Have you ever lost a new chicken, within hours of bringing it home? Or spent the night searching with a spotlight for a pullet that didn’t come home to roost? Or most commonly, seen that one poor new chicken take the brunt of all the harassment?

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I’ve experienced all of these, what follows is a process for introducing new chickens or pullets into an existing flock without these issues.

For clarity, I am using new chicken and pullet interchangeably, as the difficulties of introducing either into an existing flock is the same.

Why does this matter?

First, chickens need to establish a pecking order, this social order is how they function.  They are not a democratic species and they are not interested ensuring everyone has equal shares of food, water and a place to roost. Rather chickens have evolved to use an authoritarian style system, where the pecking order establishes who does what first. It is literally just that, pecking to establish order, where the most aggressive chicken submits the others becoming the top chicken.

When chickens are born and raised together this pecking order establishment is not as apparent. But as chicken farmers we sometimes need to introduce new birds into existing flocks and the fight for dominance can sometimes lead to lost feathers, blood or even death.

We don’t want to remove the establishment of the pecking order we want to create conditions where the flock is as calm as possible upon introduction to keep the blood and death to a minimum.

Second, newly introduced chickens do not have a home yet. The coop is the territory of the existing flock. When new chickens are introduced into a flock and they have no home and they are getting bullied it is understandable that they would want to fly away and establish their own home and flock.

When chicken farmers are using open top run setups, like the electric poultry netting,  we can reduce the impulse for birds to fly off and leave by easing this transition.

Introducing new chickens to a flock

Over the past few years, I organized a method for introducing new birds to an existing flock that is easy on you and the chickens.

This method is what I have distilled down from various introduction attempts into a streamlined process.

For example, some people like to slowly introduce the birds by keeping them in separate runs or paddocks, allowing the new and old chickens to hear and see each other but not physically meet.

I have taken this step and altered it to place the new birds into the coop during this initial meeting period. This allows the new and old birds to see and hear (depending on your coop design) each other PLUS the new birds get an opportunity to become familiar with the coop as their home.

This is the permaculture aspect of introducing chickens – we are stacking functions. Steps are combined to be as time efficient as possible as most farmers or homesteaders have much time to spare.

Time of day and exactly where you place the new birds upon introduction are the two keys to this approach.

Currently, it’s January and the days are short, so you may want to shift times accordingly for the overall goal. The end goal is to have about 1-2 hours of co-mingling before they roost for the night and several hours of alone time in their new coop on the first day.

First Day

1
Step

Original Flock: Kick Them Out of the Coop (12pm)

introducing chickens to a flock

Lock the original flock out of their coop and keep them out ranging for the afternoon.

Do this once your original flock has finished laying their eggs for the day. Otherwise they will get upset and try to get back into the coop.

Give them  supplemental feed or kitchen scraps now to keep them occupied and make sure they won’t be hungry when they get introduced later. I have found that chickens that are full tend to go easier on newly introduced birds.

2
Step

New Birds: Introduce to their New Coop (12:15pm)

how to introduce pullets to a flock

Introduce the new pullets and shut them inside.

Be sure all of the original flock is out ranging and only the new birds are shut in the coop.

I keep the electric fence on while I am brining the new birds into the run and placing them in the coop. This is in case the new pullet gets out of my hands and gets free – if the fence is not on they tend to try to run through it and might be difficult to recover depending on your landscape.

TIP: Be sure food and water is in the coop at this time. Also, if it is mid summer, be sure the coop is not too hot for the birds.

The pullets will get to spend the afternoon settling into the coop and getting familiar with it. The time in the coop is important as it allows the birds to get familiar with this new safe place.

With the original flock ranging and the pullets in the coop, they will be able to start hearing (and maybe seeing) one another, which is starting the process of getting familiar with each other.

3
Step

New Birds: Release from their new coop (4pm)

easy chicken flock introduction

 It is time to let the new birds out to explore the run and meet the existing flock. 

This seemingly inconsequential event has a big part of this process. The new pullets get to experience for themselves exiting the coop. They now know it is available to them. Often, they will slowly explore coming out, taking their time and going back and forth between in and out as they determine if it is safe to come out.

This is by far the best part. I love their cautious yet curious nature – you can see they by default want to be cautious and slowly make their way out of the coop but at the same time their child like curiosity pushes them beyond their cautiousness.

It is at this point where I pull up a 5 gallon bucket, flip it upside down, and take a seat. I like to watch them to see how the birds are interacting.

Let them establish a pecking order, but if any one bird is being a bit too rough or any one pullet is getting pecked at too much, toss some grains into the run. This usually redirects their focus.

