When planning to introduce new hens to an existing flock, the first thing is to realise that an existing flock regard the sleeping quarters and pen as “theirs”.
They have established their pecking order and every bird knows its place – in the flock, on the perches and in the nest boxes.
The second thing to remember is that young birds don’t have fully developed immune systems and can die from disease if introduced to an adult flock at too young an age.
I don’t introduce young birds to the flock until at least eight weeks (emergencies only) and preferably 12-16 weeks.
The ideal way to introduce new birds is to move the existing flock and the new birds into new quarters at night, once they’ve been roosting in their old quarters for an hour or two.
The combination of new sleeping quarters, a new run and new faces means the flock is completely disrupted and the old pecking order broken up, thus avoiding the old established flock attacking (and possibly even killing) the newcomers.
If you don’t have the luxury of spare quarters, the next best thing is to have separate but adjacent runs with your old flock confined to one.
If you’re not resting the ground in the adjoining run, you can put your new birds in here, with some form of temporary quarters and leave them for a week or so before merging the flocks (at night).
If you do as we do and rest the ground, you need to have quarters with a run attached. You place this in the middle of the run used by the old flock and again leave the two groups to get to know each other for a week or so.
You should do this even with totally free range birds or they’ll drive the newcomers away.
The other way of handling totally free range flocks is simply to put the new birds in their own house and position it a reasonable distance from the old flock. However, this is a luxury that requires quite a bit of land – especially as your flock expands.
A final method is to really disrupt the pecking order by both removing and adding birds in one “fowl” swoop! I prefer not to do this as it can be stressful for the chickens, but in an emergency it does remove the waiting time that other methods need.
I had to do this the other day as I needed to get a broody hen into a box and get the younger chicks in the box out into the run.
Fortunately, I was also about to swap out my pair of breeding hens and introduce four other 12-week old birds to the flock.
I removed a pair of hens (who went in with the breeding cockerel), a young cockerel (who’s going to be fattened for the pot) and the broody hen from the old flock.
At the same time, I introduced the former pair of breeding hens and all six young birds. This was all done at night (ie very late because there isn’t much darkness up this way).
Come the morning, all the birds in the “new” flock were kept in until midday to allow the chickens to familiarise themselves with each other.
When they came out, there was still a bit of pecking going on but after 48 hours they’ve all settled down, with the sub-cockerel quite pleased as he now has a couple of girls of his own.
Do not introduce mature roosters to a flock with a rooster. Hens will fight briefly to establish pecking order but roosters go for dominance and can seriously injure or kill each other.
A dominant rooster will often accept immature roosters, but you’ll have to watch them and remove the youngsters if the dominant cockerel decides to attack them. They will have to be removed as they near maturity.
You can have two or more mature roosters to a flock, but they have to have been introduced as immature birds at the same time.
There should also be more than 10 hens for two cockerels – the dominant one will be happy with 10 or so, while the beta cockerel will have a couple of hens to himself and try to sneak off with the others when he has the chance.
With three or more cockerels, aim for around 10 hens per rooster, but you’re better off having separate flocks at this point.
I keep two cockerels with my non-breeding hens while I get around to building them separate cockerel boxes, while the current breeding cockerel gets his own quarters and run, plus two/three hens. (Orville the gay rooster is the exception – he has the run of the steading and gets put to bed in the hayshed at night.)
If you’re keeping two cockerels with a flock, it helps if there is a difference in size as the big one will dominate the small one and the small one will be much less likely to challenge the big one. You should always keep an eye on them and if there are constant challenges, take one of them out
For other methods and views, have a look at:
I have to say that Velvet Sparrow’s chicken god approach is by far the most interesting – and hilarious – technique. I don’t know if I’m game to try it though as my neighbours already think I’m nuts, so becoming the chicken god may be seen as a step too far!