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

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  1. Mountain Peeps
    Introducing New Chickens: Using the “See but don’t touch” Method
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    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.
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    •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.)
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    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.
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    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!
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    Further Reading
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/...often-underestimated-part-of-raising-chickens
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/a/adding-to-your-flock
    https://www.backyardchickens.com/products/category/chicken-breeds

    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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    Laura Kirbyson likes this.

Comments

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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.
      nenebynature likes this.
  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.
      nenebynature likes this.
  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?
      Lisa Wood and nenebynature like this.
  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.
  11. NapaChicknGal
    I've noticed lately my Welsummer has "mounted" a couple girls; what's with that? A bisexual bird? Gross!
  12. Lilyput
    Used this method in recent introduction of four new pullets to 4 existing adults (mixed breeds). Pullets were four weeks old and in a large dog cage within the run. Could see each other. At 8 weeks old, allowed pullets in the same run with adults. Pullets still sleep in their large dog cage at night. Also put out two sets of feeders and waterers. In about 2 weeks, I'll put pullets in the adult coop after hours and see how it goes. So far, free ranging I've had no problems at all.
  13. Mountain Peeps
    Thank you everyone else for the nice comments and good suggestions. :)
  14. Mountain Peeps
    @zuluchicken thanks for those helpful pointers. I've found RIRs to be very aggressive and hard to introduce to other birds as well. Good luck replacing them with the BOs. BOs are my favorite chicken breed!
  15. Mountain Peeps
    @A05951 That will be a bit harder to do since the debeaked hen is pretty defenseless. You might try putting pinless peepers on the other hens for a while as they get used to each other.
  16. Mountain Peeps
    @chickennewbee You don't want to break up the fights because it's the only way to sort out the new pecking order. If you are constantly interrupting them, they will just have to continue their fighting and make it last longer. It's hard to watch and will often be pretty brutal but it's a necssiy.
  17. zuluchicken
    This is just a general observation. I have found that my RIR's are the most aggressive birds in my flock. They don't mix well with the others, especially with the Buff Orpingtons and will forever be bullying the other birds. I intend to gradually replace them with more Buff Orpingtons which is a much more friendly breed and more accomodating towards new commers in the run.
  18. Dawneebird
    I have had my pullets in a tractor outside where th larger birds can see them. The Pullets are a leghorn and black astroulop and are 14 weeks. I hae RIR, Buff Orington, EE and a Plymouth rock. The RIR is broody so I am a little concerned about introducing them
  19. zuluchicken
    This is a well written article and some good advice. I have been using this method for many years and found it to be very sucsesfull. Here is some other advice. Remember that fighting will take place no matter what you do. It is their natural way of sorting out the pecking order. Once a bird has been injured or blood has been drawn it will be killed.

    Keep a close eye on them but DO NOT TRY TO STOP THE FIGHTING!!! The way that I am dealing with this problem is by applying an oil based aerosol wound treatment for live stock. It is available from most vets and live stock shops. It has a strong odour and dark purple colour. It serves as a repellant and at the same time allow the wound to heal. Repeat the treatment on a daily basis for as long as what it takes for the wound to heal. The other chickens will immediatley stop terrorising this bird and it will givfe him/her a opportunity to recover.

    Don't worry too much about the purple stain of the body and feathers. It looks worse that what it realy is. It will go away all by itself after a few days after the treatement has stopped.
      nenebynature likes this.
  20. A05951
    I'm down to one Bovan Brown production chicken that was debeaked when I adopted her. Any thoughts on adding beaked chickens to a debeaked chicken? She was at the top of the pecking order when her two flock mates were still alive.
  21. Sunsetlake
    I raise my chicks in their brooder until they are 4 weeks old, then move them to a dog cage in the coop for two more weeks so the new ones and old ones get to know each other. I open the cage doors when they are 6 weeks old. I prop the doors open just wide enough that the new ones can get back in their cage for protection, food, and water. So far I haven't had any issues. I think you can introduce chickens younger depending on the set up of your coop and run area. My chickens have a large coop and run, and a very large free range area too. But, the look don't touch method works well in any environment I think.
  22. chickenewbee
    This was a couple of months ago, and they haven't seemed to have any issues.
  23. chickenewbee
    I have a question. Why wouldn't you break up fights? I ask because I brought home a new pullet and used much the same technique I use with bringing new dogs in....the "see but don't touch", putting the new chickens in the coop when the old chickens were out ranging, so their scent would be in the coop, and then when I finally put them together I "pecked" any chicken that started puffing up and acting aggressive. They seemed to understand, adjusted very quickly, and all got along well in just a couple of days.
  24. Cebupete
    After they got along which was pretty soon, I would add another older hen..etc. etc.
  25. Cebupete
    I have raied chicks a couple of times and what I would do is introduce one of the older hens to the group of new hens. Has anyone else done this?
  26. truckguy
    I just picked 3 more RIR and I have 2 other RIR that are about 2.5 years old. the new ones are about 3 to 3.5 months old. they have their own area but can be seen by my other RIR.

