Adding New Birds to Your Flock

Place birds in separate pens side by side to get them used to each other

Place birds in separate pens side by side to get them used to each other

Backyard chicken owners are sometimes faced with a dilemma. Sometimes a friend needs to find a home for a surplus hen, the flock needs to be expanded, or it’s time to integrate young layers with the oldsters. Successfully introducing new birds into an established flock comes with a caution, and can be tricky.

The caution comes because a new chicken may bring diseases or parasites into a healthy flock. Always make sure new birds are healthy.  It’s a good idea to keep them in quarantine from the established birds for at least 30 days to make sure they are not ill.

The trickiness comes from the existing flock’s well established pecking order. Birds that have lived together for months know exactly their place in the flock. Add a new bird, and the pecking order is disrupted and needs to be re-established. Chickens are not friendly to newcomers, and the old flocksters will attempt to dominate newcomers. Pecking and aggression can be so severe that the new bird might be killed.

However, there are a few tricks for successfully adding new chickens to the flock to reduce problems:

  • Break up the pecking order just before adding new birds. If several members of the old flock are butchered, sold, or given away immediately before the new birds are added, the old flock will have just had its pecking order disrupted. They’ll accept the new birds with less aggression and soon the joined flock will establish a new pecking order.
  • Raise replacement chicks in a separate but adjoining pen. This allows both young and old birds to get to know each other before they are allowed to intermingle.
  • Add new birds at least as large as the existing ones. Putting one or two smaller or younger birds into a flock of larger chickens puts the newcomers at a disadvantage.
  • Keep them on even terms.  Adding one new chicken into a flock of a half dozen oldsters will be traumatic to the loner. She’ll be the sole recipient of aggression.  But, introduce three or four new birds to an existing three bird flock and they are on even terms, making adjustment is easier.