Introducing new hens to a flock

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:
PoultryHelp.com

Velvet Sparrow’s Chicken Information Page

Dealing with Aggressive Poultry

Introducing a young flock to the coop

Introducing new babies

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!

34 Responses to “Introducing new hens to a flock”

  1. I think you are one of the coolest people on the planet. Seriously. I linked you in my blog and I hope more people see it and are inspired.

    I am also a chicken lover. I have found out , even in baltimore city, maryland, USA, I can get chickens…no rooster though. I am contemplating it. My husband will have nothing to do with them though.

    Good luck!

    • Since animal cruelty is so awesome, right? Like, watching them suffer totally makes me want to roll in a ball and die. I dont know whats wrong with people like you. Check out the rabbit skinning. Sick.

      [Edited to delete expletives.]

  2. I have a small mixed flock of 7 birds. We got them as broder house chicks from my friend in Hillsboro Va. I had an agreement with my family that we would keep only one rooster and give any others back to my friend as they matured. So.. I kept the slightly older Road Island Red and took back one of the White Rock roosters. My friend has a large flock of free range chickens that live in and around the barn and chicken house. When my wife and son let the young rock go he was attacked by several other Roosters. As you can imagine my family is upset with me, they want to retreve him. I said after a few days he will find his place, as it is a large area that is not fenced in. There is a barnyard , chicken yard, cattle feeding area and a unused overgrown hog lot all open to the flock to roam and sleep as they please. Am I right on what I have said? Will he just blend in the pecking order in a few days. Or have I sent him to the chicken version of Lord of the Flies?

  3. If he’s at or past maturity, then the other roosters may keep fighting him to protect their turf. It may be a large area, but if each cockerel (and you say there were several already) has his own space and harem then there may not be room for a newcomer.
    If he’s younger they may accept him but with several cockerels there’s bound to be a couple that are more aggressive. (We eat our more aggressive cockerels so we know the two in the main run accept youngsters until they hit maturity – then we either eat them or remove them to a cockerel box.)
    I’d keep an eye on him for a week or so to see what happens. If he’s continually being bullied and attacked, then take him out.

  4. I checked on him over the past few days and he has staked out a area inside of the chicken wire area behind the main coup. That is where the feed and water are so I know he is eating drinking. When I last checked there were no other Roosters in that area just sitting hens. There are at least 3 roosters in 25 or so flock. Two of those being a big ugly Rhode Island red the other a small white leg horn. The third is a mixed Barred rock. He is bigger than all but the red I think he is going to be fine. As for eating the cockerels that was to be the plan. But now my wife and sons won’t hear of it.
    anyway thanks for the information
    Norton
    Hamilton Virginia

  5. Your information is very helpful and hopefully you can offer some suggestions for this problem.
    We have one backyard flock of 7 hens and 1 rooster. They are confined to a penned area and in the afternoon, just before dusk, we allow them to roam for about an hour and half.
    Our rooster, RayRay, keeps all of the feathers off the backs of the hens with his constant mounting. We are thinking about separating him during the day and allowing him to roam in the evening with them to cut back on the mounting.
    He is a very good rooster, watching over the girls while they are out, calling for them when he finds a special treat, and always gathering them should one or two stray.
    Will separating him, giving the girls some relief and allowing them to get some of their feathers back, stress him too much? Would there perhaps be any condtions on both parts that might develop?
    Even with all of the mounting, the girls still lay 4-6 eggs daily.
    We would just like for them to get some of their feathers back. They are beautiful, healthy hens but everyone that sees them, asks “What is wrong with them? What made them lose their feathers?”
    Of course we have to say RayRay. There are 2 that have not lost their feathers, and one is a Sex LInk and the other a RI Red. The Red is older and we assumed that is why he has not bothered her at much. The ones with the bare spots are 2 Sex LInks and 2 Americanas, and he is also Americana.
    Thanking you for any advise.
    Barbara
    Oak Island NC

    • I’ve had varying degrees of that problem here on the farm too. One thing I’ve noticed recently is that certain kinds of chickens seem to be more prone to losing the feathers than others. I’ve noticed with my mixed bag flock that the Rhode Island Red purebreds all have bare backs, whereas few of the other gals do.

  6. Sorry Barbara, your comment got caught in the blog’s spam filter.
    It sounds like your problem is either not enough hens (a ratio of 12 hens to one cockerel is good) or not enough space for the hens to get away from him. Or, of course, a combination of the two.
    The problem with separating the rooster is that as soon as you put him back in with the hens, he’s going to be chasing them immediately to reassert his dominance.
    Another solution, and this does look funny, is to buy or make saddles for your hens. Basically, they are leather vests that protect the hens’ back and sides.
    I’ve only seen them on hens once and the only website I’ve seen them on, backyardchickens.com, seems to be defunct.
    However, saddles are often used on commercial breeding turkeys and I found a photo of a typical one at http://www.feathersite.com/Poultry/Turkeys/BRKSaddle.html

  7. I’m at a loss on this one, but hopefully you can answer this for me. We have seven Cochin Bantam Hens and one Cochin Bantam Rooster, all of them 5 months old and raised together since they were babies. My rooster has become way more aggressive than I was expecting to deal with. He is too rough with the hens and with me. He won’t even let me get in the coop or feed them and if I pet one, he hurts them then comes after me. I’m just raising them as pets and can’t even cuddle with the hens at all. I know it’s just instinct, but I can’t handle it because I don’t like having to be mean to him and I’ve tried everything. We’ve decided he needs to go and have a found a new home for him. He will be leaving tomorrow! My question is this. Are the hens going to be ok, not having him around anymore?

