If you already have an existing flock and plan to order chicks this year, the time will eventually come to integrate the chickens. Since keeping chickens, I have done this twice. I have integrated adult hens and young pullets into the flock. It is never easy, especially watching from the outside. You’ll find yourself wanting to protect each and everyone. You’ll worry about every chicken and just want everyone to get along. The integration process takes about two weeks. During that time, it seems as though the pecking reminders given to each other lessen as each new day arrives. A new pecking order is beginning to form; some are struggling to assert and retain existing positions as others try to gain a higher place within the order. I have found that roosters can make the integration process easier. They will protect and mediate all their hens, new and old, regardless of their place pecking order. Roosters are known for keeping peace. Here are my tips for a successful flock integration.
Important: New chickens should be quarantined away from your existing flock for at least 4 weeks. This is to be sure they do not have any unforseen illnesses or parasites that could harm your flock.
If possible, keep the new chickens in a smaller protective enclosure near or even inside the older flock’s run for about a week. This allows the chickens to become acquainted while there is a safety buffer between them. For some, this will not be an option. I have successfully skipped this step and introduced new chickens (chicks to broody hens) immediately to the new flock following the tips below.
Integrate more than 1 chicken at a time. This is important. This prevents one new chicken from being singled out and picked on by the entire older flock. It helps to distribute the attention of the old flock to multiple newcomers.
Integrate the chicks into the larger flock when they are between 12-18 weeks old. At this point, they are fully feathered. They already know one another well and they should be large enough to hold their own.
Try to have the new flock “smell” familiar. Each flock has its own distinct smell. My flock is accustomed to the way I smell as I handle them often. As read on the Backyard chicken website, if the new flock smelled like me, they would not be seen as being quite so foreign. One member recommended spraying them with your perfume before placing them in the coop at night. As I do not wear perfume, prior to adding the new chickens to the existing flock, I rubbed a dryer sheet on them. I figured this could not hurt. Another site, recommends spraying the entire flock with vinegar.
Clean the coop just prior to integration. This helps to get a fresh start and decreases the older flock’s scent. If possible, rearrange the roosts. This will mix up where chickens are sleeping and who they are near.
Integrate the new chickens early at night under the cover of darkness. Place the new chickens onto clean dry shavings on the bottom of the coop. Do not try and place them on the roosts. They will be fine for one night on the ground. By adding them at night, its not immediately obvious to the older flock that these are new chickens.
Let them out early the next morning. This is not a morning to sleep in. Go out bright and early and see how the flocks did introducing themselves to each other.
Double up on waterers and feeders. Place them in opposite areas of the coop and run. This helps to prevent chickens from bullying one another out of food and water.
Provide plenty of distractions. Toss in some whole apples on the ground. Create a cabbage pinata. Add a large branch or a log to jump on and explore.
Spend more time out with the chickens. It is best to integrate the flock on a Friday evening so that you can take advantage of the weekend and allow yourself more time to observe the flock’s interactions.
In no time, you will be surprised that a certain level of harmony returns to your flock. Soon enough they all know their place and life goes on. The family gets larger, new friends are made and older birds relinquish power and rank. It is truly a circle of life. There will be better days than some, but eventually a new norm is reached and you find will yourself blessed with more beautiful chickens and fresh eggs to love.
Photo Credits: Tilly’s Nest
22 thoughts on “Getting to Know You: Integrating and Combining Flocks of Backyard Chickens”
Very informative. I have 2 polish girls and will, eventually, add a couple more. Thanks for the tips. I've read a few different ways, I like yours best.
Thank you! Haven't ordered this year's chicks yet, but will be soon, and will definitely refer back to this when integration time comes.
Much like introducing new people into a group of existing friends.
That is great info! after about 4wks I section off my coop with chicken wire, also making a TOP so that my older ones can't fly over and into the sections area to get to the chicks. This helps them get to see and get to know the chicks before I take the chicken wire temp section down. When I take it down I remove the chicks and while the older flock is roosting at night I put them on a empty roost. When they wake up in the morning I laugh at the idea they wake up look over and see new chickens roosting and seem to go "Oh! You!…like they've been there all the time. LOL. This has worked best for my flocks.
