Adding New Chickens to my Flock

Author: Aussie Chook Supplies  

Any current or past chicken keeper can tell you that they are addictive. Their awesome individual personalities (yes, they do have them, just like any other animal), pretty colours, yummy eggs and soul soothing scratching and exploration of their environment make the best combination you can get from any pet. So these questions are more geared towards the next step after your initial flock, when you want to expand your feathered family.

I already have some chickens and I want to add some more to my flock. Is it OK to mix breeds?

A lot of chicken keepers have mixed flocks with different breeds and this is perfectly fine… Half the joy of having chickens is having different shapes and colours – the easiest way to get that is by having different breeds!

The only issues that there are really is that you need to introduce at least two new girls (so they can ‘share’ the bullying) and that they should be relatively close to the others in terms of age (so nutritional requirements and therefore food is the same) and size. If there is too much of a size difference this can make the new comers especially vulnerable to pecking order bullying.

I already have some ISA Browns and I want to have another breed. Is there anything I need to know?

Unfortunately ISA Browns have a reputation for being ‘over enthusiastic’ in their bullying of new chicken breeds so Aussie Chook Supplies advising using caution and doing more research as to what breeds you feel comfortable introducing and how to best do this.

Large/standard breeds can be done so if the numbers are similar. For example, introducing two new (adult sized or almost adult-sized) Rhode Island Reds, Orpingtons, Australorps or Light Sussex should be okay when you have two existing Isa Brown chickens. Introducing bantam breeds or smaller chickens can be and is often done, although you should expect the integration to be more difficult. This is especially true when adding Silkies or other breeds that are especially docile by nature as the new girls may get badly bullied.

How do I introduce new chickens into my flock at home?

There are a variety of different methods (as outlined below) but what you grow to prefer is entirely up to you. There is no ‘one right’ way…

Some chicken keepers introduce the new girls to the coop (on the perch) during the night, so their introduction is (theoretically) less noticeable. Some introduce them in an open area and monitor the “introductions”. Some introduce them by separation through a fence (chicken mesh etc). Some just add them to the new flock, stand back and let them sort it out and nature do ‘its thing’.

There are a miriad of information on how to do it, but a lot of it depends on your own personality and how tolerant of how you are when the chickens inevitably have their squabbles to determine pecking order. There should always be enough room for the new comers to run away safely and you should ensure that there is more than one area for water and food access so the new comers can eat and drink and that the ‘top chook’ isn’t stopping them from doing so. As a general rule as long as there isn’t a concerning amount of damage done to each other things should settle down within two or three days at the most. Aussie Chook Supplies recommends that you quarantine new birds for at least a two week period before introducing them into your flock.

Why should I quarantine new chickens?

It is always a good idea to quarantine new chickens before adding them to your existing flock for a few different reasons.

Firstly, this gives you a chance to worm and treat/prevent mites and lice if you don’t know or suspect it wasn’t done recently.

Secondly, a new chicken can get stressed with the change of location and travel and as a result this can bring out a dormant disease in a chicken that looked healthy when you first bought it. This is similar to how we may be fine and healthy, but stress from moving house can bring out a cold (or a cold sore, for those of us who are familiar with cold sores). Quarantining new chooks allows for them to recover or receive treatment in a less stressful environment and minimises the risk of your old established flock getting sick from a strain of disease that they don’t have any immunity to. 

Should you choose not to quarantine your new chickens, because you don’t have the room/facilities in your backyard or some other reason, you need to be aware that you are putting your new girls and your existing girls at risk of getting sick. Therefore you should be more vigilant for signs of disease/illness and be ready to treat them if necessary…

I've added my new girls and the bullying and fighting is scary to watch. What can I do?

Honestly, nothing is best. If you separate the new girls, it will just prolong the settling in and acceptance process. Pecking order squabbles are normally just a flutter of feathers and few firm head pecks, lasting up to 20-30 seconds. This feels like a LONG time when you are feeling helpless watching it - and it can be quite upsetting to watch. My husband does the introductions of new flock members here cause I find it too distressing to watch - even after all these years.
If there is blood drawn, you might be more comfortable removing the two dominant chickens and letting the quieter, lower down flock members settle with the new girls and then add them back in after a week or so. These are general recommendations and you should always do what is within your practical means and what you are comfortable.
Honestly, we have done this and the dominant flock members just had free range of the yard and slept in pet carriers before they moved back in with the main flock.


What can I do to make the transition smoother?

The new chickens will appreciate a yard area big enough that they can run away to safety when needed. It's awful being pecked by a dominant hen and they can't get away. :(
Distraction is a great strategy, so food/treats and new items to explore work well when introducing new members. To help boost everyone's health during this stressful period, feeding mashes with Aussie Chook Supplies Healthy Chook Spice Mix can be very beneficial both for it's health boosting benefits and distraction.