    they have been at my house for about a week now. I have read that 30 days is what should be done to reading here 2 weeks before introduction. so far the 3 new RIR are doing well. very curious and would love to roam the yard. my other 2 RIR free range all day.

    the new birds I will wait on free ranging since my dogs are used to them yet. the other 2 they don't even care.
  27. jakenhyde
    I've used this very method three times and I now have ten pullets that are penned adjacent to my mature hens' run. Every day about 11am, I turn the older hens out to roam around my 5 acre place. When I'm ready to integrate new pullets, I put them in the older hens' run while the old hens are out around the yard. When it's nearly dark and the old hens start to congregate around their closed pen with the new pullets in it, I put the pullets in the hen house and let the old hens into their regular pen. Then I open the hatch to the hen house and let them mingle. There are always a few skirmishes, but I've never observed anything serious. Because it's about time for them to roost, there seems to be a minimum of trouble. By morning, the pullets seem well integrated with the old hens.
    I do notice that the pullets tend to stay to themselves for a couple of weeks. But they finally all graze on the yard together and the older hens seem to "teach" the pullets when it's time to return to the pen for the night. Monkey see, monkey do, I guess.
      Boynedoc likes this.
  28. chick n goat ma
    thankyou for a very helpful article. I recently introduced 7 eight week old cochin bantams of different breeds, (3 mottled, 2 old english game, one silkie and one little greyish white very small like half the size of the mottled (two of whom are cockerels.)with little tufts of small feathers growing on each cheek and no comb ot wattles showing so far. Using the look but not touch method, to my two great egg layers (360 plus or minus 5. eggs per year per bird so far) Cinnamon Queens sex links. and my beautiful barred rock cochin BIG bantam rooster 'Wincy' (bought at the tractor store as a bantam.) He is a big gentle fluff ball about the same size as the hens (Penny and Tuppence) .
    After a few days keeping the bantams in the run whilst the others got to see them there, thebig chucks free range in the large goat pen in which we built the coop and run. When we eventually let the bantams (and one is a Silkie) out of the run the original chucks chase them away but do not attack the bantams who have learned to keep out of their way.
    About an hour before sunset the bantams have learned to take themselves up the ramp into the coop where they get their evening meal and the big chucks get their supper in the run.. When I return at sunset to shut the coop door all is quiet, All chucks are already in the coop, either on the perch or in a nest for the night. They accept each other but do not as yet socialize with each other, like two tribes living on one piece of land. one small farm
  29. 4 the Birds
    Great article! A coop add on can also be key if you add several new chickens to an existing flock. The existing flock will have an established roost spot and fights will happen if new birds try to establish territory. We added 25 new birds to the flock and they joined the existing flock with no problems (used dog gates for a week so they could get aquainted). They mingle and free range together during the day and the new birds choose to go sleep in the new shed apart from the existing flock coop.
  30. Goldy Show Hens
  31. Mountain Peeps
    @morrbett roosters are generally at the top of the pecking order, yes. Definitely keep the two groups separated for a while since they won't be used to the difference in genders.
  32. familyfarm1
    Wonderful article Sarah!!
  33. morrbett
    When introducing new grown hens, how can I expect the rooster to act? Is he generally at the top of the pecking order?
  34. Yorkshire Coop
    Great article, very informative. Another great read!!
  35. Miss Lydia
    Very good article !!
  36. mymilliefleur
    Great article Sarah!! Good job! I've noticed that I have more problems adding chickens to my bantam flock, which is small, and mostly the same breed, age, and size, (fortunately they are all very docile which saves me a lot of trouble) and kept in fairly small chicken tractors, vs my large fowl flock which is very large, and made up of many different sizes, ages, colors, breeds, and have lots of space. In the later there is almost no aggression, and after a minute or two of fighting the new birds usually get along with the other flock members just fine. My guess is that with all the variety (and space) they don't notice the new birds as much. Temperament definitely matters too, I have a couple bossier hens that enjoy seeing what the new birds are made of.
  37. TwoCrows
    Very nice article!! :)
  38. TamingMaster
    Wonderful article Sarah!

    I've never really had problems with different breeds, or different sized birds. I find that they behave the same way to all newbie chickens. I suppose that's because my hens are pretty much the same colour.. But, Lady Egglantine is a completely different colour from the others, now she is flock leader and nobody dares to peck her (apart from Lovey). Marmalade was the same as Egglantine, she was flock leader and she never got pecked even though she was bright orange/red.
    Reading this, I realised how strange my flock is. I mean, my flock has been created with two unknown breeds (most likely Legbar hens), a Red Star, a Golden Brahma, a Vorwerk and a Bielefelder and they all got along for the most part. Ah, well, I'll figure them out one day.

    Again, great article! It answered most of my questions!
  39. N F C
    Nicely written and informative @MountainPeeps !
  40. Chickenchick11
    Very nice article! There are some interesting things I didn't know about introducing in it. I agree totally on the " Does temperament matter?". Last month I introduced a Red Sex Link hen to my flock of Rhode Island Reds and White Rocks, the Rhode Island Reds definitely pick on the new hen more than the White Rocks do.
  41. Americano Blue

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