Introducing a New Chicken

We have all heard of the phrase “the pecking order”. Chickens establish a hierarchial order in their flock. This is thought to have evolved over many thousands of years in the jungle fowl of South East Asia. The pecking order allowed the flock to eat in turn and peacefully when food was available. If they were fighting at these times, they would be wasting their opportunity to eat and attracting attention to themselves from predators.

The pecking order is still well and truly with the hens of today and hens can be incredibly cruel to newcomers. If you are mixing hens that aren’t used to one another, you should make sure you are around to keep an eye open for trouble. The following points may help:

  • Place newcomers behind a fence or in a small run for a week so that they can get used to their new surroundings and get used to one another.
  • Introduce a new hen at night to the coop when it is dark. Place her amongst the other hens. They will not fight in the dark and it will give the others a chance to get used to the new smell.
  • If pecking takes place, leave them to get on with it as much as you can. They have to establish the new pecking order but…
  • If blood is drawn at any point, remove the hen and try again when the injury has healed. Chickens are attracted to red and will peck blood very quickly.
  • You may want to try removing the hen that is fighting with the newcomer to the flock for a little while until the new hen has settled into the flock, then put the trouble maker back in.

If you are still having difficulty with the hens getting along, you can try an Anti-peck spray and if you have real problems, ‘bumpa bits‘ can be fitted to the beak for a while. These stop the end of the beak closing completely so prevent her from causing damage to other hens but she is still able to eat and drink normally.

156 Comments

  1. Hi, i did have 2 chickens but i had to have one put to sleep as she was egg bound, i bought 5 chickens 20 weeks old and these seem to bully the older chicken, they are currently sleeping in separate quarters but i wanted to put the older one in the same coop at night but with light mornings i’m afraid that i will go out and find my older chicken injured! Not sure how to go about it all? would appreciate any advice!!!!

    • They can be pretty horrible for a week, sometimes two but they will almost always settle down eventually. If you keep her behind wire in or next to their run as a start and then try them in a free range environment where their attention is on foraging, you may find it easier as she will have space to get away from them.

      It would be ideal to pop her into a cat basket or similar in the coop so she can still sleep with them and they can get used to her.

      If there are a couple of persistent hens that are the bullies, remove them for a week or two and let the new flock form with her first.

      • Hi, I read the above advice about introducing new chickens to one older resident chook. When you say cat basket, do you mean the sort that you would use to take them to the vet ie totally enclosed?

        Thanks so much for your website – very helpful!

        Cheers
        Catherine
        Lake Macdonald, Queensland Australia

        • Yes, a cat basket you take to the vets. It needs to have some sort of wire / mesh or ventillation slots though so they can see / smell one another.
          Ideally, dividing the run in two so they can get used to one another for a while but the cat basket works if you have nothing bigger.

  2. Hi there i was wondering if you could help me i have two hens they are about 8 months old and i also have 4 chicks 2 months old in the day they are in pens side by side but the older hens are pecking and running up to the fence attacking the chicks I’ve tried letting them out all together but the hens just attack the chicks this has been going on for three weeks now do you think they will ever get on…….??? and also how old do chicks have to be before you take them of chick crumb thanking you.

    • Your chicks should now be on growers pellets – change them over gradually. You should only introduce the youngsters to the hens when they are the same size – so probably around 18 weeks old or so. This will mean they will be big enough to fend for themselves. At the moment they are too small and will be bullied… The run next to one another is really good idea and they will eventually accept one another.

  3. I have two 20 week old hens that I have hatched and brought on and another hen who is now 11 weeks old, they are penned up next to each other but in seperate houses, I want to get them together in the larger coop and run, but the elder hens chase the younger one around the garden when they are let out together, its horrendous, the younger one gets so traumatised, she is terrified. Do I just put them in together and let them get on with it?

    gether and let them get on with it now, or will they have to stay apart?

  4. Hi! I was wondering if I got a rooster to mate with one of my hens, if he would mate with all of them? Should I make him his own pen or something? Thanks!

    • Normally a rooster will mate with the all hens in the flock but sometimes there is the odd one he’s not so keen on, or can have his favourites!

  5. hya I have 12 chickens and introduced two young cockerels last night to them while they were in their pens in the dark roosting, when I went this morning to let them out one of the cockerels was outside the pen and had been nullied by the other hens as soon as i opened the door the chickens attacked him again, what should I do as I want to keep the cockerls but the chickens and horrible with him.

    • Once the cockerels are mature, they should be able to stand up for themselves however introductions can be difficult and I always keep them side by side with a fence between them for a week before introducing. This way they can get used to seeing and smelling one another.

      One cockerel should be enough for your chickens and you will probably find once they are mature and the breeding season starts in the spring, they will fight so I would keep a close eye. You must also keep an eye on the damage they do to the hens feathers as both will be mating with the hens.