  8. Your hens will be much better off not having him around. Many, many people keep hens with cockerels and the hens are fine. So either keep them with none or, if you want to breed from them, then find another cockerel with a nice nature.
    We only keep cockerels because we breed Scots Greys (which are very rare), but it does allow us to see the different temperaments.
    Orville, who is useless as a breeding rooster, is happy for our boys to pick him up and stroke him. His brother, Wilbur, is a fascist in feather form – he won’t let his hens out in the morning until he’s ready; chases them to bed in the afternoon; dominates them mercilessly; and would go for anyone given half a chance.
    We put up with Wilbur only because there are just 180-200 Scots Greys left and he’s a proven performer with hatchings. Once we have a few more chicks from him, though…
    We also have a smaller cockerel, Rustygate, who shares a dozen hens with another cockerel. Rusty is all mouth and no trousers – he’ll fluff his feathers up, strut like a little tin soldier and crow the house down, but tends to run off and sulk if confronted.
    The cockerel he’s with, Boss, is just about right as a cockerel – protective of his hens, dominant of the other cockerel but not bullying, and easy going around people. He’s also a proven performer, but he’s in with the non-breeding hens while Wilbur has his turn.
    So, don’t worry. The hens will be happier and less stressed without the constant bullying and, if you do want to breed from them, there are less aggressive cockerels to be found.

  9. Please tell me more about the gay rooster.

  10. i have a mixed flock of 2 light sussex, 1 rhode island red and 5 white star hens running with a light sussex cockerel. these are all the same age (18 month) and seem a happy and content family. i did contemplate separating the 5 white star hens as the much larger cockerel had laid bare their saddles, but since moulting, this problem has cured itself and although ‘big eck’ is as amorous as ever, no feather loss. as to ‘big eck’s’ aggression, he seems to feel the need to assert himself every 4 to 5 weeks and to this end i carry a broom shank with me at all times i’m in his domain. i feel it’s more humane just to tip him over on his back rather than lash out with my feet in defence. he hurts, as i found out to my cost (shouldnt have been wearing shorts nor turned my back on him lol).

  11. Hi,
    I’d just like to say all of your advice is great and i’ve learnt alot from reading what you’ve got to say about poultry!

    Any way, we have 3 hens and 2 cockrels (1 a mistake- honest!) though we are going to get some more hens! one bird in particular has been ravaged by the amourous advances of advocaat and Flasheart (the boys) and has got spur-damage by her wings. How to we stop this!!

    Thanks, Henry M, Warwickshire

  12. Remove at least one of the cockerels, for a start. Two cockerels to three hens is not a good idea. I try to have at least four hens to a cockerel to spread his attentions around.

    If you still find one hen being damaged, remove her for a while until she’s healed but keep her in close proximity to the other birds so they continue to know who she is. You can also fit her with a “saddle”.

    Foxfield Fowls Poultry and Country sell them on ebay (I have absolutely no connection with them) in various sizes as “poultry saddles“.

  13. Chris - Aberdeeenshire Reply 17 August, 2007 at 21:34

    After losing a hen last year, I keep one of those cheap stackable plastic garden tables with a wooden ramp, in their run. New hens can jump up out of the way of aggresive hens then back down if the hen follows them up. It has already worked when I introduced 3 brown layers to 4 traditional heavier birds.

  14. An update on our flock.

    We have 10 ISA Browns that were free-ranging, but after the crash knocked down the boundary fence they’ve been confined to the winter run (20m x 20m) until I can get the fence repaired. They live in a 50-bird house.

    We have nine point-of-lay (POL) Scots Greys in a 12-bird house with six-foot run attached. As soon as they start laying, they will move in with the ISA Browns.

    We have a Scots Grey cockerel (Johnny) and six Scots Grey hens in a breeding house and run.

    We have a Scots Grey cockerel (Orville, who suddenly decided after 18 months that he wasn’t gay after all), four Scots Grey hens and six Scots Grey chicks that free-range inside the steading.

    We have two young Scots Grey cockerels in a cockerel box being fattened for Christmas dinner.

    I hope to get another breeding box and run set up before the end of the year, plus I need another cockerel box/broody coop as two of the six chicks are cockerels and will need to be kept separately.

  15. I thought my female welsummer was lonely so I introduced a breeding pair of barnevelders, who are placid. The welsummer is having a go at the female barnevelder and the rooster is having a go at the welsummer, but she is then fighting him back, will she learn to accept the rooster as top dog and leave the female barnevelder alone?

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  1. Pecking Order « Town Mouse - 3 November, 2011

    [...] put into an adjacent run to the old guard so they can get used to each other, as appears to be the approved method, before they’re mixed together into a single flock. Despite this, I’m fairly certain [...]

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