There are very few things that make me more nervous when it comes to homesteading than introducing new birds to my current flock, (which sounds absolutely ridiculous now that I’ve typed it, but it’s the gods’ honest truth). Every year, whether it’s ducks, quail, or chickens, and whether they’re raised here on our homestead or bought from someone near or far, we end up having to integrate new members into the flock of old gals. It’s a period of tension when nobody is entirely sure how one flock will react to the other or what the outcome will be.
Through trial and error, and observing others’ experiences, we developed a system that works for both me and my birds (usually) and isn’t overwhelmingly complicated. The only two things you’ll really need is a bit of space and lots of patience. Let’s jump right into phase one of the process.
This is the first step you’re going to want to take if you’re planning on adding new adult birds that have been brought in from a pre-existing flock from another homestead. The reason being is that there are several illnesses that might not show their deadliness until it’s too late and the effects sweep across the entirety of your flock. I don’t want that, you don’t want that, and quarantine is how we stop it. This step is one that you’ll want to start preparing for long before your new birds arrive, simply by creating a space with a coop house big enough to keep the birds in at night for roughly 14 days.
Just as important is to make certain that your current flock of chickens or ducks has absolutely no way of coming into close proximity to these new birds during the duration of their quarantine period. Ideally, if you can keep these two flocks roughly 15 to 20 yards apart, you’re going to be in great shape. The birds in quarantine should be monitored for any signs of illness, which can manifest in many different forms. After this two-week period, any potential risks will have certainly run their course, and you can prepare for the next phase of the integration process
After your new additions have gone through the appropriate period of quarantine, you may decide that instead of letting them mingle with the older members of your flock, playing it safe and allowing some segregated exposure between the two factions might be a good idea. Not everyone decides to go down this road, but in the long run, I’ve found that this can quite often mitigate the potential for fighting and overall aggression.
Don’t take this as a method to rule out aggression completely, because it most certainly is not. Consider it more like a cushion. Instead of a bunch of strange birds showing up one day all of the sudden and your current congregation of chickens or ducks having to learn to deal with it just as suddenly, casual exposure between the two will lower the shock factor and it’s remarkably easy to do. Simply let your group of birds out of their run so that they can discover the newest additions to the flock on their own terms.
This can last anywhere from a few days to another couple weeks on top of the allocated quarantine period, but whatever you choose, eventually the two groups will have to work things out between them, which is where the next step comes in.
Okay, so you’ve decided enough time has passed, and the flock of old hens seems to be okay with the group of new birds after a few days of segregated exposure. As a general rule of thumb, I like to let my two flocks of birds meet on neutral ground if I can help it. This means not putting the new birds into their future run with the older birds, but instead introducing them somewhere that both of the groups don’t feel an overwhelming level of attachment to. For me, this means the very end of the backyard, which I can easily fence off if need be, in order to prevent any escapees from wandering off.
No matter how you decide to do this, I can’t stress enough the importance of watching the flocks together for a while. How long is a while? Well, if it’s me, I’d do it during a day off when I don’t have a whole lot going and can keep a close eye on the birds. If any hidden aggression has remained, this will be the point in time when it rears its head, and if I’m speaking from experience, then I’d warn you that it’s usually this phase in the process when blood is shed.
Many times, nothing ends up happening. You might hear some squawking, and there might be a bit of chasing going on, but no one is worse for wear. Other times, it’s all-out war. For example, we had three older hens that were sweet as pie and never showed any signs of aggression toward each other. Last spring, we introduced 10 new birds to the flock, and while two of the hens showed dominant behavior, the third hen went absolutely ballistic. She would, in a fit of rage, chase the new chickens around, catch one of them, and proceed to pull as many feathers out of it as she could before it got away.
Eventually, the behavior stopped, but not before we deeply considered either rehoming her or putting her in the freezer.
In the perfect world, things work out fine, and no birds are injured in the making of this transition, but that’s not how the real world works sometimes. Sometimes certain chickens and roosters don’t necessarily come around and need to be handled in order to benefit the health of the overall flock. This can take on many forms, like too many roosters or drakes that need culling, or in other cases like the aforementioned scenario with our aggressive hen. In any event, you need to be vigilant in monitoring the new dichotomy of flock hierarchy.
Here's the cool thing about this period though—when any tensions simmer down and the collective flock figures things out between themselves, you’ll begin to notice new personality traits in all of your birds. This is the part of the process that I find truly fascinating, and it seems to go relatively unnoticed quite often.
I know, I know…this all seems like a long, drawn-out process, but sometimes these kinds of waiting games are the best way for our flocks to integrate in a healthy way for not only them but ourselves as well.