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Introducing New Chickens: Using the “See but don’t touch” Method

  1. Mountain Peeps
    Introducing New Chickens: Using the “See but don’t touch” Method

    Chicken keeping is addicting. Along the road of your own chicken raising adventure, you are bound to add new chickens to your flock. This cannot and should not be taken lightly. When new chickens are introduced to an old flock that already has an established pecking order, everything will be disrupted and chaos will flow out of the chicken coop. If they appear in the old flock suddenly, the new chickens will be attacked and bullied until they either leave or are killed.

    Since flocks have been added to so much over the years, people have come up with a very effective method of introducing new chickens to an already established flock. This is known as the “see but don’t touch” method. I’ve used it and found it to be VERY effective and worthwhile. This article will explain thoroughly how to introduce new flock members to each other successfully, using this method.

    What it is and How it Works
    The “see but don’t touch” method involves placing a barrier in-between the two groups of chickens so they can’t reach other and have physical contact, but can still see and “meet” one another. If your chickens are kept in a run, then all you have to do is put chicken wire in the middle to separate the two sides from each other. If your flock free ranges, then make a little cage/run area for the new birds to be in that is within the free ranging land of the other chickens. The barrier should be kept in between them for a number of days. (1-2 weeks is preferable.) Over this time, the chickens will have familiarized themselves enough so that they recognize each other. After the certain amount of time is up and the chickens seem ready to be together, you can remove the barrier and let them mix.

    Important Tips
    •QUANRANTINE THE NEW BIRDS BEFORE INTRODCING! You don’t want to risk spreading a disease to all of your birds, old or new.

    •Know that there WILL be fighting no matter what. It’s the only way that the new pecking order will be established.

    •Make sure you provide the flock with extra feeders and waterers. Bossy chickens will hog feeders and waterers on purpose resulting in the other birds being starved and dehydrated.

    •Know that it will probably be hectic and stressful in the chicken yard for a couple months.

    •Try and have the first few meetings out in the yard where they can free range. This will insure that the area is neutral and that the chickens have plenty of room to roam and escape.

    •Provide hideaways in the areas that the introductions take place.

    •Introduce more than one bird. It’s really hard on the one bird if she has to stand up for herself in another flock of many birds. It’s best if you can always try and introduce two or more chickens at a time.

    •Try and not break up fights unless absolutely necessary. Chickens need to work themselves out and establish the new pecking order. Although hard to watch, fights are imperative. Interfere only if one chicken is being cornered, teamed up on or bleeding.

    •Add distractions! Hanging cabbage or lettuce, throwing out some seeds, giving them a dirt bathing area and allowing them to free range are all ways to get their minds off each other and make them focus on other things.

    •Don’t expect any eggs to be laid during this time of stress.

    •If you have one chicken that is especially aggressive and won’t leave the others alone, you may want to isolate her for a couple days in her own little cage. Make sure she is still within the flock quarters so she won’t be treated as “new” when she returns. But hopefully the separation will calm her a bit.

    Introducing Roosters
    If you plan on introducing a new rooster to a flock of hens, know that the hens will probably not be pleased! It’s very hard, especially if the hens are not used to a rooster. Try and find a calm, gentle rooster to introduce to the flock. If your flock already has a rooster and you want another, take extra caution! Roosters HATE when another rooster comes along and interrupts their “ruling.” They will probably never truly accept one another and will always fight. (It’s best to raise roosters together if you want them to get along.)

    Introducing Younger Chickens (Pullets and Cockerels)
    Chicks need to be AT LEAST 8 weeks old before they can be introduced to adult chickens. And if you plan on introducing them using a different method besides the “see but don’t touch” they should be older (12-15 weeks). They may need to stay separated from the flock for a bit longer than the 1-2 weeks if they are 8 weeks old. Always watch their interactions with the adults closely since they will be smaller and less able to defend themselves.

    Q&A On Introducing New Chickens

    How long does it take on average for them all to be getting along smoothly?
    I found that mine were acting normally and getting along after it had been 2 full months; starting from the day they met.

    What do I do if this method of introducing doesn’t work?
    Try putting the new birds in the coop at night when it’s completely dark. (But only do this if they have already met each other AND if the flock has over 10 birds in it.) Otherwise, you may have to get rid of one group of chickens or try your own method.

    How long do the new birds have to be quarantined before I start introducing them?
    It’s recommended that the quarantine last for at least 2 weeks. If the birds don’t appear healthy, then hold off on introducing until they are completely back to health.

    Is it normal for a new chicken to become the “top bird” in the pecking order during this change?
    Yes, it’s very normal! That’s why it causes everyone to be stressed; they all have to learn where his or her new place is in the pecking order. A bird that used to be at the top might be bumped down to the middle while a bird that was at the bottom might move up. It all varies.

    Where do I put the new birds at night since they can’t be in the chicken coop with the rest of the flock?
    Either have another coop built for them or (depending on how many birds you have) use something like a large dog crate. If you are introducing young chickens then they can probably just go back in their brooder at night.

