Chicks are cute and all, but sometimes you don’t really have 6-8 months to wait on eggs…
Am I right, or am I right??
I wanted to integrate new hens into our established flock this summer, in particular I was looking for some silkie hens. These hens are originally from Asia and are well known to be fabulous mothers. You see, I’m hoping to get some hatching eggs this fall, and I wanted these hens to be my all-natural incubators (because who wants to deal with these?)
I’ve integrated pullets into our flock of hens in the past, but I’ve never introduced full grown hens. But, since when has my lack of experience EVER stopped me from doing something I wanted to do??? Ya, never. So I just dove in and came up with my own little plan. After raising hens for a couple years now, I’ve learned some of their quirks and I was hopeful I could manage.
And lo and behold, my plan worked! What?! Yep. And so here I am to share it with you!
But first, some precautions. I actually come from a zoo background – in my passed life, I worked and volunteered at a zoo for the better part of 7 years. Yup. So in that time I learned a good deal about a little thing known as the quarantine period.
It is best practice when dealing with animals to observe new ones for a minimum of 30 days before introducing them to your animals. This goes for any animal really. This gives you time to establish that the animals are healthy and won’t pass any contagious diseases to your animals.
I did not have a good set up to achieve this. And maybe you don’t either. So in that case, you NEED to make sure that you’re getting your new animals from a reputable source, that they are well cared for and very healthy. Look at where they are housed, look at the health of the other animals with them. If you see anything amiss, do NOT bring those animals home with you. Disease can wipe out your whole flock in a matter of days, so be careful and wise.
Okay, so, you have your new healthy hens.
Here’s how to integrate new hens into an established flock!
Day 1 -3: Set up a separate space for the new hens near the oldies.
We made a make-shift run and coop with an old playhouse my kids weren’t using anymore. We set it up right next to the coop so they would be sure to see each other everyday. And we made sure to spread the feed every morning near the edge of the make-shift coop. So they would start getting used to eating near each other.
Day 3-7: Put the new hens into a “play pen” during part of the day.
We used a large dog crate for this and it worked perfectly. We had to go in and catch the new hens and bring them to their play pen, and then we gave treats to all the hens. Again, this got our flock used to eating and being near the new hens, and vice versa.
The reason for this step was to force the interaction but still have a safety barrier. I was finding that the new hens were a little timid and staying as far from our flock as possible when they were in their larger space. There was no hiding from them here!
Day 5-7: Put the new hens in a small pen inside the Coop at night.
This step may not be necessary if you keep your hens in a run. But we let our chickens free range in our yard, and so I needed to make sure that the new gals knew where their new roosting spot was. So I put them in a small dog crate, with a little roosting bar across it, and set that into the coop when the flock went in for the night. Just to help reset their homing beacon.
Day 8: Put the new hens into their “play pen” and open the door so they can leave when they choose…supervise.
Oh this was nerve wracking! I was super worried about these silkies getting beat up. They are about a third of the size of my other hens! But it all went down without much fuss. They got a little peck from the head honcho, and that was it! I think they will always be at the bottom of the pecking order until we get new chicks or hens, but they fit into the flock perfectly well!
So, in one week, we had the new hens integrated into our flock! It really couldn’t have gone any better!
How Long Will It Take Introducing New Chickens?
Some backyard chicken keepers may find all of the processes above time-consuming and unnecessary. However, in our experience, it is advisable not to rush these things and to ensure that due research is performed. This shouldn’t take more than a month to quarantine.
This will allow you plenty of time to properly inspect the new chicks and address any illnesses they may be suffering from. Visual introductions: A week is plenty of time for the old flock to become accustomed to the new hens’ presence. Physical introductions: If you’re lucky, you’ll only have to do it once, and everything will be good. If you have a more territorial/aggressive chicken breed, however. Physically introducing them may take three to four attempts.
The next week after the hens have been introduced, you must keep a close eye on them. Make sure they’re all getting enough to eat and drink, and keep an eye on their egg production. When you add additional chickens to the flock, they may go off lay at times. So, from the time you bring your new chickens home to fully integrating them into your existing flock, it should take about 5-6 weeks.