How do you add new chickens to your existing flock while also minimizing the “drama” that goes with it.
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Something that new chicken owners often wonder about, is how to merge flocks, or add new chickens to your existing flock. Whether it is new babies that you raised, or new birds you got from a friend there is a process you’ll need to go through. You can’t just put them all together and expect things to go well. Often what instead happens is a whole lotta fighting and possibly bloodshed or worse.
So what do you do?
By taking some simple steps and exercising some patience, you can safely merge two groups of chickens together with as little drama as possible.
Close But Not Too Close
First of all, you want the new and old chickens to be able to see each other, yet be separated for their own safety. The easiest way I have found to do this, is by letting the new chickens live in a chicken tractor right inside the pasture that the other chickens are in. Whether you have an enclosed run or wide open pasture, put the new chickens in a place where they can look eye to eye with the existing flock. This allows the chickens to get used to each other, know each other and accept that they are all supposed to be there.
If you don’t have a chicken tractor, you can set up a living area adjacent to the existing coop, separating the two by a fence they can see through.
A third option – if you have a small number of chickens you are adding – is to use a large dog crate. Cover the top of the dog crate with some sort of protective barrier. I find that a feed bag cut open and zip tied to the top works perfectly. This is to keep the other chickens from pooping on top of the new ones. Place the dog crate inside your chicken coop. Put bedding, food and water inside for the new chicken(s) and allow them to live in there for some time.
Night Time Operation
It might sound silly, but when you actually do merge the flock, you want to do it at night, when everyone is asleep. Quietly place the new chickens onto a roost and let them sleep the night away. Early the next morning, make sure to open the coop door right away to let the chickens all out to do their thing. When they wake up and there’s a new chicken there, it tends to go much more smoothly than doing it during the day.
So how long do you keep the chickens apart? It depends.
If your chickens are young, you will want to give them time to grow up, and be almost as big as the other existing chickens. If they are too little, they will be picked on and vulnerable to injury.
When you allow the chickens to go together, keep a close eye on them. You will see some pecking and bickering. That is simply the chickens establishing the new pecking order. If a chicken is being overly harassed you may need to keep them separated a little longer. If one is injured, remove it immediately. An injured chicken is as good as dead.
I have had the “introductory” period last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. It really will depend upon your situation and your chickens. They are all different and will react differently.
Just a note: Even if you go through the entire process – some chickens simply will not get along, particularly if you are trying to merge roosters. When it comes to roosters, most of the time fewer is better.