INTRODUCING NEW HENS
It is possible to introduce new hens to your flock, but it can be a very stressful time for them hence the term ‘pecking order’
Below are a few guide lines that should ease this process and apart from some minor squabbles they settle quickly, but it pays to be prepared. It can take a couple of weeks for the pecking order to settle especially if you have two hens fighting for the same position.
Some ex-batts can be particularly mean to newcomers, possibly because they are ex-jailbirds and used to fighting for everything they get, they have to be quite tough to survive in a battery cage, so just supervise them carefully.
WHAT TO TRY (in an ideal scenario)
- Always introduce a minimum of 2 hens. Safety in numbers. An established flock are more likely to attack a single hen however with two they will stick together and be company for each other and split the attentions of the other hens
- In an ideal world you would keep the new hens separate in an area where they can see the existing flock but no be able to mix this applies as well for an incubation period to ensure they are healthy & strong and give them time to build immunity to any new bacteria etc. that might be around them The new hens can get used to the old hens without being attacked. They will have a chance to settle in without becoming too stressed.
- Stress is the biggest cause of health problems in chicken’s immunity is lowered & any diseases they have that are lying dormant will surface & they will show symptoms. New birds to the flock will be exposed to many pathogens on the new site that they will have no immunity to; by isolating them they have a chance to settle in, acclimatise & build immunity without the added stress of meeting new hens.
- Try to introduce similar age/size birds. Putting young, immature birds in with bossy old hens is not ideal. Not only could they be on different feed, the older birds will sense vulnerability and weakness very easily.
- However If you don’t have 2 houses and runs do not put the newcomers in with the old hens until it is dark at night. If you put the new hens straight into the run during the day, they are likely to be attacked immediately by the other hens that see them as a threat to their territory. We advise that you put the new chickens into the house area once you arrive home, ideally place them on the perch let your old hens in the same house at night. ( if it is early in the day ensure they have water , they will be fine without feed until the next day )
In the morning let your old hens out into the garden but keep the new hens in the run. Do not shoo the new hens out of the house let them come out on their own. They will go back into the hen house at night if they have made their own way out. If they are in a run together all the time , add some different things to occupy your hens and a place of refuge for the bullied hens ( an upside down cardboard box with a small entrance and exit hole cut out works well )
- Repeat this for a few days. ( letting the older hens out to free range if possible ) This will give the new hens a break from the old hens and allow them to settle and explore without being threatened. Obviously provide water and feed for the hens in the garden
- Another recommendation is to try putting all the hens in the house at night and spraying them with dilute vinegar. The smell is thought to mask the scent of each hen. As hens recognise each other by scent, it can help things settle if they all smell the same.
- When first letting the hens together during the day give them plenty of space – ideally let them free range in the garden.
- If you can’t let the hens free range when introducing them, but have a moveable run then put the run in a new area of the garden when first letting them together. No one will be as territorial over the run if it is a new place and they will be surprised by the new position which will help distract them.
- When they are very first together add lots of new distractions such as hanging CD’s hang up cabbages or bird feeders stuffed with food .Any distraction will take the focus off the new hens.
- Put 2 feeders and drinkers around the house and run. If the newcomers are too scared to venture out or go near the older hens they will still be able to eat and drink.
- Observe the birds carefully for a few weeks. Make sure new birds are eating and drinking plenty and not just snatching mouthfuls when they dare if you have a timid newcomer in the group she may be too frightened to eat and drink enough. She will gradually get weaker and weaker and will be more prone to infection due to lowered immunity.
- Try not intervene if you see a squabble as they have to establish a pecking order only remove a bird if it is getting harmed , the more intervention the longer the process takes so please try not to be too protective but bear in mind the health of the chickens