Just wondering, have you gotten new chicks or are you planning on getting new chicks? If so, I'd love to hear about it. I am planning on getting mine next month and am hoping to get three chicks from BuffOrpingtons, BarredRock, R.I.Red, RedStar or Australorps breeds. I'm so excited!
I am SO excited for you Tilly &Milly's WannabeMom, your dream of keeping chickens is coming true 🙂 No, chicks this year. We are at full capacity as we did the chicks and hatching last year. This Spring, I am starting two beehives for the first time. Please share some pictures on FB when you get your babies!
It is not difficult to integrate the new hen; however, a bad hen can be harm for the chicken community.
Forlan, you are right!
I have entered all 4 of the requirements for the contest. I did have a something that came to mind while doing so about one of your post, You had said that Dottie Speckles was plucking Tilly's feathers? She may be trying to Take over and re-organize the pecking order. Or jealous of Tilly. Since she seems to get the most attention, as she likes to talk to you. Just a thought.
J.R.Carey (Carey's Chicks)
I think you are 100% right J.R. Carey. My gut was telling me the same things. Thank you for your thoughts. It means so much.
Thank you for posting the link to this article on Facebook today. I currently have chickens but will be raising my first batch of day-old this spring and I am so grateful for this type of info.
Ur chickens are all cute! Thank you for this info, i got new chicks in about 4 weeks ago, and needed to know how to safely introduce them to the ladies. I already have a little blue cochin bantam that gets picked on by the egg laying hens, so i am hoping the new bantams i have gotten will help her make new friends, and make her feel like she fits in. Thank you once again!!
I have 13 golden comet pullets that are about 3 months old. I just recently got 3 cochin bantams and 1 buff orphington that are full grown. I am trying to figure out how the best way to integrate them. Right now they are in seperate coops while I quarantine the 4 new chickens. The pullets are in the larger coop and I want to eventually get them all into it, so I can use my smaller coop as a quarantine coop. Do you have any extra suggestions? email@example.com
Sounds like you have it figured out pretty well. I don't think there is much more to add than you found in this post. Best of Luck!
Ok thanks! I guess we will see how it goes in a few weeks!
Prefect timing for this post! I have 3 hens, 1 pullet and just got 3 chicks. I'm a first timer and I've been stressing about how and at what age to integrate.I hope it goes well. They are less than a week so I have time to plan, lol. Thank you for the info!
Our local Animal Shelter has given me a hen to foster, lol! She's been a mostly 'house' chicken because of the weather. This week has really warmed up, so I've had her out in a little pen, safely getting to know the rest of my gang. I've been successful with adding hens twice before, so hopefully this will be a success too. It is a interesting process for sure!
really helpful post, i introduced 2 pullets to my 3 girlies last night. its been a bit worrying this morning as we have had a few fights but i've followed your tips and i've made a safe zone for the pullets to run off to if it gets to much. they can get in and out but the others can't. so fingers crosssed!!
Your site is my go to, I purchased new chicks this year, currently inside waiting to get order… I do have a 2nd portable coop so I'll use that until the other 3 get used to the new.. Thank you!! for your wonderful blog..
I have 4 Lavender Orps that are 9 and 8 weeks old. I am picking up 2- 4 month old Americauna pullets today. I only have one coop and run I am keeping my Lavenders in and have been looking trying to find out how to best introduce the new ones to my younger Cockerel and pullets. I fear the Americaunas are the ones I have to watch out for since the Lavenders are younger and smaller. I think they will be a little easier to add since this is a new place for them. Any ideas for me, sorry but I need help ASAP!!
Oh wow, how exciting! The new chickens should definitely be quarantined away from the others for at least 4 weeks. This is what most folks recommend for the existing flock's safety. As for the introductions my tips are above and I think it is best that you are around when you do finally mix the flocks together. Best of Luck!
Thanks so much for the advice. We had to introduce new chickens awhile ago and we are about to do it again. Your blog has been super helpful!