How to introduce new chickens to my existing flock?

I have read much about the topic of introducing new chickens to an existing flock and there are several schools of thought out there on how to approach this. One is to ‘introduce’ the new chickens during the night while the others are sleeping. When they wake up in the morning they’ll be less aware of new chickens on the premises.

Some suggest hang a treat (like a head lettuce) in the chicken coop — just above the reach of the chickens — and that distraction helps introduce the new chickens easier. Others who have said that feeding the chickens treats at the same time as the introductions also helps some.

Others suggest a more staggered introduction. The idea is to keep them near each other but separated within eye contact over a course of a week to a few weeks. This gives them time to get used to each other. They should not have any physical interaction during this period.

A few more tips that may make the transition smoother:

  • Introduce in pairs: If possible, introduce at least two new birds at one time. By doing so, you accomplish two things: One, it keeps the new birds from being completely isolated (she’ll have a friend); and two, you are assured that no one bird is the recipient of all the bullying.
  • Goliath vs. Goliath: Same size matters. Don’t throw two new baby chicks into a house with five full grown hens! Everyone loves a David versus Goliath story. But in the chicken world, it’s the strongest survive. Chickens love to pick on smaller and weaker birds. So, it’s best to mix similar size birds. Birds of a similar size generally will be able to stand their ground more and fight back. They also settle in faster and will be less prone to picking up a serious injury.
  • Isolate the aggressor: If one bird is particularly aggressive toward the newcomers, remove her to a separate area for a few days, then reintroduce. If the hen continues acting out, place her in an isolation pen directly against your normal run. She will have a full view of the other hens but no power to act with aggression. Eventually, she will lose the desire to attack and fight with other hens.
  • Space matters: Before you add new chickens into your already existing flock, it is important to make sure that there is always enough space for your birds and enough hiding places for members of the lower ranks. Overcrowding will encourage aggressive behavior in chickens.
  • Bring in a rooster: Some chicken keepers suggest that adding a rooster to the mix can help maintain order within the flock because a rooster is the natural head of the pecking order in the flock and he will keep the aggression of hens in check. Depending on the size of your flock, the optimal ratio of rooster to hens is about 1:12. Check your local laws before adding a rooster to the flock. Many city and county ordinances prohibit or limit on the number of roosters allowed in your flock. This strategy should be used with caution, because it can backfire if the rooster is not introduced to the flock properly or in the right conditions. When a rooster is introduced to a new flock of hens, he will assert his dominance by fighting the alpha hen and other birds he views as a threat, which could lead to disruption of the flock, injury, and even death. Ideally, it is best to raise roosters and hens together, so that the pecking order will be established at an early age.
  • Keep birds with similar temperament together: Not all breeds are alike; temperament varies from breed to breed. Some breeds are just more aggressive than others. For example, while Rhode Island Reds are great multipurpose chickens for eggs and meat, they (especially the roosters) are known among chicken keepers for their aggression toward other breeds of chickens. Leghorns, Delawares and Wyandottes also have a tendency to be the dominant birds. It’s best not to mix non-aggressive breeds like Ameraucanas, Australorps, Buff Orpingtons, Cochins and Brahmas with those aggressive breeds as they may be bullied. If you are determined to keep breeds that are more aggressive with those that are more submissive, pay careful attention to the habits and behavior of the group on a daily basis.

Here are some video clips to help you integrate new chickens into your existing flock: