Adding New Chickens to Your Flock
Compiled and edited by Buff Hooligans
Part One: Quarantine!
Part Two: Understanding Flock Dynamics (the Pecking Order)
Part Three: So You Still Want to Introduce New Chickens to Your Flock?
Methods of Introduction
Part 1Most Important Advice Ever: Quarantine!
From a post by "lilchick" on September 16, 2008
Most of us have felt sorry for and rescued chickens. But not taking the proper time and work to keep them separate from your original flock spells disaster! Picture losing your pet chicken to a disease brought in by some chicken that you have no feelings for. The guilt can make you want to get out of raising chickens. Not to mention the work to clean up your environment to make it safe for anymore chickens to live there. Been there, done that. My SweetTart is buried beside the pond and I walk by his grave each morning to go do chores....
Quarantine advice from BYC Member "MissPrissy" (paraphrased)
Getting more chickens? Read here first, please! I know many of you are planning to pick up new chickens at some of the upcoming swaps and meets. Please read this and take to heart some very simple advice given by an experienced chicken owner.
When you get new chickens, please do not go straight home and put them in with your current flock. Do not put them in a pen inside your existing coop. Do not house them in the same area as your current flock.
Be prepared. Make a place for them to live alone and away from your current flock for an extended time. If you don't have an area now, then please don't get new chickens until you do.
New chickens need to be quarantined away from your other chickens for at least 30 days. Each flock of chickens has their own germs that make them immune to certain things in their environment. Speckledhen’s flock in Georgia has a far different natural flora and fauna in their system than my flock up here in Virginia. That is to be expected. But Johnny Farmer down the road and Susie Sunshine a few miles farther also have flocks that are immune to different microbiology in their immediate environment.
During the quarantine:
1. Observe for any signs of illness or disease.
2. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands a lot!
3. Enjoy your new birds while planning how to best integrate them into the flock at the end of the quarantine.
4. Give new birds a supplement in their water to boost their immune system. Give them good probiotics - as simple as giving them a dish of yogurt.
5. You might consider giving them a little extra protein as they will be stressed being in a new place and might drop some feathers or a little weight.
Please give serious consideration to these simple ways of protecting your chickens, your kids and yourself.
Quarantine advice from BYC Member "Speckledhen" (the Quarantine Queen):
I've seen so many people who have bought new birds, and because they seem healthy, immediately throw them in with their flock. You MUST quarantine newly purchased birds unless you have bought chicks from a hatchery.
Disease can take up to a month to show up in a seemingly healthy chicken. Many, many of these common diseases make a chicken a carrier for life, and if your flock gets it, they become carriers for life. Some are even reportable to the state and the birds must be destroyed in some cases.
Some sellers are not aware their birds are ill, and some are just plain unscrupulous and don't care. I have only purchased ONE grown bird (my roo Hawkeye), and I kept him in quarantine for over a month. During the quarantine, I found that he did have a fungal infection on his comb and face and lice. I treated both and he was healed of both by the time he joined my flock, but it was very stressful and I'll probably never buy adult birds again.
During quarantine, the main things to look for are lice, mites, breathing problems, discharges from eyes or nostrils, fungus type patches on the combs and wattles, raised scales on the legs, indicating scaly leg mites, etc. I certainly understand not having money for them to be vet-checked, and truthfully, most vets know nothing about chickens anyway.
They should not share the same airspace because some diseases are airborne, as in coughing and sneezing, etc. I put my Hawkeye in a dog kennel in the basement bathroom while I went over things about him and fed him proper feed and observed his health. He did not breathe the same air as my flock for over a month.
And you may ask what to do if you see any symptoms in the quarantined birds after the month is over? I can only tell you what I would have done with Hawkeye if he had had anything contagious other than a fungus that could be fixed - I would have put him down. He came very close, too. What I thought at first glance to be canker in his throat turned out to be just a wad of feed on the wall of the throat. He got a clean bill of health and has been a wonderful addition to my flock, but it could just as easily gone the other way. It's harsh, but it's reality. Keeping that one bird would never have been worth risking my entire healthy flock.
As long as you follow the quarantine "protocol", then most of the time, you can stop a disease from running through your flock if you accidentally bring in an infected bird. I would much rather put down one bird than endanger my entire flock.
I even tell people who buy my birds to quarantine. To my knowledge, they have never had anything communicable at all, but what happens if they have just contracted something and haven't shown symptoms yet for me to know? Quarantining is just a good practice.
