Chicken Math is a very real thing. We enjoy adopting new members to our flock and we want it to go as smoothly as possible. Every year new birds are added and older birds are replaced or die off naturally. A hen may chose to raise a clutch of chicks or new breeds catch our eye and we then must figure a way to incorporate these new birds into the standing social order.
Chickens are very social animals. There is an order of dominance or what is called a “pecking order.” The correct integration of new birds is important. You need to manage the pecking order so that new birds and chicks do not get hurt and the original flock does not become overly stressed.
When you first acquire new adult birds, they will need to be quarantined before you can mix them in with your home flock. This is for the safety of your flock. Do not quarantine them in the same area as your current birds. Have a separate pen or crate away from the others. They will need a place they can stay for thirty days. You do not need to quarantine chicks that you buy from a hatchery as these are not exposed to an adult flock that may contain germs.
Each flock of chickens has their own germs that make them immune to certain things in their environment. A new bird will not have that immunity. This would be a good time to give it some probiotics or Rooster Booster to help supplement its immune system. A feed with extra protein will help it deal with the stress of being in a new place.
The new adult bird may also have some hidden issues. Check for lice, mites, breathing problems or discharge from the eyes or nostrils. A little poultry dust in case of mites or apple cider vinegar in the water for general health wouldn’t hurt. Disease can take up to a month to show itself in a healthy bird. Make sure that you practice biosecurity and wash your hands when handling new birds.
It is best to introduce new birds in pairs or more. Do not buy a single bird and expect it to smoothly be accepted by the others. Being alone and new is a double disadvantage. If there is more than one bird introduced at the same time , they will then have a buddy to hang out with. There is also more than one bird to take all of the pecks that will be directed their way.
Always add birds of a similar size to the flock. Larger breeds are always more dominant and will bully the smaller breeds. If you have a flock of Jersey Giants it would be difficult for a small bantam to be accepted. Try to wait as long as possible to introduce young birds. They should be done making baby noises and be as fully feathered out as possible.
The first step is to separate them in the coops and outside runs. The idea is to keep them separate but visible to each other. Seeing but no touching each other. They may try to fight through the fence but they can’t hurt each other. Poultry netting is a good way to separate them. Even just a dog crate sitting in the run will work. Do this for a few days to a week.
When it is time to actually put the birds together there is a few ways you can do it. Some people think that the best time to do it is at night after they have gone to bed. Stick the new ones on the roost and they will all wake up together the next morning and may be more accepting.
Another method is to do a free range situation. Let the new birds out to free range first. Then let the rest of the flock out. There is plenty of room for the new birds to run and hide or just plain get away from any unwanted pecks.
If you don’t let your birds free range, you can put the new birds in the run first and then let the older flock out. By letting the new birds out first, they can find out where the food and water is first. Distract the flock with treats so they won’t be so focused on the new chickens. Make sure that you have multiple feeding dishes and watering stations. The older flock may try and block the new birds from eating and drinking.
Make sure that they have plenty of room. Overcrowding will stress everyone out and make the older birds resentful. Put out more food and treats than they actually need. Flock blocks can be helpful. Hiding places are also important. Just placing a piece of wood against a wall can provide a hiding place for a scared bird.
I know that it is hard, but the less interference from humans the better. Unless there is blood it is best to let them work it out themselves. If a bird is super aggressive towards a new one, put it in a dog kennel for a few days. When it comes out, it will become a “new” bird and be taken down a peg or two.
Two or more roosters will not get along unless they are raised together and are not where they can see hens. Ten hens per rooster is the recommended amount. Don’t introduce a new adult rooster to a flock that already has a rooster. They will fight for dominance.
After you have introduced new birds, watch to make sure that they are eating and drinking. Give them plenty of places to hide behind. Put everyone on the same food and have separate dishes of oyster shell.
The introduction of new birds can cause your old flock to stop egg production for awhile until things settle down. It will take a few weeks but soon everyone will have a new place in the pecking order.
VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul, MN. We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.
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