morning won’t come as huge surprise. On the other hand, surreptitiously putting new chickens into the coop, even at night, without a proper introductory period rarely ends peacefully.

    10. Feed and water

    Provide an extra feeding station

    Furnish at least one additional feed and water station during the transition. Distance them from the existing feeders and waterers. That will give the new chickens a place to chow down and tank up away from the old crowd. With more chickens to feed and water, you may need an additional feeder and drinker anyway.

    11. Provide distractions

    Distractions will help keep fighting down

    Any distractions you can provide will reduce the amount of peck order fighting during the transition period. A bale of straw or a pile of dried leaves for the chickens to scratch and peck provides one such distraction. Hanging a head of cabbage or a mangle (fodder beet) for the chickens to reach and peck is another. Chicken toys, such as a swing, treat ball, or flock block are other distraction devices.

    An easy distraction to provide is cardboard boxes for newbies to hide in. If the new chickens are quite a big younger (smaller) than the old ones, cut holes in the boxes just big enough for the littler ones to enter, but too small for the big ones to get through. Make sure the boxes are strong enough to support the weight of any chickens that might congregate on top.

    12. Keep a watchful eye

    Spend as much time with your chickens as possible during transitions

    During the transition, spend as much time as you can with your chickens. Keep an eye out for any serious bullying or injuries so you can timely intervene if necessary. If serious conflict persists, you may need to separate the two groups for another week or so. When just one of the older chickens is the primary bully, you might isolate it in the separation pen for a few days.

    Above all, be patient. Integrating two groups of chickens into one peaceful flock takes time.

    Or maybe your chickens will surprise you by getting along with each other right from the start. One day my New Hampshire rooster and his hens, housed in one coop, suddenly decided to move in with my Ameraucana rooster and his hens, housed in a distant coop. Despite the two flocks never having lived together before, they’re all getting along just fine. Go figure!

    Gail Damerow has written many books about chickens. Those available at Tractor Supply include Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, Hatching and Brooding Your Own Chicks, The Chicken Health Handbook, and more. Visit Gail’s blog at gaildamerow.com.