Introducing New Chickens

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Bringing new chickens into an established flock should be easy, right?  Well, when my friend offered me a young rooster, I found out there are some basics to keep in mind.Plymouth Barred Rock hen and rooster

Figuring that a Barred Rock rooster would be ok with three Golden Buff hens, I simply added him to their pen.  Things went downhill from there (more on that later).  Turns out, I should have had a plan.

8 Steps to Success

  1. Verify that the new birds are in good health, and have been properly vaccinated.
  2. Make sure they’re old enough – at least 14 weeks, or as large as the birds they’ll join.
  3. Keep them separate from your flock for from 2-4 weeks to ensure they don’t introduce any diseases to your flock (see Painful Chicken Lesson).
  4. Consider clipping their flight feathers before putting them in the new quarters.
  5. Make friends with the birds – hold them, talk to them softly and encouragingly, feed them grapes, etc.  They’re uptight about new surroundings, so try to establish that you’re ok.  Take some time before introducing them to the rest of the flock.
  6. Decide whether they’re girls or boys, and even if you’re pretty sure, have a backup plan.
  7. Place the new birds in a pen within the existing flock’s pen, and then let the birds get used to each other for awhile – how long depends on who you’re mixing together.
  8. Remove the separating pen and let all the birds mingle, but make sure you monitor the flock and step-in should any serious fighting or pecking occur.  It’s a good idea to provide roosts or areas where lower pecking order birds can “hide-out” for short periods of time.

Chicken Psychology 101

Your flock knows the pen is “their” territory, and will not welcome new chickens.  They also have a pre-established “pecking order, and will immediately peck at new birds to put them in their place.  This can become vicious, and new birds may be injured if they can’t escape.

Because of this, many guides on chickens suggest putting all the birds in a new pen (at night) thereby mixing up the order and giving everyone a fresh start.  I’m sure this is good advice; however, I don’t have the room.  So, regardless of whether I’m introducing hens or roosters, I construct a separate pen within the existing pen, and let the two groups familiarize themselves through the wire.

How Long To Wait

If you’re introducing a rooster to a flock of hens, then you can let the two mingle after a day or two.  Both should be happy to meet, and there’s no pecking order to establish.  If you’re introducing a rooster and hens, then a couple of weeks should be adequate.  As soon as you put the two groups together, the rooster will want to meet the new hens, and the hens will be pecking to establish order, but everyone should work things out within a few days.

You can try to introduce a mature rooster to a flock with a rooster, but they may never tolerate each other.  The original rooster considers the girls to be “his” and will fight to prevent any stealing of his property.  Depending on the situation, say if there were too many hens for one rooster (more than ten), the roosters might work out an “agreement”; however this would be a situation to watch closely when they’re mingled.  You may be forced to remove one of the roosters, or separate the birds into two distinct flocks.  It’s generally easier to sneak an immature rooster in with a couple of hens, then let the two roosters work things out as the youngster matures.

When introducing hens into a flock, it’s best to keep them separate for a couple of weeks.  During this time, I give everyone treats, encourage them, and hold them.  They’ll still peck at each other when they’re mingled, but I want them to know who the head chicken really is.  It cuts down on the pecking a bit, and they’re easier to handle later on.

The Rest of The Story

Flashback to my Barred Rock rooster introduction………now in the pen with the hens, he just sat there.  And then, head-hen Gold Dust pecked him.  Naturally, he flew out of the pen (should have done #4 – clip flight feathers), and since I had no idea how to do #4, I had to hastily construct #7 (pen-within-pen).  Next, I spent an hour catching him (should have done #5 – make friends with bird) because he thought I was as nasty as head-hen Gold Dust.  Having finally caught him, I realized he was a she (here’s where #6 comes in).  I put her in the pen-within-pen, congratulated myself, and called it a night.

That was too easy.  Next morning, all the Golden Buffs had somehow corralled themselves in the pen-within-pen (I’d still like to know how they managed this), and Barred Rock was gone.  So, I had to beef-up pen-within-pen, re-catch Barred Rock, put her back in, and still make work on time.  Ok, it’s funny now.

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