Introducing New Hens

Introducing new hens to an established flock can cause stress and is not to be taken lightly.  To put it mildly, introductions upset the established order and each bird in the flock must establish a relationship with the newcomer(s). It is best to introduce at least two at a time over a period of a several weeks, so make sure you have a separate coop for this!  At the same time, make sure that any birds you introduce are old enough to defend themselves against the larger birds in the flock.  At the very least, ensure that new additions are a bare minimum of six weeks old!

Start by quarantining the new chickens to ensure they don’t have any infections or diseases. Observe them for a period of time (up to 2-3 weeks) to ensure they are fit and disease free. The key things to look for are signs of lice or mites, scaly legs. The longer you quarantine your new chickens, the safer it is for the existing flock, because you have more time to spot any illness or disease.

Even if they don’t need quarantine (ie. they were from a respectable hatchery), you can’t just place them in the coop – this will cause a lot of unnecessary trouble and fighting. You need a period of time where your existing flock can see the new chickens but can’t “touch" them. The easiest way to achieve this is to place the new birds in their own pen next to (or even inside) the old pen for a week or two.  This allows the birds to start working through initial pecking order issues with the use of subtler cues, such as pecking through the wire and/or communication of intent. 

Next, give them a proper introduction. Some choose to introduce the new hens at night, when everyone is settled.  Others place the new hens in the run during the day and let the old hens out of the coop to greet the new arrivals.  However you handle the final introduction, expect some scraps and jostling as the birds establish the new pecking order.  This is perfectly normal and is a necessary step.  You should only stop this jostling if one of the chickens looks injured or starts to bleed. It’s the jostling gets too intense, separate the new chickens and re-introduce them again the next day. Eventually, they will be accepted.  For this reason, you should plan on hanging around the day of introduction. 

You can help them through this period by temporarily putting extra food and water out in the run.  This can help to dilute any territorial issue.  Other suggestions include hanging up some extra distractions (such as a cabbage or a suet cage with treats, scraps and greens), adding a few logs and large branches - even just rearranging their run so that everyone is slightly unsure.   This has the added benefit of making pursuit more difficult and giving the new birds a place to hide. You can also put straw,dead leaves or dry grass clipping on the floor of the coop to give them plenty to dig through!  While these ideas won't eliminate the arguments,  they can help to occupy and distract your birds through the tumultuous first days.   

Always keep in mind that as mentioned above,  add at least two hens. If you add only one, all of the flocks aggression and worry will be directed at the sole addition making it more difficult to get the new bird integrated successfully.

You will find that each breed reacts to new chickens differently. Some breeds, like Buff Orpington’s are normally very laid back and welcome newcomers. If you notice that one hen in particular is being overly aggressive o the newcomers, place the aggressive hen in isolation for a few day to put her in check. However, you may find that Rhode Island Reds and Silkies can be very territorial and don’t take well to new chickens.  

Keep in mind that sometimes it not the breed, but rather the look of the new bird that sets the established flock off.  If your flock is made up of all traditional looking birds and you decide to add a crested Polish or fancy-feathered Faverolle, it can make fore a rougher transition period as the established flock many not recognize the newcomers as chickens.  If you think that you may be interested in fancy breeds, try to start out with a few different breeds or be prepared to make the introductions extra slow.  

Once they are introduced, keep a close eye on them for about of a week. Make sure they are all eating and drinking properly and also keep an eye on egg production. Sometimes when you introduce new chickens to the flock they go off lay. In total, expect about 5-6 weeks from getting your new chickens home to fully integrating them into your existing flock.

Last edited June 17, 2017.