New Chickens! (and how to integrate them into a flock)

You may be wondering to yourself, what on earth have we been up to that there hasn’t been an update in weeks? The answer, my friend, is new chickens!

(Also, a buttload of summer harvesting, pickling, and preserving. Whew!)

The introduction of three new chickens, particularly ones of different ages (two pullets and one year-old hen), has been quite the adventure so far. Since the new hens were used to free-ranging on a bigger property, they managed to escape a few times. Thankfully, this was after a few days in the moveable coop, where they’d been roosting for two nights, so although they roamed around the property all day (and sometimes into our neighbors’ property, oops), they returned safely at night. Whew!

Thinking of getting more chickens for your existing flock? Neat! But also, slow down. Chickens are territorial creatures of habit, and introducing new hens too quickly, without proper space or supplies, can result in injured, stressed-out hens, or worse. Let’s talk about how to integrate chickens safely and efficiently, shall we?

General Guidelines

There are some good general guidelines to follow when introducing new hens, regardless of your method and space:

  1. Try to introduce more than one hen at a time. Avoid only introducing one, as this increases the chance of the existing flock bullying and/or seriously injuring the new chicken.
  2. Avoid introducing a rooster into a flock with a rooster. There will be a fight, and there will likely be injuries.
  3. Keep significantly younger chickens (e.g., chicks, very young pullets, etc.) separated from the old flock until they’re about the same size and can hold their own with the older hens. Of course, if your chicks have a nice broody hen mother to protect them, separation may not be necessary.
  4. Keep your chicken breeds in mind when introducing new hens. Stick to hens with the same temperament as those in your existing flock. Some breeds are more aggressive or territorial than others, while some are just plain bigger. Avoid introducing a particularly docile breed with a territorial flock, or vice versa.
  5. Keep plenty of food and water, ideally in multiple containers in different parts of the run (or your ranging setup). This makes it much more like your new hens will be able to get the food and water they need without encroaching on the old hens’ territory and starting unnecessary fights.
  6. Allow lots of vertical and roosting spaces, in case younger chickens need to escape older ones. Chickens generally only bother other chickens on the ground.
  7. Watch the flock carefully for several weeks. There will be squabbles, short fights, and noise as the chickens get used to each other and determine the new pecking order. This is normal and absolutely necessary for a healthy flock. However, if you see serious injuries (i.e., ones that draw blood), or fights lasting longer than a minute or so, separate the hens and change your strategy until they’ve calmed down, and/or until an injured hen is completely healed.
  8. Hens will generally be fine roosting together at night, even with new hens added to the mix. You can choose to introduce new hens this way, but keep in mind that they will wake up and you’ll need to keep an eye on daytime behavior.

Introducing New Hens

There are multiple methods to introducing new hens into an existing flock. We have a very specific set-up, so while I’ll touch on some other ways of doing it, I focus on what we’ve done.

Option One: Free Range Meetup

This, according to many chicken owners, is the best way to integrate chickens, since they have lots of space to roam and meet new hens. If you have a free-range setup, you can generally allow your new chickens to roam along with the old flock, keeping careful watch on interactions between them. You can then choose to let them roost with the old flock, if they’re generally getting along, or set up a separate roosting space for a few days near the coop if safety is a concern.

Option Two: Neutral Ground Meetup

This is an option if you don’t have a free-range setup, but may have a neighbor or friend who doesn’t mind letting a bunch of chickens roam around their property for a day or so. Since chickens are territorial, it may help to integrate new hens with an existing flock in a space where neither party “owns” the land. Same deal with the free-range meetup – keep an eye on the hens and their interactions, and allow them to roost in the way that makes sense for those interactions.

Option Three: Separate and Visible

If you’re like us and don’t have quite the setup for free-ranging (we’d have to build huge fences around our veggie beds to allow ours to free-range, which is not something we’re wanting to do at this time), you can still integrate new chickens. You’ll need to allow the old flock and the new chickens to observe each other in a safe space, and you can do this in a number of ways.

Since we have the chicken tractor (AKA moveable coop), we were able to put the new hens into the tractor and set it up right next to the existing permanent coop. Our existing flock was able to see the new hens chonkin’ around for a few days (with a good deal of squawking the first day) before we attempted to let them roost together for the night.

Chonkin’ away in a see-through coop.

If you don’t have a separate chicken run or tractor, you can get a large pet cage or carrier (one that allows a chicken to actually move and scratch the ground), or set up a space inside the existing run with chicken wire, to allow new hens to move about, while also allowing the existing flock to get used to the new hens.

In any case, the process of integrating new hens can take up to several weeks, so don’t rush it. While all of our hens, new and old, are currently and safely hanging out in the same run and coop, they’re still figuring each other out and having the occasional squabble, so we’ll be keeping close watch on them until they’re all are happy and getting what they need.

There are more detailed guidelines in books and all over the interwebs, but I think I’ve given you a pretty good introduction to general chicken integration. Got any other tips for integrating chickens and keeping flocks happy? Leave a message in the comments.

Happy homesteading!

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