Almost three weeks after adding two new hens to my backyard flock, it still isn’t difficult to spot the newcomers. When scratch is scattered in the yard, the seven old timers dig right in. The new chickens wait their turn, wisely keeping a little distance until the established birds have had their fill.
These girls are generally a cheerful bunch, but less than welcoming when new birds apply for membership to the brood. With time and patience the new additions will fit right in. But for now, respecting the pecking order is their top concern.
Adding new chickens to an existing flock is never without its issues, but following a few guidelines can keep the bloodshed down and speed the return to peaceful coexistence in your feathered backyard community.
Bigger is Better
It’s called a pecking order for a reason. Bigger or more aggressive chickens are going to establish dominance. Wait as long as possible before introducing young birds to the flock. New birds of any size are going to get picked on, but the established flock is less likely to gang up on a larger bird.
There’s Safety in Numbers
Having a friend in your corner always helps. Adding at least two new birds at a time reduces the stress of adapting to a new environment and dilutes the bullying a single bird would face from an aggressive welcoming committee.
Place the new birds among the flock in a cage for a few hours each day leading up to the big merge. This allows them to adapt to the coop and establish some familiarity among the ranks. When it is time to combine, open the door to the cage and allow them to emerge at their own pace.
Provide Comfort Food
Place the food hopper and waterer the new birds were raised with someplace easily accessible. It makes it easier for them to adjust and the extra food source reduces feed competition.
Everybody Looks the Same in the Dark
If adding a small number of new hens, perching new birds among the others on roosts or in nesting boxes by hand for a few days after nightfall can help ease acceptance.
Room to Roam
If free ranging is practical, allowing new birds to interact with the established flock without spatial restraints can ease the transition. New birds usually stick together when roaming the yard. It won’t be long before a duo of birds scratching in the dirt becomes a trio and eventually the boundaries between “chick cliques” fades away.
It can be hard to watch those young innocents face the wrath of territorial alphas. Chances are some feathers will fly. But unless the damage is excessive, realize it is a natural process and interfering can draw out the time it takes for balance to return to the brood.