How do I introduce new chickens into my old flock?
We get questions about this all the time! Let there be no doubt: adding new birds to your pre-existing crew can be stressful, both to you and the birds. Your flock, peaceful because every hen knows her place in the pecking order, will be thrown all out of whack by the addition of newcomers. Every hen and roo will once again have to vye for his or her spot on the pecking order. At times it can seem like all-out war! The good news: it only lasts about a week, and there are a few things you can do to make it much easier on all of you.
Two things to consider first, however. One, if you've purchased adult birds or adopted a stray, quarantine them for four weeks first. You'll need this time to make sure they don't have any infections or communicable health issues that the rest of your flock can catch. Even when you are buying adult birds from an individual you trust, it is usually a good idea to quarantine simply because the stress of a new environment can sometimes cause the bird to get ill with something he or she had been previously fighting off - or it may be that the bird was ill but was not to the point, yet, of showing symptoms. It could also be that the person you purchase from just doesn't have eyes as good as yours, to catch things like avian lice or mites. Keeping them in another area first will have you waging a smaller battle than if you had to try to eradicate parasites from your entire flock. The quarantine is a good idea because if the new birds are ill, you can get a diagnosis and treat them while avoiding exposing your established flock to an illness! If you've bought brand new baby chicks from a reputable NPIP hatchery, quarantine isn't really something you need to worry about, but your new chicks will be in their brooder, separate, anyway for just as long.
You can also watch this YouTube videos to see additional tips and advice on quarantine:
Second,make sure the chooks you're introducing are old enough to defend themselves against the larger birds in your flock, certainly no sooner than 6 weeks.
Now, onto the introduction: the most important peace-making technique is to allow the birds to see one another, and even be in the same SPACE together, without having physical access to one another. This will allow them to work out the pecking order through subtler cues. If you have a run, you can achieve this by putting the new birds in the run with your old-timers but separating them with chicken wire, hardware cloth, or something else that'll do the same job. (Making sure, of course, that they all have access to food and water.) Do this for a week before introducing them to the flock.
After that first week, when you're ready to make the transition, we've heard that it's easiest to first introduce the new birds once they're all sleeping - the idea being that upon awakening your resident flock will notice the new guys but be too groggy and interested in eating to attack them right away. We're not sure about this because we haven't tried it, but heck... it's worth a try, right?
A few warfare-alleviating tactics we can say with certainty that reduce fighting all involve distraction. If your girls have nothing better to do they'll chase the poor newcomers and pick on them relentlessly. Distract them and you'll find they're much less mean. Tried and true distraction techniques include:
* Hanging a half a head of cabbage just out of reach so the chickens have to jump to get at it, an odd but miraculous solution;
* Adding large branches to the run and even inside the coop if possible, making pursuit more difficult and giving the newcomer(s) a place to hide;
* Adding dead leaves, grass clippings, pulled weeds and/or table scraps to their run, giving them plenty to dig through.
An even better distraction: letting them range freely! Your flock will be far too interested in the prospect of all the worms, pebbles, bugs and weeds they can get their beaks on to bother with one another. They won't go back in the coop until dusk, at which point they'll be settling in for a night's sleep and won't be so motivated to harass one another. (Though we don't recommend you do this until any newcomers have spent at least 2 days inside the coop, so they know it's "home" and to return there every night. Otherwise you may have a runaway bird on your hands!)
We also recommend you read the fabulous resource our friends at BackyardChickens.com have written on introducing new chickens to your flock, here.