  6. Ive recently bought a young cockerel (im not sure on age but he’s not crowing yet) for my 6 ex battery hens, i have 4 hens who have been here awhile and 2 who recently got here, they get on fine during the night he squashes in with them, but in the morning when the oldies go down for breakfast the 2 newbies chase him into a corner in the hen house and attack him, and then when he goes into the run he gets attacked by everyone else, the top hen jumps on his back and pecks at him, ive put him in a dog cage inside the run, he seems happy in there eating and drinking, when he is in the run all he does is cower in the corner, while the chickens pick on him 🙁 Im wondering wether this is a good thing to do? Least they can see him and not attack him, im hoping he will assert himself soon, he is a Buff Orbington. I did try and put the top hen in with him for a bit yesterday to see if they would bond and perhaps he would have someone to fight his corner, and he just sat cowering in the corner from her, even thou she wasnt doing anything! Any advice, im away for a day soon and so he will have to stay in the main run and i dont want to come back and find he’s been pecked to death or something 🙁

    • If he is young, then he is probably at the bottom of the pecking order and shouldn’t really be introduced to the hens until he is big enough to stand up for himself. I would try to separate them in separate runs, keeping him next to the hens so that they can get used to him.

      • He’s already about the same size as the hens but just takes whatever they give him, usually ends with him sqwaking and running away, i free ranged them yesterday and he was getting aggro out of the run too! I dont have a 2nd run only the dog cage which is big but no shelter, so i cant leave him in there when im away only for a day, would it be bad to take him away for a day or would that make things worse when he got put back the day after?

  7. Hi there I have 5 hens that I have had for about 4 weeks they are just started to lay 4 days ago I added a new hen and they wont leave the new one alone will they ever get one with her because they won’t let her eat with them I’m going down there to feed her

    • Sometimes it can take ages – and she will probably stay at the bottom of the pecking order. Provide 2 or even 3 feeding points and a couple of water containers, this way she should always get to eat and drink.

  8. Why won’t my ‘Lone’ chook accept a new chicken who is younger (apparently about 2-3 wks away from laying) but near same size?
    I would have thought after my older chook (CB) lost her mate 6mths ago, (whilst at my parents house) she would welcome a new friend! She has only been laying less than a year so quite young herself.. She has been very happy here & I’m afraid quite spoilt!
    I have kept them apart for a week & let them free-range (in my sm yard) when I get home from work so I can keep eye on, & they get use to each other. I never expected CB would be so upset! Almost like she’s annoyed new chick had more of the yard for that week, with only the wire run between them.
    I tried putting new chick (Honk) in the pen following CB last night & one b4, but both times CB would turn around & go for Honk even whilst still in my arms.
    My flatmate has now cleaned up the back patio area so they have to stay together tonight.. I’m quite worried.. Any advise pls?

    • This is all normal behaviour. Sometimes they are quick to settle, sometimes it can take a couple of weeks. Once they have established who’s boss, they will be fine – and it’s not always the one you expect to be boss. I would try to keep them together but with a wire between them for now. Eventually, you’ll need to pop them in together at night and be there at first light to make sure they are tolerating one another. As long as there is no bloodshed, try to let them get on with it.

      Scattering corn for them to find and free ranging over a large space really helps too.

  9. Thank you so much for your advice! I don’t have a 2nd coop so last night I put Honk in when Chickybabe went to bed. Honk wouldn’t go in the other nesting box (of two) so I put her cardboard box (she’s been sleeping in with towel almost totally covering but with handle holes to see out also) next to it & she settled in that. I don’t want to leave her outside as we’ve had horrendous rainy weather non-stop lately, Improving today.

    The earlier nights when Honk was roaming my back patio she kept looking up for somewhere to perch & it was upsetting for me. I tried everything to make a make-shift one to no avail & had to put her in the box & pat her & talk soothingly (god, do people do this?!) as she was distressed, but she’d calm almost immediately & would go to sleep. Obviously use to perching, but CB has never used the ladder or top shelf in the pen, she lies to sleep in the nesting box.

    I guess they’ll work it out. This morn all was fine – initially!
    No bloodshed. Probably because Honk is a great escape-artist & finds ways to fly over the chicken wire fence into backyard if things get heated!

    I have spare food & water in about 3 locations, just incase.

  10. hi love all the help you have given me
    just got 2 new girls they are getting on with the other 3 fine now . The speckly did go in the the coop at first to bed but over the last couple of days as it starts to get dusk she roosts up in the conifer trees about 3 ft off the ground not sure why she is doing this the others go off to bed fine any ideas how i can stop this she is so hard to find hid in the trees .. thx again for all your help in the past

    • First, I would check the coop for Red Mite. This is the usual cause for hens not going into a hen house at night. It isn’t really red mite season but there are reports of acivity everywhere at the moment as we have had some mild weather and last year was a proific year for mites. See the red mite page – check with a white tissue under the perches in the dark, looking for blood stains.

      Then, check she is not being bullied and stopped from going in the coop, and finally, she needs to be confined or stopped getting to the trees, you will need to ensure she goes in at night and gets used to roosting in her house. Some hens prefer a high perch in the house (not so much the large breeds but bantams and light breeds) and you may find adding a single perch at high level will encourage roosting there.

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