Introducing A New Chicken to the Flock

There will come a time when a chicken owner will need to participate in a flock rotation. This means you will need to start introducing a new chicken (or a few) into your current group. 

Flock rotation is necessary for all active members of the chicken community at some point. Sometimes we lose chickens throughout the year, whether it is due to natural causes, illness, or predation. Also, as hens get older, they will inevitably slow down on their egg production as well. These events will make it imperative to add fresh young chickens to your flock.

The following pointers assume that your new chickens are completely healthy. If you are not 100% sure of the health of the new arrivals and want to err on the side of caution, you should plan to add a 30-day quarantine for your new ones before any introduction takes place at all. This precaution will help prevent the spread of bacterial diseases among your flock. To be sure for example that there are no signs of red mite and that your new arrival has been wormed.

When introducing a new chicken to a proven and established flock the last thing you want to do is bring in an illness or disease that can not only sicken your new ones, but can also spread to your older chickens, as well.

Beginning The Introduction

While introducing a new chicken may sound like a daunting task, rest assured that it is not that difficult. It’s important to understand that chickens are slightly territorial in nature, which means that any new addition will automatically start lower on the “pecking order”.

You should also pay close attention to the breed or breeds that you are mixing in. Some breeds are super territorial and don’t play well with others, so do your research and make sure that whatever breed you’re bringing in will be compatible with the ones you currently have.

Also, keep in mind that the older and more experienced chickens in your flock may show slight aggression towards a newcomer and be protective over their coop. To give the new chickens a leg up, try to pick ones that are similar in size to the group you already have if at all possible. Being newer and younger is already a disadvantage, so being smaller will only add to that.

Start Gradually

The best way to introduce chickens to your flock, if you’re concerned about your older and larger hens picking on them, would be to set up their own area with a fence or barrier to keep them separated at first. This added protection will allow them to explore each other while the newer ones become acclimated to their new environment without giving them access to hurt one another.

Depending on the allotted space of your chicken run and the amount of chickens you want to take on, you should try to integrate as many new ones as possible. The reason for this is the older chickens will team up against any newcomers, so having more freshmen that can band together will be safer overall.

So, for example, if you have 20 older chickens and only introduce 2 new ones, it’ll end up being 20 against 2, versus adding 20 new ones where it would be 20 against 20. This method also allows for the newbies to find comfort with one another rather than being picked on and stressed all the time.

Introduce A New Rooster At The Same Time

You may also want to consider changing your roosters out whenever adding new chickens to the flock. Roosters can be very aggressive, especially when you add new and younger chickens. They may begin attempting to mate with the new hens that may or may not be quite ready for that task.

If you’re able to introduce a new rooster along with your other new chickens, this can be quite beneficial as they will start off with a better relationship right off the bat. Make sure if you do decide to go this route, that you eliminate your old rooster first. This is extremely important as your old rooster will inevitably try to kill your new rooster as they fight for dominance over the flock.

You also want to ensure that you select a new rooster that is not too affectionate because if it is too nice, the old hens will not accept him as their alpha. If your new rooster is integrated correctly this can also help with the overall relationship between your new hens and your old hens as they will share a common rooster that will inevitably keep the peace and bring them together.

The Best Time To Do It

While there is no exact answer that fits every scenario, many in the chicken community will agree that the optimal time to begin introducing new chickens into your group would be during the molting season. The reason for this is that hens tend to be a little less active and a lot more reserved during molting. This could be due to the fact that they feel slightly vulnerable when they begin to lose their feathers.

Perhaps your old hens having less confidence and energy can help to benefit the whole flock when integrating newcomers. On the other hand, the recruits that you’re bringing in will feel less intimidated which could lead to them growing with more confidence and possibly increasing their overall egg production in their lifetime. While there’s not much scientific proof of this, there is a lot of speculation that this is true, so it may be a good idea to take advantage of the molting season if you’re planning on introducing new chickens anyway.

It’s also important to keep in mind that there’s a big difference between a layer and a non-layer. These terms simply refer to whether your hen has begun to lay eggs or not. Typically, a hen should begin producing eggs sometime between 4 and 6 months of age (depending on breed). There is a big hormonal difference between the two.

You will notice that once a hen has reached maturity and has begun laying eggs, they will have also gained more initiative to fight back when they’re being picked on and to protect their newly laid eggs. In general, if you’re able to wait, it’s a good idea to introduce new chickens to your flock either after they’ve begun laying eggs or right before they should start.

Day And Night Difference

You may find yourself asking if it’s better to do this during the daylight hours or the nighttime hours. Some may think that since chickens are diurnal, meaning that they are more active during the daytime, that introducing a new set of chickens at night would allow them time to acclimate to one another before the following day.

Here’s the problem with that: If you are an owner of a relatively small chicken coop and decide to shove in a bunch of new birds all at once, and your hens decide not to take to them, you will awaken to a bloody scene. Grown hens have been known to display aggression towards smaller chickens that they don’t want in their flock.

While chickens are social animals, they enjoy having their own personal space inside their coops. If you’re lucky enough to have a spacious chicken coop, a nighttime introduction may work out just fine, but make sure that you do it after your older hens have already assumed their spots in the coop. It is also crucial that you open your coop as early as possible the following morning (at dawn if possible), as this will help lessen any territorial fighting that may occur.

If you’re worried about potential overnight conflicts and would prefer to do introductions during the day, make sure that you do it at a time when you can be present. Being there will allow you to put a stop to any disputes that may erupt (and you should expect some). Another technique that may work best for you would be to release your older flock outside and allow them to roam free while you take the new ones into the coop to allow them to become familiar with that setting.

Don’t be too concerned if you see disruptions and disputes break out. Remember that no matter when you introduce new chickens to your flock, there will be bullying that your new ones will have to learn to deal with.

Generally speaking, any chick that is older than 10 weeks should be able to endure quite a bit of bullying from the older chickens. However, you still want to provide your new ones with as much comfort as possible. This includes giving them plenty of areas to escape to and hide in when the other hens begin picking on them.

Ensuring that you keep a close eye on them for the first week or two after introduction, and just being present, may be a good enough deterrent to prevent much of the intimidation tactics your older chickens will use. If you do find that the harassment is too much for the new little ones, make sure that you remove any of the weaker chicks until they have had a chance to size up a bit and learn to fend for themselves.