Introducing New Chickens to a Flock: Curbing Aggression
By Sami Grover
Chickens provide bug control, they act as natural garbage disposals, chickens even turn my compost. Add to that the fact that they are fun to watch, and they give you free eggs, and backyard chickens start looking mighty attractive - as long as you can protect your hens from predators.
But chickens are also kind of mean - especially to other chickens. And as Marye noted in her post on chicken tractors, they are known to die from time-to-time, meaning you need to replace them with new chickens into an existing flock. Invariably, this is going to result in disruption and fighting as the ladies try to sort out their new pecking order. (Yes, that is where the old metaphor comes from.)
Having just adopted a new hen from my sister-in-law (the rest of her flock fell fowl of a hungry dog/fox/raccoon creature), my wife and I have been experimenting with ways to make the introduction less traumatic.
Our first move was to bring Kitten (no, we didn't get to name her...) in a small milk crate - and let the other ladies check her out without being able to peck at her directly. Sure, she was a little cramped for a while - but I figured she'd prefer that to being pecked to death. Having given our existing flock some time to check her out, we then shut her in the coop by herself - while the others roamed free for the rest of the day. That way she was able to get a handle on her surroundings without intimidation.
Come night fall, the other chickens were ready to come home. For the first night, we took Kitten and placed her in the milk crate once more - so she was protected from predators, but didn't have to face the roosting box - and we let the other chickens in. Next morning we let the other chickens out into the run, and let Kitten out too - but watched them closely. There was some pecking and some squawking, which we allowed to run its course as we watched - and then we allowed the other chickens out for the day while Kitten "stayed at home". By that evening, we felt confident enough to allow Kitten to roost with the others, and the next day she even got to roam free with her 'sisters'.
Sadly, the new arrival is hardly best-of-friends with the existing birds - but the pecking and fighting has receded to a tolerable level. They occasionally give her a little stab to keep her in check - but she seems to be getting more confident in defending herself. For more information, check out the discussion on introducing new chickens over at BackYardChickens.com. As one commenter put it, build lots of obstacles and things to hide behind...
Need proof that it's possible to balance being green and still be a supportive partner and parent? See how Ed Begley, Jr. does it on Planet Green TV's Living with Ed.