Chickens have a relatively complex social structure, sometimes described as the pecking order. This structure is disrupted when new chickens are added to an existing flock. If handled poorly it can increase the stress levels of your chickens causing them to lose condition or stop laying eggs and in extreme cases it can result in injuries and even deaths due to the chickens fighting each other. There are two methods that I have used to safely introduce chickens to an established flock.
The staged introduction method is when new chickens are gradually introduced by stages to an established flock.
This method works particularly well when introducing younger half grown chickens to a larger group of adult chickens. The down side with the staged introduction method is that it requires two interconnected pens separated by a door that can be open and closed.
SET UP TWO ENCLOSED AREAS SIDE BY SIDE WITH A CONNECTING DOOR.
The dividing wall needs to be made of chicken wire so that both groups of chickens can see each other. Both pens should have a roosting bench that is sheltered. The area to house the introduced chickens should be big enough to allow them to escape from the established flock when they intermingle. This is because it is nearly always the introduced chickens (usually younger) who are attacked by the established chickens.
PEN THE NEW CHICKENS IN THE UNOCCUPIED RUN NEXT TO THE EXISTING FLOCK’S PEN SO BOTH PARTIES OF CHICKENS CAN SEE EACH OTHER BUT CANNOT INTERMINGLE
Keep them there for at least two days. This is to allow the new chickens to form a habit of roosting in their pen and for both groups of chickens to get used to seeing the other chickens around.
AFTER A COUPLE OF DAYS OPEN THE CONNECTING GATE BETWEEN THE TWO PENS AT THE END OF THE DAY
This will allow the chickens to briefly intermingle before they retire to the roosts in their respective pens at night. Fights will occur between the two groups but as it is at the end of the day there is usually not enough time for the chickens to inflict serious damage on each other. Once the two groups of chickens have retired to the roosts in their respective pens close the access gate so when the sun comes up the next day the groups will again be separated.
REPEAT THIS PROCESS EACH DAY, GRADUALLY LENGTHENING THE TIME THAT BOTH GROUPS OF CHICKENS CAN INTERMINGLE
Eventually the fighting between the two groups of chickens will reduce as the new pecking order is established and the chickens no longer see themselves as two separate groups but a single flock.
ONCE THE NEW CHICKENS HAVE BEEN FULLY ACCEPTED YOU HAVE TO TRAIN THEM TO ROOST WITH THE MAIN FLOCK
This is done by closing the gate behind the new chickens after they have been released into the main run. At the end of the day, seeing that they cannot return to their old roost, they will seek an alternative place to roost. Sometimes this is where the main flock roosts but often they will simply huddle in some corner of the main chicken run. If this occurs simply pick them up and place them on the main flock’s roosting perch. You may have to repeat this for two or three nights but they will eventually get the message and begin to roost with the rest of the chickens.
The Australorp hens in the background are being introduced to the older Hyline hens in the foreground.
When the gate is opened the two groups of chickens can intermingle.
The night introduction method is when new chickens are placed on the perch next the the established flock when these chickens are asleep.
When new chickens are added to an established flock at night the existing chickens seem to accept the introduced chickens more readily than they would if they had been introduced during the day. The theory behind this is that chickens cannot count, so when they wake in the morning with two or three extra chickens perched next to them they are unaware that they were not there the day before and so treat them as part of the flock.
When I first heard this theory I was sceptical as research has shown that chickens have a complex social structure. My observations of when I have introduced new chickens to an established flock at night is that the established chickens are certainly aware that new chickens have been added as fights do break out the next day as the pecking order is reorganised, the new birds being lowest on the rung and forced to keep to themselves away from the main flock during the day. But established chickens certainly do accept new chickens more readily when they are introduced at night than during the day.
My theory is that while established chickens certainly do see chickens introduced to the flock as new chickens the primitive hard wiring of chickens sees them as part of the flock, while chickens introduced during the day are seen as part of a nearby rival flock. Hence the milder reaction to chickens introduced at night.
PICK UP YOUR NEW CHICKENS AND PLACE THEM IN A HOLDING AREA OUT OF SIGHT OF THE ESTABLISHED FLOCK
I place mine in a temporary pen in the garage with enough food and water for the day.
WHEN THE SUN GOES DOWN PLACE THE NEW CHICKENS ON THE ROOSTING PERCH ALONGSIDE YOUR EXISTING CHICKENS
This must be done without the use of a torch. Chickens have almost no night vision so they will not see what you are doing at night even if there is a bit of moonlight, however they may if you use a torch.
Photo of chickens roosting at night. Chickens have almost no night vision so they cannot see what is going on when new chickens are placed on the perch next to them at night. Chickens are also more docile at night, which makes them easier to handle then during the day.