Introducing New Chickens to Established Flocks

Make an Easier Transition when Introducing Chicks to Chickens

introducing-new-chickens

A preview from our April/May 2017 issue of Backyard Poultry. Subscribe for more great stories like this! 

Once chicks are fully feathered, they are ready to stay outside. But introducing new chickens directly into an established flock can be rough.

How Can you be Successful Introducing New Chickens While Ensuring They Stay Healthy?

First, make sure newbies are old enough to be outside and big enough to fend off bullies.

Many first-time chicken owners don’t know that hens which aren’t broody will kill baby chicks unless the chicks have a protective mother. Six weeks is the minimum age for introducing new chickens from a brooder.

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By now, brooder chicks should be acclimated to outside temperatures. Don’t expect them to cuddle with established hens; they may cuddle with brood-mates but will be ostracized and pushed into cold corners by older chickens. Be sure coops are insulated and protected. If a cold snap rolls in, it’s okay to wait until the weather improves before introducing new chickens.

Be Sure Everyone is Healthy Before Introducing New Chickens.

Introducing new chickens stresses the birds, which can make them more susceptible to diseases which may have otherwise remained latent. Watch for abnormal symptoms such as wheezing, runny noses, crusty eyes, bloody stools, or lethargy. Do not introduce chickens that show signs of illness.

This rule applies, whether introducing chicks or older birds. Poultry shows can be vicious vectors of disease; your new prize hen could have caught mycoplasma from another hen at the show, but you won’t know it until symptoms present. And by then, she may have infected your existing flock. All new birds should be quarantined at least two weeks, preferably four to eight, living in separate coops and runs before joining the flock. Make sure quarantine areas are at least twelve yards from any other chickens to avoid diseases which can carry on the wind.

Sick chickens may need heat lamps again if it’s cold and wet outside. Bring them into a barn or garage, where you can monitor supplementary heat to ensure safety. Healthy chickens do not need heat if they have dry, draft-free coops.

Your Run, My Run

Try introducing new chickens, gradually, by letting them get acquainted through fencing before they’re thrown into the same pen. Place smaller, temporary chick pens inside/beside chicken runs so older birds can meet youngsters without endangering them. Allow birds to interact through the wire at least a week before mixing the flock. There will still be a little hazing, but it won’t be as bad.

Stay mindful of optimal temperatures. Four-week-old chicks may enjoy a day in this mini-run beside big sisters if the weather holds at 75 degrees or warmer. Bring them back into brooders if it gets cold.

Note: This is not an acceptable method if either group is sick during the quarantine period. Quarantined birds must be at least twelve yards away.

Pullets, Party of Five?

One hen against ten is brutal; four against ten means all the attention isn’t focused on a single bird. If you’re raising a couple chicks, at the same time you’re quarantining a new purchase from a poultry show, try introducing new chickens at the same time once quarantine is over. Chicks raised in the same brooder should be introduced as a group, so they can band together against the big girls.

Hide and Seek

Though fully feathered, new pullets are miniature versions of their big sisters. Free-range chickens may have enough space to run from bullies while those in enclosed runs don’t. When introducing new chickens, build shelters that older hens are too large to enter. Tunnels cut into boxes, or sturdy boards secured lean-to style against fences, give youngsters places to hide and take breaks. Placing food inside also lets them eat undisturbed. By the time pullets are too large for the shelters, they will have integrated into the flock.

A Little Help from My Hens

If a broody hen raised your chicks, don’t separate mother from babies until the flock is integrated. Introducing new chickens, while the mother-to-baby bond is still intact, allows hens to do the tough work for you. She shows her babies around and shows the other hens who’s boss, before retiring from motherhood. Then she quietly slips back to her old social circle. The bond is usually still intact when babies are six weeks old, which is also when they can live outside without additional heat if she decides to stop being a mom right when she rejoins her old friends.

Lights Out, Chickens In

If you throw a pullet into an established coop, the new girl is running for her life, with the world against her! But if you add her at night, when the others aren’t active, you can fool a few of them. It’s like the concept of setting baby chicks under a broody hen during the night. She wakes up and believes she hatched them. Existing hens may wake to see new pullets on chicken roosting bars and leave them alone. Though this trick doesn’t work for every hen, it lessens a lot of the hazing that a single pullet may endure.

From sheltering chicks beneath heat lamps to introducing new chickens, providing adequate heat keeps them warm and safe as they grow. Do you have any tips to keep chicks warm and safe? Let us know!

Chicken Heat Table

Chick Age Temperature Considerations
0-7 Days 95F Now is not the time to let babies
stay outside the brooder more than
a couple minutes.
Week 2 90F Babies start flying very early! Be sure the
heat lamp is secure and can’t be reached.
Week 3 85F Chicks can make short trips outside,
if the weather is nice and warm.
Week 4 80F Let chicks enjoy more time outside, but
keep a close eye on them.
Week 5 75F Is your house 75F? Turn off the heat lamp.
Week 6 70F Start acclimating the chickens, letting them
spend all day outside unless weather is
cold and rainy.
After 6 Weeks Ready for Outside! Fully feathered chicks can endure 30F and
lower. Acclimate them before putting outside
for good. Be sure coops are draft-free.

Get more great tips from Marissa for raising baby chicks in the April / May 2017 issue of Backyard Poultry.

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