Introducing New Chickens to Your Existing Flock
So I have 2 older ladies that have been in my flock for a very long time now. The 3 of us have gotten along fabulously these past years. I call them pretty girls, give them food and in return they cuddle on my lap and give me food (eggs). Perfect right? Well as my girls get older their laying slows down, I cannot eat my own chickens. I'm not judging anyone that does, but I'm the crazy chicken lady that puts her chickens on her lap at cookouts and explains to them how pretty they are as I pet them. I do eat chicken, just not my own. So putting the old girls down to get new ones was just not an option.
Introducing new chickens to an existing flock is scary, but not impossible.
This year I added 6 babies and two 1 year old girls. I took a different approach to both and it seemed to work.
Lets cover how I introduced the babies.
1) Never just put a new chicken in alone. You make her a target for bullying. Introduce chickens in pairs or more.
2) Don't just throw new chickens into the coop and walk away. Monitor them, do a slow introduction and make sure all is good. There will be a pecking order established. This can be tough to watch, but if there is no blood or extreme bullying it is all good.
The babies were a bit easier. I think this may be because my babies didn't care much about pecking order when they joined the two older girls. They were just excited to be running around outside. Plus they are bonded with me, they stayed close to my side.
I started off by just letting my babies free range outside the big girls run. The big girls weren't free ranging yet that day. I could let them meet through a fenced in area and intervein if things went bad. The babies were small, and easy for my kiddos and I to catch if need be.
After a half hour of this I let my big girls out to free range as well. Everyone had their own space to do their thing. All was good, after a period of time I brought the babies back to their indoor coop (it was still too cold in PA for full time outdoors) I did this for several weeks.
It was time for the babies to go onto the big girls turf. Again do not do one at a time, they need a friendly face to run to. This was a bit trickier, my big girls like their space and my buff orph. really likes her food. After seeing her getting a little grumpy over food I added a few more dishes to the coop. This way she didn't need to be upset all her food was going to be eaten. Watch your chickens, if you pay attention you can tell what is upsetting them most of the time.
They were never let alone together at this point. I spent about an hour each morning and an hour each night with my babies meeting the girls on their turf. Besides the food and my older girls not liken getting put to bed an hour early all went well.
The babies were soon ready to be outdoors full time. Don't just put them outside though and have that be the end of it. Please, for a much happier transition do this in phases. Step one, two and now three are the best ways to slowly introduce not only new members of the flock, but to also get babies use to the outside.
On to step 3, the older girls were not happy about this step one bit. In order for me to make the babies know that the coop was home they had to spend some time in there. So for a few days the older girls got less free range time! Oh feathers were ruffled. But I put the babies in with the big girls and then walked away. It was tough, I made sure to check on them every so often! After a few hours I went out and collected them and let the big girls have their free range time. I slowly added time each day until we were almost 100% outside. At this point they were only sleeping inside and they were also free ranging with the older girls now too.
The big sleep over. Now my babies still needed to be rounded up at night at this point. After several weeks they put themselves in the barn and all I need to do is lock up at night. But those first few weeks I had to round them up and lead them (or carry, my one was a bit of a brat, turned out she was he lol) to the barn. That first night though my older girls finally decided it was time to establish a pecking order. The babies who were no longer babies did get chest bumped a few times and the little roo got pecked (not hard, just enough to get him in line). He was making his self puffy and charging the older girls. In my opinion those bigger girls showed him a lot of grace that night! The older girls had their sleeping spots and didn't want the babies in them. I watched and made sure it didn't get to out of hand, in the end it all worked out. Now it is so cute I go up and it is like everyone has a spot.
Well all was good so I thought what the heck lets add two more to our flock. I swear my hubby's eye twitched when I told him this plan. Please note when adding chickens to a flock there should be a quarantine time. You don't want anyone bringing sickness into your flock. I always take this time to worm them and flea/mite treat them as well. Just to be safe. I watch for any signs of illness. After I give them the all clear the introduction start.
Older girls are a lot harder. One I can't let them outside to free range to meet each other. They don't trust me yet, I will never be able to catch them. Plus they have not established their "safe" zone to go to should they take off.
This time around things were a bit more daunting. The new girls were given a sectioned off part of the pen. I put in a smaller coop for them, they did not have access to the barn quite yet. They could meet my girls and still had a fence between them. I could tell at once my older girls were mad. Their feathers were ruffled and the clucked their displeasure at me non stop those first 3 days.
With coops, size does matter. My girls have a barn so indoor space is never an issue. They also free range so outside space is not an issue either, but some days I have to keep them in the run. This only happens for 3 reasons, new flock members introductions, I know horrible weather is coming and\or I have a neighbor who dogs gets out sometimes, it has been known to kill live stock. On those days he calls to let me know the dog is out (remember crazy chicken lady here, no one wants to mess with my girls... and guy I have a roo too). My run is 200 sq feet which is more then enough for 9 hens(I just lost one last week, so we are down to 9 :(.)
Do some research on this, I'm not sure what the bird to sq ft ratio is. If things seem cramped they most likely are. But as I said, size matters, if chickens feel cramped up they will fight. They need their space to do their own thing.
After a week of seeing each other through the fence I did a free range together day. It went well, everyone had their own space and the new girls could go back into their special coop should they need to. After a few days of free ranging together I took down the section off fence in the run. I still let up the new girl coop for night though. That first day sharing a coop the pecking order was established. The new girls were not at the bottom, but they also were not at the top. They just found their place and smoothly became part of the flock.
After a week of sharing free range and coop space I decided everyone could sleep together. The new girls coop came down. Since the new girls didn't know that they were to sleep in the barn now I did have to usher them in at night. Everyone was already in their space, so the new girls just found an open roosting bar and bunkered down for the night. NO FIGHTING!! I loved it, I was ready for a battle and instead got peace. It is now several weeks later and life is good. Even though I did lose one of my new girls the two older girls adopted her sister and the 3 of them are now inseparable.
My flock is happy again!
I now have a little roo though who is coming into his manlihood stage and I have a feeling the pecking order is going to soon be reestablished.
Just a few quick notes.
-If you have someone being a bully, put them on a time out. A few days in a sectioned off area of the pen normally calms them down.
-I had to add new feeders when the babies came, so if it seems they are being food aggressive add more dishes.
-Treats are the way to a chickens heart, in those rough days of introducing give them some extra treats.
-Don't lavish attention on only the new girls. I have only ever been pecked once by one of my hens and it was when I was given her sister to much attention and she wanted my love. This may sound crazy, but they get jealous, spread the love!
-Don't get discouraged if you think you need to repeat a step. Patience is the key here. No need to rush, one day they will be a happy flock and these first few weeks or inductions will be behind them!