If you decided to expand your flock this year, you may be wondering about the best way to introduce new chickens to your feathered family. Today, we are going to discuss some of the best practices for introducing new chicks, or new adult birds, to your existing flock. We are also going to discuss some of the biosecurity issues and feeding strategies that are important to consider when adding new birds to your flock.
Why Should I Add New Chickens to My Flock?
Adding new chickens to your flock is always a fun and exciting time for poultry keepers. Some poultry keepers (myself included!) like to introduce young birds every 1-2 years so that egg production stays consistent. Some poultry keepers fall in love with a new breed or new variety and decide that type of poultry would make an excellent addition to the flock! Some poultry keepers just have a hard time resisting those cute chicks at the feed store. Watch that chicken math! Whatever your reason, there are a few tips that definitely help your new birds make a gentle and easy transition into your flock.
When Can I Add New Chickens to My Flock?
In general, it is a good idea to raise new chicks separately from your existing flock for as long as possible. Ideally, you want to keep your birds separated until all of the birds in your flock are eating the same type of feed. In my flock, I will raise my new chicks separately until they are 4 months old and then I combine the two flocks once everyone is old enough to eat layer feed. However, I understand that this isn’t always possible or practical. If you have limited space, then there are some tips and tricks that can help with an earlier transition.
Chickens have a social hierarchy called the pecking order. Introducing new chickens into the flock can disrupt the pecking order and steps should be taken to help minimize this disruption. You never want to introduce new chicks into your flock until they are old enough and strong enough to withstand any fighting that may result from the disrupted pecking order. New chicks should be at least 8-12 weeks old, depending on breed, before they are introduced into an existing flock.
Do all of these tips still apply if your chicks were hatched by a broody momma? Not really! Broody mommas are usually great caretakers for their babies. I keep my broody hens and babies confined to their “nursery” for about 1 week. After that, I will allow momma and her chicks out with the rest of the flock.
What is the Best Way to Add New Chickens to My Flock?
Free-ranging and/or outdoor access is your best friend when introducing new birds to your flock. The most gentle and easy transition happens when you allow both groups to live side-by-side and free-range together. When I am ready to merge my two flocks, I will divide my coop into two pens separated by a barrier. I keep my new birds inside the adjacent pen for at least a week. This strategy allows the two flocks to see each other and get used to each other. After a week of living side-by-side, I will open the outdoor access door and allow the younger birds to go outside at the same time that my existing flock is free-ranging. Usually, the two flocks will free-range in separate groups for the first couple of days, but will slowly start to comingle. Once the two groups are comingling nicely, I will remove the barrier between the pens and officially marry the two flocks. The same practices can be used when adding new adult chickens to a flock (see biosecurity info below).
If you cannot keep your two flocks side-by-side, you can still successfully add new birds. One tip that works well is waiting until night time to add new birds to your flock. Chickens are often on roost and very calm at night. Adding new birds into the coop at night usually leads to less disruption in the pecking order, as the birds slowly wake in the morning. You never want to throw new birds into your coop during the day or during periods of high stress. This can cause major disruption to the pecking order and more fighting during the transition. Make sure you have time to observe the transition and help if it is not going smoothly. Anytime that you introduce new adult birds to a flock, make sure to practice good biosecurity.
Biosecurity Concerns When Adding New Chickens to Your Flock
Preventing disease transfer in your poultry flock is the #1 goal of good biosecurity practices. Any time that you introduce new birds into your flock, you should ALWAYS have a period of quarantine where the new birds are kept completely separate from the existing flock. New birds should have a separate pen in a location with no possibility of interaction with your existing flock. Remember, many poultry diseases are spread through the air, so make sure your existing flock cannot get anywhere near the quarantine pen. The quarantine period should be at least 30 days and the new birds should be observed for any signs of illness or weakness. For baby chicks, this would be the time they are in the brooder pen.
Chickens, and other types of poultry, can be asymptomatic carriers of a number of diseases. This means that the birds can look healthy when you get them, but the disease symptoms have not developed yet. Or, the disease symptoms won’t develop in the asymptomatic carrier, but can easily infect your existing flock. A quarantine allows time for symptoms to show so you don’t inadvertently introduce disease to your flock. Additionally, you should make sure to purchase new adult birds from poultry keepers or breeders that practice good biosecurity and participate in programs that do routine poultry health testing (e.g., National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP) established by the USDA). These poultry health tests can help detect asymptomatic carriers that would not otherwise show symptoms of a disease.
How Can I Feed a Flock with Varying Ages?
So, you decided that your new 8-week-old chicks are ready to join the existing flock, but you can’t feed them separately. What are your options? The nutrient needs of young and growing poultry are more important than the nutrient needs of your adult birds. The best feeding strategy when you have groups of varying ages is to use a high-quality starter/grower feed, like 18% Start Right® Chick or Chickhouse Reserve® for the entire flock. A separate feeder with a calcium supplement (oyster shells or limestone chips) should be provided so the laying hens can get enough calcium for egg production. A complete layer feed should never be used for chicks younger than 4 months of age. The calcium content is too high for their young and developing bodies. Once all of your birds are 4 months of age, everyone can then switch to a complete layer feed.
Keeping poultry is such a wonderful experience and the rewards are many! At Kalmbach Feeds®, we are always here to help. If you have any questions about the nutrient needs of your birds, feed options, or general poultry keeping, please let us know. We are so excited to continue writing about all of the topics that are important to you and can’t wait to continue learning about your flocks. Stay tuned and thank you for choosing Kalmbach Feeds®!