Integrating New Chickens Into Your Existing Flock

If you’ve owned chickens for any longer than, say, a few weeks, you probably have already observed behavior related to the “pecking order”. Since adding new flock members to an existing flock messes up that delicate pecking order, let’s discuss some ways to help all of your chickens make friends and learn to get along with each other.

Any time we add new flock members (or take any away) there will be a new pecking order established. There will always be a little poking and pecking given to the newcomers, but if the introductions are done over time and with a little though, no severe bloodshed should occur.

Whether you are adding day-old chicks or started pullets, the first thing you want to make sure if that you keep any new birds isolated from your existing flock for a minimum of 2 weeks. This isolation period is probably easier to do with new chicks since they need to be in a brooder for about 6 weeks anyway. But it’s important to isolate older newcomers also. Different areas have different pathogens that exist in flocks. Your existing flock may be immune to a pathogen in your environment, but new birds may succumb to those same pathogens and become ill. Isolation and close observation will help you catch any issues early.meyer hatchery blog chick pen new birds

After the isolation phase comes the “separate but close” phase. Using fencing, dog crates or cages, section off an area of the existing birds’ coop, yard or run and allow the newcomers entry into this space. Everyone needs to spend some time seeing each other but not having full access. After a few days to a week of separation, most younger birds are ready to be introduced to the main flock.

The final phase is “supervised mingling” time. After spending some time seeing each other but not having access, your existing flock should be more relaxed about having the newcomers around. Now you will give your newcomers their first taste of true freedom, while you oversee how the mingling goes. It common for the existing birds to chase the new ones, peck them at the feeders, and probably even grab and pull a few feathers. But any more brutality than that and you may need to separate back out and try again later. If all goes relatively well, you can leave the two groups to themselves as they establish a new pecking order. You do want to make sure in the evenings that the newcomers make it into the coop at night. The older birds get the first choice of the roosting spots and your new birds may be too afraid to enter the coop at night.meyer hatchery blog new birds into flock

Hopefully, now you feel more confident about adding young chickens to your existing flock. What helpful tips do you have for introducing new chickens into your flock? Leave us a comment below and tell us about it.

4 comments

  • Nicole Antinori

    I have6 6 week old pullets that I need to integrate in to my existing year old flock. My question is that to make sure the older girls knew where their home was we didn’t let them out of the coop for a week. How can I do this with the new ones? Won’t locking them all in with the older ones for a week be a disaster?

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    • HI Nicole. Thanks for reading the blog! I like to wait until the younger birds are about 10-12 weeks old before trying to introduce them in with the existing, older birds. Two reasons: the chicks need to be large enough to withstand a little pecking from the older hens. It’s inevitable, there will be some pecking. Secondly, chicks at 6 weeks are highly susceptible to coccidia that the older birds likely are immune to. Waiting until the chicks are a little older will be better, but if you can’t wait, perhaps building a “holding area” inside the existing coop for the chicks will be a successful compromise. That way the chicks will learn where their new home is located while the older hens can still come and go as they please. I agree, locking everyone in together may be a disaster in the making.

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  • A friend told me that whenever she gets new chickens (and I hope she does the quarantine period first) she waits until late at night when they are roosting/asleep and sits the new chickens on the roost. In the morning since their memories aren’t all that sharp, they just seem confused but there isn’t problems sorting themselves out. Thoughts on this technique?

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    • Hi Tracy. Thanks for reading. I have also had good success with introducing newcomers at night (after my 3 week quarantine period has lapsed). It isn’t a 100% peaceful method, but it does seem that most chickens accept newcomers more readily if they wake up with them in the coop. Happy chickening!

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