Even with clipped wings they can fly enough to get over the short 48″ electronet fencing. SoI tend to keep feeding during this hour or two of initial introduction, to keep the original chickens pre-occupied. It is important when adding food to spread it all around the run and not concentrating  in one area so they can’t become territorial over the food. The birds need to eat and not be concerned that the new pullet next to them is eating their food.

4
Step

Everyone: Chicken Bedtime (5pm)

permaculture chickens

After about an hour of interaction time the sun should be setting and the original flock will retire to their coop for the night to roost.

The new pullets most likely won’t follow the older birds into the coop the first night. They might try to all nest under something. It is as this point that I know they are ready for bed and I pick  them and place them into the coop and shut the door for the night.

Typically, by the second or third night the new chickens choose to roost for the night in the coop with the rest of the flock, especially if the flock integration went smoothly.

Second Day

The second day get up near sunrise to open the coop as early as possible.

The less space chickens have the more violent they become while establishing a pecking order. This is why it is important on the first morning to open the coop up early.

When walking toward the run  listen to the birds before opening to assess if there are any issues going on – such as birds being rough on the new pullets while confined to the coop.

The whole second day I tend to check on the birds every hour or so; mostly just to ensure the new pullets haven’t escaped.

In my most recent introduction of 4 pullets, twice all 4 escaped without me seeing how, but they were easily caught and placed back into the run with the other ladies.

In Sum

What I have observed is that the timing and order of events in this approach to introducing new poultry to a flock tends to:

1) Reduce the more extreme flogging by older hens

2) Give the new pullets a sense of the coop as their home quickly

What I have experienced with this approach is a near seamless introduction of new member to a flock.

  •  Step 1 (12 pm) – Shut your flock out of the coop
  • Step 2 (12:15 pm) – Place pullets in coop and shut door
  • Step 3 (3-4 pm) – Open coop let pullets out to meet flock
  • Step 5 (5pm) – Shut up coop for night, placing pullets inside if necessary

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About Bret James

I am homesteader and permaculture practitioner farming on 30 acres in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with my fiancée and son. My experience comes from an education in permaculture and what I have ground truthed on the land.

2 Comments

  • Charles Michel says:

    I introduced three Java hens to my dwindling back yard flock. We were down to two barred rocks. We have a hen house that is eight by ten. during the day the chickens roam our large back yard. I clipped the wings of the Javas and turned them loose in the yard in the late afternoon. I caught them after the barred rocks went nite nite inside their house. They have a good roost but have taken to sleeping on top of their nest boxes. This is probably due to a predator, probably a skunk or coon murdering a couple of their sisters before the hen house door was closed. I put the Javas in with the Barred Rocks. The next day the Javas went right into the hen house when the sun went down. The next morning they were huddled in a corner. After a few days they were all huddled on top of the nest box together. The early morning temp was 19 degrees. I thought, great. When I open the door in the morning the barred rocks leave first and go to their feed. During the day I noticed that the Javas pretty much keep to themselves.

    We are going on vacation for a week and the person who takes care of our chickens leaves for work before it is light. The last time we lost 2 hens to the predator. Our hen house has an over hang roof that is about 5 feet wide and ten feet long. I poured a slab on the floor, put plywood four feet high around three sides and a door in the front. I am going to chicken wire the top so that it is enclosed. It’s not that big but I thought including the hen house, 15x 10 feet should be plenty for 5 chickens while we are gone. So the first morning I shut them in I was somewhat distressed to find out that the Javas are terrified of the barred rocks and for good reason. I couldn’t help but notice the gentle eye that the javas have while the Rocks have a glint in their eye like Jack the Ripper. The Javas came out as usual this morning but I left the door closed so that they could all get used to being together. It wasn’t long before the Javas were back on top of the nest box. it’s kind of weird that the Rocks are so dominating since they are smaller. Every time the the Javas come down from on top of the nest box the Rocks go after them. I guess putting them in close quarters was like starting all over again. I let them out after a few hours. I will repeat this process for a few days. Interesting side note. The chickens left their lay mash to peck through the shavings on the hen house floor. We have had some warm days. I’m thinking there is fly larvae mixed in with the shavings.

  • kris kincaid says:

    I had a group of older chickens and tried to put new ones in (they were all about same size by then) but the old ones pushed all the new ones into a corner and the 12 new ones all laid on top of each other and would not move from corner like they were afraid to. In the morning a few of the new ones who were on bottom of the corner had been smoothered to death. even though the coop was 40 ft by 20 ft and had 2 diff wooden inside areas and 2 sets of food and water dishes. any idea of how to not have this happen next year??

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