Practical Biosecurity (by MissPrissy)
An Important Part of Quarantining and Ongoing Maintenance
To be safe you really need to practice good biosecurity.
Do not handle the new birds and then go take care of and play with your current flock. Take care of your old flock first, wash your hands, then see to the needs of the new birds. Then go wash your hands again, making sure your clothes go into the hamper or laundry and the bottoms of your shoes are clean. I have an old coat and a pair boots that I only wear to the barn. No place else will you catch me wearing them. I take my shoes off outside and they have a place where they sit alone away from other things my kids might come in contact with. Periodically I do give them a spray with a disinfectant. I also try to knock off mud and stuff from the fields before coming back to the house.
By doing all this, have I prevented germs from spreading? Probably not, but I have attempted to limit what I drag in from the barn on my boots and clothes.
Keep the new chickens as far away from your older chickens as possible. When you feed and water and clean up do everything you need to do for your older chickens first. Then take care of the needs of the new chickens. You need to do this for about six weeks. During this time watch the new chickens. Moving and rehoming chickens is stressful on them. It is during this time of stress that any illness or disease they might be carrying will manifest itself. Look around and you will see many very sad stories in the archives of people bringing home new chickens and ending up losing their entire flock.
For more information about biosecurity, click on the following threads:
Understanding Flock Dynamics (the Pecking Order)
(by BYC Member Buff Hooligans)
A beginning chicken owner would like to think that when she gets chickens, they are all going to be friends and get along as one big happy family. And we naively hope that when we add a few new "friends" to the group, they will welcome them with open wings and invitations to share treats.
But the reality is that in any established group of chickens, each chicken’s personality comes into play in the form of the order of dominance. There’s a dominant bird (usually a rooster if the flock has one) all the way down to the lowest bird (usually the meekest or gentlest). Generally, older chickens will be dominant over younger ones.
The order is established by, yes you guessed it, pecking. And squabbling...chasing....giving the stinkeye...blocking other birds from access to food and water...fighting...trash talking...bumping chests...rushing at, and generally making life difficult and stressful for any "lower" bird getting in the way of a more dominant bird. This sometimes takes only a few days, but can last as long as two weeks.
If there are several assertive birds competing for the top spots, the squabbling can get violent, even drawing blood. Curious chickens can’t resist pecking at an open wound, making the wound even worse, sometimes even causing death. A flock establishing pecking order is not pretty.
But once established, a pecking order actually reduces conflict within a flock. Since everyone knows exactly where they belong in the hierarchy, disputes are settled much more quickly by the lesser yielding to the more dominant in the group. Even mammals have that, for instance, wolf packs.
So, we just have to grit our teeth, add any new chickens wisely (see Part 3), keep an eye out for possible injuries during scuffles, and realize that that stressful period of flock re-adjustment is totally necessary to future flock peace.
So You Still Want to Introduce New Chickens to Your Flock?
It is best to introduce chickens that are the same size as the established flock. Make sure there is adequate room in your coop and run for the increased number of birds. Overcrowding will stress the birds and make them less tolerant of newcomers.
Make sure there are places for the new chickens to run and hide to get away from the aggressive birds.
Always make sure the established chickens are not keeping the new chickens from the food and water dishes. Put out more feeders and waterers for during this adjustment time if necessary.
Interfere with the pecking order process only if blood appears or it is clear that an individual is going to be beaten down no matter what. Unless there’s blood, the less interference from us well-meaning owners, the better.
If there is one established bird that is super aggressive, take that bird out and keep her in a separate pen or dog crate by herself for a few days. When she is re-introduced to the flock, she will be taken down a few pegs because she’s considered "new".
But sometimes, no matter how carefully you try to manage an introduction, it might be necessary to rehome either a newcomer or a super aggressive original flock member.
Various Methods of Introducing New Chickens to Your Flock:
A long period of "seeing but no touching" is highly advised. After the quarantine period, put new birds in a nearby pen (or in a large dog crate inside the run or coop) for several weeks or a month so they can get visually acquainted without being able to physically scuffle. They may try to fight through the wire, but they can’t do real damage to each other. During this time, you can let each group out to free-range at separate times from each other - in shifts.
After several weeks of seeing but not touching, allow the birds to inhabit the same coop/run, but leave the dog crate or temporary pen in the run so that a picked-on bird can decide for herself to stay in or out, and have a place to run and hide if necessary.
