Pecking Order & Why Introducing New Birds is Difficult
Chickens organize themselves into a hierarchical social order which places each member of the flock in a specific position of dominance relative to the others. This stratified social order determines who's the boss for pretty much every activity in which chickens engage, but is most obvious when it comes to who eats and drinks first. If you watch your hens closely, you'll can quickly learn who is the lead hen and who is number 2, number 3 etc.
When a new chicken is introduced into the flock it throws the pecking order into disarray. There will be lots of pecking and squabbling until the new pecking order is established and everyone knows their place in the flock. During this introductory period, the fighting can be quite nasty. You can count on the older hens ganging up on the newcomers. When these new hens are small, they are less able to defend themselves and are, therefore, particularly at risk of serious injury. In some cases, young hens can be killed when introduced to a flock of older birds.
So here are five tips for successfully introducing new birds to your existing flock....
Top 5 Tips for Introducing New Birds To Your Flock
- A Numbers Game - If you introduce just one new chicken to your flock, that bird will take the full force of the bullying and may not survive. To limit the amount of damage to any one bird, it makes sense to set some kind of lower limit on the number of new birds you introduce to your flock. There isn't a magic number, but we recommend that you plan on adding at least four new birds to your flock.
- Timing Is Everything - To give your new birds a fighting chance of survival, you need to wait until they are large enough that they can withstand the inevitable pecking and bullying. Common wisdom is that you should not introduce young birds until they are 10 weeks old and we've found this timing to work for us as well. To limit the amount of fighting on day one, we recommend introducing your new chickens an hour or two before sunset; the older hens will quiet down and return to the coop to roost in the evening, giving the newcomers some breathing room.
Chickens need to be big enough to hold their own. Photo by Craig
Lee of the San Francisco Chronicle
- Getting To Know You. Slowly! - We facilitate the transition process by slowly introducing the older and newer hens to each other. To do this, we set up a temporary shelter for the newcomers right next to our coop and run. This allows the birds to see each other for a few weeks without allowing the two to come into contact with each other. Depending on the weather, we transfer the new hens from our brooder to their temporary shelter when they are 7-8 weeks old. This temporary shelter is made from a large dog crate that acts as a coop and we then surround this with a pen made from a wire garden composter. You can also make a pen from garden stakes and chicken wire. Remember to cover the top of the pen with chicken wire to prevent hawks from getting your new birds during the day. Also remember to lock the crate door at night to protect the birds from raccoons and other predators.
We use a large dog crate like the one shown here as a temporary coop
to allow the newcomers to live in plain site of the older flock
- Land of Milk & Honey - The pecking is most severe when it comes to competition for food and water. To reduce this competition and the resultant fighting, make sure there are abundant sources of food and water for everyone. We strongly recommend placing an extra feeder or two in your coop during the transition period. The same applies to your water source. If you use the BriteTap chicken waterer, you can set these up at heights that are appropriate to size of old and new hens. Set the waterer for your older birds up at a height that is 20 inches above the ground. Set up the second BriteTap waterer for your younger birds at the other end of the run. Place this second waterer at a height that is appropriate for your newcomers (probably about 15 inches above the ground)
Fluffy drinking from the BriteTap poultry waterer. Chickens drink from
special valves on the bottom so the water stays clean.
- Hiding Places - Try to create some hiding places where the newcomers can find shelter when under attack. The coop will be one such place, but you can create others by placing milk crates, logs or other items in your coop that provide cover for young birds.
Posting sponsored by ChickenWaterer.com, makers of the BriteTap automatic poultry waterer. The BriteTap waterer shields water from dirt and poop. The water stays clean and there are no messy pans for you to wash out.