Preview: Integrating two flocks of chickens can be stressful on both the chickens and the chicken owners. Here are some ways to make the process easier.
You bought new chicks this spring and now it’s time to combine them with your older flock of chickens. How can you accomplish this without too much drama? Read on to see several strategies for minimizing bloodshed in the coop.
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Is There Really A Pecking Order?
First things first. Let’s talk pecking order. Pecking order is a real thing. There will always be leaders and there will always be followers. When you try to put new chickens in with other chickens, there is going to be a shift in the pecking order. The older hens may feel threatened by the new girls and the new girls will probably be scared of the older chickens and unsure of their new environment.
How to Integrate the Two Flocks of Chickens
Combining two flocks of chickens is not as simple as putting everyone together and expecting things to go smoothly. You need to allow time for the chickens to get used to the other chickens. The process below is how we have successfully merged our new pullets with our older chickens every year.
First, try to allow the chickens to see one another for a week or more without actually being able to get to each other. Separate them with a fence or something similar so they can be near each other but can’t physically touch. We move our chicken tractor next to our permanent coop for this stage.
After a week or so, put the two flocks together where they will be residing, but still keep the two flocks separated. A pet crate in the coop is ideal for this. If that isn’t an option, fencing part of the coop or run off from the others will work too. Just be sure that all the chickens have access to food, water, and shelter. Since we don’t have a pet crate, we fence off part of our run and add a dog house for the chickens to sleep in. We allow another week for this part of the process.
Combining the Flocks With No Barriers
When you are ready to finally put all the chickens together, keep a close eye on them. Ideally, you should put them together on a day when you can be home to monitor their behavior. Have a spray bottle of water handy. (Set it to “stream.”) If you see one chicken bullying another, you can shoot a stream of water at the chicken to discourage the pecking behavior.
Monitor your chickens for injuries. If any have wounds, they need to be removed immediately. However, if you have one particular hen (or rooster) that is being a bully, remove the bully. Keep the bully away in a separate enclosure for 5 to 7 days. This will usually result in a shift in the pecking order and the bully will be more worried about his/her position in the flock instead of picking on the new chickens.
You may want to leave the pet crate or dog house in the coop or run for another week or so to allow everyone to get used to their new home. Once you remove the crate or dog house, be prepared to place some of the new chickens on the roost posts at night. Sometimes it takes about 2 weeks for the chickens to figure out where to go sleep. (But if they sleep on the floor of the coop, that’s OK too. They will eventually figure it out.)
Things to DO When Integrating Two Flocks of Chickens
- Do allow time for the chickens to see each other without touching.
- Plan to allow several weeks to fully complete the integration process.
- Do be sure the chickens are about the same size. Otherwise fully grown chickens will bully younger chicks.
- If you are adding adult chickens from another farm, quarantine them for a full month to be sure they aren’t carrying any diseases that would infect your flock.
- If you let them free-range together, let the new flock into the area first to explore for a bit. Then allow the older ones into the area too. This gives the new ones time to feel more comfortable in the area.
- Do let the two flocks into as large an area as possible. The more room they have, the easier the new chickens can get away or find room to hide for a bit.
- Do use treats as a distraction. Throwing a handful of scratch or some kitchen scraps into the area can serve as a distraction for the more established flock.
- Do expect a drop in egg production when you merge the two flocks. This is a stressful time for both flocks, so naturally your chickens will lay fewer eggs for a bit.
- Do provide multiple food and water stations. A bully will often try to keep the new flock away from food and water so providing multiple areas will make it much easier for the new chickens to get their nourishment.
- Don’t integrate baby chicks until they are the same size as the older flock members. If you are trying to introduce new chicks to an existing flock, the chicks should be at least 16 weeks old before merging the two.
- Don’t remove the chickens being bullied unless they have open wounds. It’s best to isolate the bully. If you remove the chicken that is being picked on, she/he will just have to start all over again when you try to add her/him back. And unfortunately, some of her/his current flock mates may try to bully her/him too.
- Don’t add the new flock to the existing flock and then leave them on their own for hours at a time. By the time you return, there could be serious blood shed or even death. Watch closely for the first few hours and every couple hours for the next few days.
- Don’t integrate just one bird. This is a recipe for disaster. They will gang up on her.
Integrating two flocks of chickens can be done successfully but it will take a bit of patience and monitoring by the chicken owner. By keeping a close eye on the chickens you will be able to spot problems quickly before they escalate into something serious. Have you ever merged two flocks of chickens? What worked for you?