If your chickens free-range, BYC Member "Bantymum" suggests introducing chicken groups to each other by letting the new chickens out first in the morning so they can roam the yard to get to know the place, water and food locations, etc., while the others are still locked up. Then she lets the older ones out, and although there is some squabbling, it usually settles down in a couple of days.
Another method is releasing them to all free-range together. This is a less stressful way of introducing flocks to each other than if you put the new ones in an enclosed pen with the established flock. While free-ranging, a new bird that gets hassled has plenty of room to run and more places to hide.
Another method is to put both groups of birds in a place unfamiliar to both groups - a neutral territory so to speak. Neither group will have established ownership and will be on equal unfamiliar footing, giving them something to think about other than who belongs there and who might be an unwelcome intruder.
Many BYC members swear by putting new chickens on the coop roost after dusk, when the established chickens are all settled down for the night. In the morning, they all wake up together - and the established chickens are thinking to themselves "hey, have I missed noticing those other girls all this time??", and they will go about their business. A pecking order will still need to be established, but it will be more gentle, and should be done with in about three days.
Be very watchful when introducing Polish chickens. Other chickens can’t seem to resist pulling the feathers out of Polish’s tophats. Sometimes a Polish’s skull and brain is injured when the picking / pulling becomes aggressive. Vigilant supervision for several weeks is recommended.
It is generally not wise to introduce a single bird to an established flock. Being alone and new is a double disadvantage, and it isn’t fair to them. That being said, only introduce a single hen to an established flock if she’s the same size as them, and monitor the dynamics carefully.
Introducing chicks to adults: Do not introduce chicks to adult chickens until the chicks are fully feathered and as close to the same size as the established flock as possible. BYC Member "Pumpkinpup" discovered "that as long as the chicks are still making baby noises, don’t put them with grown birds!" She had three bad episodes in her early chicken experience, and that was "enough carnage to make a believer out of" her. It is absolutely safest to wait until the chicks are sixteen weeks old.
If you MUST introduce younger chicks to adults, here is a method which succeeded for BYC Member "Ruth". She put some chicks in a pen (a Chick-n-Hutch) inside the run with the "big girls". The big girls all came to say hello and check them out. For the first two weeks, she let the babies out into the closed run while the big girls were out free-ranging. Then, under Ruth’s supervision, the chicks stayed loose in the run when the big girls returned to the run for feedings. She says "the big girls never bothered the babies and the babies were really quick to learn to run and stay out of their way". After several weeks, in the evenings, Ruth left the chick’s hutch open so the chicks could escape into it when necessary, and to chose when to put themselves to bed, and Ruth would come out later to close up the hutch. One night Ruth came out to close the chick hutch and they weren’t in there. She looked in the big coop and the chicks were snuggled up on the floor with her dominant hen. From then on, the chicks were treated just like the rest of the gang and allowed to free-range the property and come and go as they pleased.
Introducing very young chicks to other young chicks (during the brooder stage)
Here’s a method used by BYC Member "Davaroo" with some degree of success (paraphrased):
"Keep them apart until nightfall. When the group of chicks in the brooder are all settled down, slip the new chicks in as quietly as possible. In the morning, turn on all the lights and make a big commotion. Fill the feeders and waterers with a big, messy fuss. Your little peepers will be so worried about the commotion you’re making and getting to the freshly placed food, that they will forget to fight very much (at least not more than usual). Being flock birds, chickens flee danger together, and they feed together for the same reasons. These activities are "bonding" for them."
Special Considerations for Roosters: Generally, two or more roosters will only get along with each other if they have been raised together (same age), and are not near hens. If there are hens in the picture, the roos will fight each other to be the dominant roo.
New roo to established hens Keep in mind that a minimum of ten hens per roo is recommended.
Don’t introduce an adult roo to a flock that already has a roo. The fighting for dominance over the flock could mean serious injury or death to one.
If you add a new roo to a flock of hens, it is wise to chose a young (year-old) roo or one the same age as the hens, and one that’s the same size or smaller than your hens. Hens will definitely peck at him to establish the pecking order. If he turns out to be a docile roo, he could get hurt.
Further recommended reading:
Introducing New Chickens: Using the “See but don’t touch” Method
The Essential Quarantine: An Important, but Often Underestimated Part of Raising Chickens