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 each 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 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 a 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

•QUARANTINE THE NEW BIRDS BEFORE INTRODUCING THEM! You don’t want to risk spreading 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 of months.

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

•Provide hideaways in the areas where 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 upon, 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 of 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 introduction 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 lasts for at least 2 weeks. If the birds don’t appear healthy, then hold off on introducing them 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 altogether 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.

Good luck to all of you!