Keeping chickens can quickly become an addiction, while you swore that you will only have 4 chickens you now have so much more. Adding new breeds is a fantasy constantly circulating around your mind, but unfortunately, there are a few limits like space. Adding new chickens to an existing flock isn’t always that simple either.
Chickens develop a pecking order to keep the peace in the flock. A pecking order is a type of animal hierarchy that reduces conflict. Every chicken knows his or her place in the flock, but this hierarchy gets disrupted when you introduce new chickens. The chickens will need to re-establish their pecking order and for that to happen, lots of chickens might get hurt while fighting for the position of top chicken.
While some chickens might be tolerant of the newcomer, others will give him/her quite a few pecks as welcome. Peking and bullying are meant to make them understand that they are currently at the bottom of the pecking order and may lead to injury. This can be very stressful for new chickens, especially the young ones.
If you want to add new blood to your brood without upsetting the pecking order, there are a few things you can try. These are:
Work in Pairs or Small Groups
It is very daunting for a solo chicken to be introduced into an already established flock, so where you can, try to always introduce two or more chickens together at a time. To make it even easier for them, get chickens that are already acquainted. Introducing chickens in a group prevents the flock from completely isolating them, if bullying occurs, it won’t just be one chicken feeling the brunt of it.
Add New Birds at Night
Unless a predator disturbs them, your chickens should be settled and quietly roosting once the sun goes down. This is the best time to introduce new birds and to give them a little time to get used to their new environment before the chaos of the new day. Be back early in the morning to sort out any chicken dramas and to discourage extreme bullying that can lead to injury.
Introduce Similarly Sized Birds Of Similar Age
Smaller weaker birds are often targets of larger chicken bullies. Chickens can be especially bad when it comes to bullying others. If you’re planning on adding new birds, keep that in mind and get birds of a similar size and age to your original flock. On the other side, a large number of young, fit birds will cause stress to your older existing flock.
Make sure you have enough space to separate the different age groups since not all older hens like dealing with baby chickens. The separation will also give your younger chickens a fighting chance to survive the wrath of the higher-ranked chickens in the pecking order.
Start out Slowly- Ease Them In
The best success you can have when introducing new birds is to introduce them gradually. You can do that by placing newcomers in a fenced-off area so they can interact, but not actually get to each other. This way they get used to each other without the fighting and bullying.
The newcomers will feel safe and get to know their environment and new flock mates while your original flock can adjust to the newcomers without feeling their place in the pecking order and home is at risk. It is best to keep this arrangement for at least a week for the best chance of success.
You can distract your chickens from the newcomers by adding some distractions. You can add things such as hay bales or lettuce pinatas. You can even add mirrors or scatter some mealworms around the place. Let everyone out to free-range and forage for bugs or add some delicious treats to their usual food. The article on boredom should give you some more ideas.
Introduce in a New Location
If you are able, it is a great idea to move both your old hens and new hens to a completely new location. You can make a makeshift run or coop for this purpose somewhere else in your backyard. Make sure to add your new chickens first and then your old chickens, this way you will throw your old flock off balance and give everyone a chance to get to know each other on neutral territory. Everyone will be less territorial and less likely to get defensive and harsh towards the newcomers.
Even though it might be hard, you will have to be realistic and expect that some bullying will take place. New chickens mean new pecking order and unfortunately, your chickens will have to fight it out for themselves.
Make sure to keep an eye out for any injuries and break up any nasty fights. If your chickens are looking too stressed, give them a time out by separating them. Make sure to add lots of distractions and hope for the best!