    Do breed and size matter when it comes to adding new chickens?
    Definitely! For example: if you have a flock of standard, black hens and you are thinking about adding some white bantams, think again! Not only will the old flock take advantage of the bantams’ small sizes but they will also attack them because they are a different color. (Yes, chickens can see in full color.) Or if you have a flock of Rhode Island Reds and are considering adding some Silkies or Polish chickens, stop here! Again, the size and different feather types will only encourage more pecking. I introduced a Speckled Sussex and a Buff Orpington to my flock of Buff Orpingtons and Easter Egger last year. The Speckled Sussex still gets picked on more than the Buff Orpington because she is smaller and of a different color. Always try and introduce new chickens that are the same size and color as your flock. (If you want different kinds of breeds, then start out by getting them all together from the start.)

    Does temperament matter as well?
    Yes. If you raise breeds more prone to aggressiveness and then want to add a gentle calm breed, there will be a lot of bullying.

    Is it really worth adding new chickens when there is SO much that can go wrong?
    In my opinion, yes it is. Chickens are fun to keep and if you have the time, space and energy for more birds, why not get more? If you introduce them correctly, they will get along like nothing ever changed...eventually! When I introduced my new pullets to my old hens, I was stressed and wondering if it was all worth it. But now they get along like long lost sisters. They dirt bathe together, eat together, sleep together and once in a while, I even catch them preening each others' feathers! Sure, there is a lot that can go wrong, but if you take your time and introduce them properly, it’ll all be worth it!

    Further Reading

    Special thanks to @TamingMaster for some of the pics.

    Feel free to comment or PM. Good luck to all of you!

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  1. ChickenLover200
    Nice article!
  2. DianaMallory
    Good article, I have done this before and it was a pain in the bum! It took a lot of hard work on my part. Then I watched a video on it and this guy changed the coop when making the final step in moving them. He moved roost around, moved the nesting boxes added a few new features. Radical changes, then put them in together and with no problems. Two different flocks, thought they both were going into a new coop. Confused the birds and they didn't have time to think about newbies and fighting to busy checking out their new home. If I ever do this again I will try that. Added to what you said in your article.
  3. OilyChick
    Great info...especially about introducing 2 or more new hens to existing flock. Thanks for posting
  4. ChocolateMouse
    Chickenewbee, I have found that breaking up fights can be handy at times. I recently got 4 hens from the same breeder, two different colors, breeds and ages from two different pens (two of each) from the same breeder. I had one quarantine pen and the two pairs would not get along. The bigger, younger Australorps were getting picked on by the leghorns.
    The trick is, they will "behave" when you are there, but go back to scrabbling amongst themselves when you are not because while you're there, you are the top hen. When you're gone you're not anymore.
    My goal was to make the chickens think that it was universally bad to fight in quarantine. I tied a stick to a rope and fed it through the wire of the cage and into my window. If I heard them squabbling, I'd give the rope a quick tug and the stick would hit the outside of the cage wire and spook them. This worked really well and stopped the bullying very quickly.
    But if you don't have a way to make the hens think it's karmic justice disciplining them and that fighting = scary, then you might as well let them duke it out and keep a close eye on it. The last thing you want is them to think that you = scary instead of fighting = scary.
  5. Lamaremybabies
    This was great, thanks! I'll be adding two pullets to my current flock within the next few weeks so getting an idea of what to except is awesome.
  6. Kluk-Kluk
    Great article. The look but don't touch method is how I introduced my six young pullets to my established flock last summer. This summer I have chanced upon something even easier: I let my broody Japanese bantam hatch some eggs and raise the chicks. I tried to keep the mother and chicks separated from the flock inside a wire cage, but somehow the chicks got out. Next thing you know, the mother hen got out, and all of them were mingling with the flock like it was no big deal. The flock totally accepted the chicks! This is the second brood I'm raising this summer, and it is SO much easier to let the hen do the work and the little ones mingle than it was to raise day-olds in a brooder and incorporate them into the flock myself. Have others had this experience?
  7. truckguy
    I'm on day two of the on integrating them. so far it's not bad. but the two older ones are controlling the food and water and yes I have two areas for them to eat and drink. they are controlling the food near the new birds temporary coup.

    they have been in the yard as well and they are being territorial also. I guess this is expected for a short time. so far no bloodshed.
  8. jpfenimore
    Very helpful article. Thank you.
  9. zuluchicken
    There is nothing gross about this behavior. This is natural behaviour and instinct in the animal kingdom. This is one of the ways that a dominant hen will confirm her dominance over the other hen. I have seen this behaviour even amoungst cows here on the farm.
  10. Mountain Peeps
    @NapaChicknGal no, not necessarily. Dominate hens will mount other hens to show they're boss. Squatting from hens isn't just for roosters. It's also a sign of submission. Like dogs who lie down and show their belly to show you are the boss.

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