When introducing new birds into your flock, it can create a stressful time for the new birds, your established flock, and for you. The pecking order of chickens is very strict and they can be very cruel to one another, at least it will appear that way to you. You've heard the old phrase "hen pecked?" It's a real thing, and not just for men! :)
Help Avoid Much of the Fighting
If you have the space, put the new birds in a separate yard beside your chicken yard letting the flock and the new birds be in each others view for two to three weeks. If you don't have that luxury, you can put your new birds on the roost at night when they are all fast asleep and let them wake up together. Then, if you can, separate your old birds from the new birds the next morning. Let the established flock free range or put your new birds into another pen, even if it is a temporary one in your chicken yard. This gives the new birds some time to get used to the yard and relax into their new home in peace. After a couple of nights of roosting together, they should be pretty used to one another and the fighting should be minimal.
On our farm, I am blessed to have plenty of space. We have a unique setup that my husband built for me. You may not can see it well in this photo, but I have four side yards that connect to the "big yard" by a gate. Each one serves its own purpose. The ones on each end are breeding coops and the two in the middle are the rooster yards reserved for those roosters I keep just for breeding purposes. For more on why I keep the roosters separate, see our post on taming an attacking rooster. These yards all share a common fence so the chickens in the big yard can see the biddies or new hens and get used to them. They still do a little bossin' around, but it has never been anything that has caused damage to any of the birds.
As the young hens grow into maturity, the pecking order will change. If you take one out for setting a nest, the order will change, and it will change again when you bring her back in. I just stay out of their squabbles and let them work it out.
When to Introduce New Birds
If I have allowed my hen to set, or if, for some reason, I order chicks, they are 3 months old before I introduce them. By this age, they are large enough and established enough to be able to handle themselves. I leave roosters from the same batch in the side yards until I'm ready to butcher. We butcher them when they are 4 months old.
Since the chicks will have been next to the big flock for so long, there is hardly any fuss. To introduce them to the coop and flock, I (meaning we) put them on the roost at night when all the birds have gone to sleep. My headlamp has a red light setting on it and I use this so as not to disturb them too much. A sleeping chicken is kinda like a zombie, they will let you do pretty much anything to them you want.
I take them from their breeding coop into the big coop and place them on the roost. Gently and slowly so as not to wake them or the other birds. Once they have slept in the coop for two to three nights, they will know where they live and adjust well.
Problems May Arise
The only problem I have had with this is that they are so used to sleeping in the breeding coop house that they don't like the roost. They want to sleep in the bottom row of nests. To correct this, we went out that night, after they were all asleep and put them on the roost again. We had to do this for three nights before all of them were going to bed on the roost. It is a little work, but it is important for them to be sleeping together as a flock.
It isn't hard to introduce new birds, just a little time consuming. Remember, it is just as stressful for your existing flock to have their order upset so be sure everyone has plenty to do, eat, and drink and all should be well. This would be a good time to offer ACV Tonic for all your birds (3 to 4 tablespoons apple cider vinegar to 1 gallon of water).
Please share your experiences with introducing new birds to your flock by commenting below or using the Contact Me page on my website. Remember, I am here to help so always feel free to contact me with your questions and concerns.
Safe and Happy Journey,
Rhonda and The Pack