Introducing new flock members to an existing chicken flock can be challenging. Chickens don’t generally take kindly to newcomers who might threaten their place in the pecking order. Baby chicks should never be put in with adult chickens, unless they were hatched in the coop under a broody mother hen who will protect them.
Baby chicks hatched in an incubator or purchased from a feed store, online hatchery or breeder need heat for the first six to eight weeks. After that, weather permitting, they can most likely be moved outside at least during the day for a bit of sunshine and exercise, and that’s when the integration process should start.
Following these four simple steps, the introduction should go smoothly, with minimal pecking or aggression. But I always recommend introducing new pullets to the flock during the day so you can stick around and supervise. Be ready to remove a bully or a younger chicken who is being unmercifully pecked or attacked.
Having areas of your run where the younger chickens can hide or get away is helpful, such as under boards or chairs, or up on outdoor perches or swings.
Here are the four steps I use to add new chickens to my flock. These steps would be the same whether you are adding new spring chicks or adult hens that you might be bringing to your property.
Around six to eight weeks old, when the young chickens have all their feathers and the temperatures have warmed up to somewhere around 65 degrees, I move them outside during the day. I keep them in a safe coop or pen where they won’t be in harm’s way from hawks, fox, dogs or other predators.
If you are bringing in adult birds, be sure that the pen is distanced from your regular chicken coop and you tend to your chickens first, then the new birds, then wash up, just in case they have any illnesses. You don’t want to pass anything to your flock. Adult birds should be quarantined for at least 30 days. Chicks you raised in the house don’t need to be.
After two to three weeks of being outside, I’ll move the pen right up next to the regular run so everyone can see each other and hopefully work out any grievances with wire in between! You’ll likely notice a lot of curiosity and maybe some chest puffing and posturing. They might even try to fight through the fencing. This is normal.
After another two weeks of this “getting to know you” period, I’ll try free-ranging everyone together. By now the younger chickens should be ten to 12 weeks old and nearly full size. Putting the two groups on neutral territory with plenty of space to roam usually works well, although I like to watch to be sure there’s nothing more than some chasing of the younger birds. Usually everyone is so excited to be out on the grass looking for worms and insects, they pay little attention to each other.
If that goes well for a few days, then it’s time to try integrating the groups inside the coop and run. This should be done during the day so you can stay and watch how it goes. I never recommend adding new birds after dark. Some people recommend doing this, claiming that when they wake up, the chickens will all think they’re one big happy flock and won’t remember who is new and who isn’t. But chickens are smarter than that. Studies have shown that they can recognize up to 100 flock members, so you’re not fooling anyone by slipping in new chickens under the cover of darkness — and you’re risking a bloodbath inside the coop by the time you open up in the morning. It's far better to integrate everyone during daylight hours.
If you do notice one or two particularly aggressive chickens who are hounding the newcomers, remove the bullies to a dog crate away from the coop for a few days. Then try putting them back. That often alleviates the fighting, since now they have become the newcomers.
When you have chickens of different ages, it’s important to feed them the correct feed for their life stage. When you add the younger chickens, switch your entire flock back to a grower feed like Blue Seal Home Fresh Grow and Show until the youngest flock members are at least 18-20 weeks old, then you can go back to Blue Seal Home Fresh Extra Egg.
The added calcium in a layer feed can be harmful to the younger chickens since they aren’t of laying age yet, so the grower is the better choice for everyone. It’s impossible to put out two different feeds and expect each chicken to eat the correct one! But be sure to put out free-choice crushed oyster shell or eggshell in a separate container so your laying hens can eat as much as they need to fulfill their calcium requirements.
It’s also a good idea to set up several feeding stations for your flock when you add new chickens to be sure that each bird has access to the feed and a few older hens aren’t keeping the younger chickens away from the food and water.
Lisa Steele is a 5th generation chicken keeper, author, DIYer and master gardener. Follow her blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com