In 2020, chickens claimed first place as the most sought-after pet in the United States. This pet provides food in the form of eggs and meat. The chicken’s popularity may have been due to the need for hobbies during lockdowns or the inability to easily go out and pick up groceries during the pandemic.
However, the rising cost of inflation in 2023 has spurred a self-sufficiency movement in the United States.
Chickens are a great way to start being more self-sufficient. Most backyards can support a small flock, and you can grow your numbers over time as you become more comfortable raising these birds. Not only do chickens provide useful products, but they are also great companions and can be fun to keep.
Read on to find out how to increase your backyard flock with the addition of a few new hens.
Can You Introduce New Hens to a Flock?
Of course, you can! If you’re adding to your flock to increase its number, it’s super important that you think through preparing for the new additions and take certain steps to introduce the new hens to your current flock. This includes getting your house and yard ready, quarantining the newbies, introducing yourself from a distance, and being prepared with personal protection equipment when the official mingling starts.
Then, you can enjoy a happy increased flock.
Before you even consider expanding your flock, it’s important to make sure you’ve got enough space for all of them. Your coop should have about 3 square feet per animal, and you should consider more for each if you live in a colder climate where they may spend an extended season cooped up to stay warm and safe.
The size of their yard also matters and should allow at least 8 square feet per chicken. If you don’t ensure this much space is available for your new chickens, it can lead to some awful consequences such as pecking and cannibalism.
Take the time before introducing new hens to make a bigger coop, more yard space, additional perches in your yard and coop, and more feeders and watering stations to provide enough for everyone.
Type and Number to Introduce
The type and number of new hens you introduce to your flock can make a big difference in the result. Never introduce just one hen unless you want it to die from bully attacks.
Roosters are the only exception to this rule. Sticking to the same breed for old or new chickens tends to yield better results than mixing them, although some chicken owners successfully integrate a mishmash of breeds without too much trouble.
Certain breeds tend to have better dispositions, so if you don’t have alternate reasons to select a specific breed, you may consider one of the breeds listed below. According to farmers over the last decade, these top five breeds show more positive personalities and peaceful transition:
- Rhode Island Red
- Speckled Sussex
- Buff Orpington
Keeping your new chickens around the same age may help them to form a bond and protect each other from older hens. Be sure that your new chickens are at least six weeks old before mingling them with older hens.
Once you’ve chosen and purchased your new chicks or hens, it’s time to quarantine them and make sure they are healthy enough to join the flock.
One step often overlooked is a quarantine period in which new hens get treated for pests. Illness often claims hens quickly once rampant in a flock, so keeping a close eye on your new hens before they get integrated into the flock is a great idea.
Approximately 30 days of observation can reassure you of their health. If you see any issues, be sure to contact your vet before mingling them with the rest of your flock.
Another thing that a month of quarantine will give you is a chance to watch for pests such as chicken lice and mites. Noticing and treating new hens before they go in with your other birds will save you a lot of time and money in getting rid of a pest outbreak later.
If you see any creepier crawlers in your new hens’ feathers, you can treat them with over-the-counter chicken treatments or dust them and their environment with Diatomaceous earth purchased from any animal feed or health food store. Even if you manage to get rid of the pests, you should add some diatomaceous earth to your current block’s favorite dusting places and yard to ensure no contamination.
Once you’ve completed steps one and two, it’s time to let your new hens meet the flock. But wait!
Don’t rush them straight to their new home. As with all animals, let them check each other out first.
Separate But Let Them Be Social
As with all animal introductions, there should be some distance between them. Putting new chickens in large carriers or crates within the chicken yard or setting up a temporary space next to the normal chicken yard will offer safe interaction.
Over a few weeks, let them live as neighbors, speaking and fussing through their shared fence. Hints of future issues may show themselves, so be sure to spend some time watching their interactions and planning for the real introduction.
Take note of any repeat reactions among or between birds, who the troublemakers might be, and who the weakest new hen is in case she needs defending.
Finally, Let the Old Flock Greet the New
It’s time to officially mingle your hens. Do so in the larger area, the yard, not the coop. Allow them the space needed to get away from each other.
If you have a rooster, you need to know that he will claim dominance of the new hens quickly. This can make the transition smoother.
Offering food scrapes or scratches for the hens to focus on when they all gather together may also help.
The Night Method
Some people swear by another introduction method called the night method. Once your previous flock is roosting cozy in their coop at night, place the new chickens inside the coop as well.
The new hens should scout out available perches and promptly settle down until morning. When you let them out the next day, be sure to keep an eye on them and watch for any discord.
This method has been successful because chickens’ attention span minimizes once the sun disappears for the day, along with their territorial tendencies and curiosity.
Have Distractions at the Ready
In addition to feeding or scratching to distract your expanded flock, you can provide other ways to divert them from each other and seed amenity between them. Provide hen toys such as cabbage, lettuce, or melons hanging on a string, so they have targets other than each other.
Chickens also love to destroy piles of any kind searching for edible bugs and bits. If you pile up tree bark, straw, wood shavings, or other organic matter, they will work together to dig it into oblivion.
Have Personal Protection Tools and a First Aid Kit Handy
Throughout this process, but especially when you first introduce the new hens, be sure you are prepared to break up fights or capture an errant chicken. If intervention is necessary, it may be worth it to make sure you wear hardy clothing such as thick jeans, boots, and long-sleeved shirts or jackets.
Leather gloves will protect your hands. A towel to wrap around a chicken should you need to lift it might also be a positive addition to your toolbox.
Keep a few animal carriers, boxes, or spare cages for temporary separation just inside the chicken yard as well. Lastly, a well-stocked first aid kit with human and chicken needs may be needed should rowdy members of your flock get violent.
Bandages, moist wipes or soap and water, antibacterial cream, and animal wound powder would be good to have handy.
We’ve covered all the bases for preparing your flock, coop, and yard, and potential negative outcomes, but let’s look over what to expect as you expand your flock.
The First Week
The first week tests the compatibility of your flock members. As mentioned, your rooster will mount and dominate the newcomers as soon as he can.
You may notice little scuffles between pairs of hens, either a combination of old and new or among the newer, more stressed birds. Some new hens may not enter the coop the first night if they have an alternative safe place to roost in their yard.
You may also notice that that new group of hens will stay together segregated from the original hens. All of these are completely normal behaviors but be sure to maintain a close watch to stop any excessive violence between the old and new members of the flock.
Once They Co-Exist
After the first week, some of the behaviors mentioned above may continue but should diminish with time. One exception is that the new hens may still stay tight-knit in the yard or on your land if you give them free-range time.
They might also stand up to or fend off the rooster for a time, though this is rare. Overall, within a month, you should see improvement in disturbances, the flock sharing all their resources, and your rooster protecting all his hens, old and new.
Mixing new hens into your flock may seem like a daunting task but preparing and using the steps above can help you succeed. Realistic expectations, quarantining your hens and treating them for pests, and gentle introduction from a distance before making one big flock will help ensure great outcomes when they finally live together.