How to Add New Chickens to Your Flock

What to Consider Before Adding New Members to Your Existing Flock

by Erin Snyder
PHOTO: A new shipment of chicks arrives from the hatchery. Wait until a minimum age of 6 weeks old before introducing them to the rest of your flock. If possible, wait until they are 8 to 12 weeks old before turning them loose. TUTYE/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Knowing how to add new chickens to your flock is good information because it’s a task that most chicken keepers will face in their journey. It’s an exciting time for chicken keepers. However, integrating new members into an existing flock is a stressful time for chickens, and if not properly managed, it can become a massive headache for backyard chicken keepers.

Stress from overcrowding, feed bill costs, and where and when to purchase are just some things to consider before purchasing new chickens. So, before doing something spontaneous, plan ahead to help your wallet and flock transition smoothly.

To begin, figure out when is the right time to buy new birds. Of course, this primarily depends on your needs. Maybe two of your elderly hens have passed away, or you want to expand your flock and start your own egg business. Or you just started keeping chickens and want to expand your flock. Poultry keepers choose to increase their flocks for many reasons, but how do you know when is the right time to act?

Any of these reasons might be the right time to enact on growing your flock. It isn’t about not increasing the birds you keep; it’s about doing it responsibly. So, if you’re ready to purchase new chickens, consider a few important things before bringing home your new arrivals: breed selection, higher feed costs and more space.


Breed Selection

Breed consideration is an essential part of knowing how to add new chickens to your flock. We raise chickens for many different reasons, including meat and eggs (dual purpose), pest control, and companionship. Considering Golden Comets over White Leghorns makes sense if you’re looking for an excellent egg layer with a friendly disposition. But, if a high feed-to-egg ratio is essential, the leghorn might be the better option. For many poultry enthusiasts, egg color also significantly influences what breed(s) to choose. If you want chocolate brown eggs, get a Marans. Green or blue eggs, try an Easter Egger. Once you’ve selected what breed(s) to add, it’s time to see if they fit your flock well. Do you have a bully in your flock? If yes, bringing home a shy or docile breed that is easily bullied, such as an Eater Eggers or Salmon Faverolles, isn’t the best option. Or if you have a flock of Polish and Silkies, adding some Rhode Island Reds to the mix could end in disaster. Do your research, and get breeds that work well with each other.

Feed Costs

Chickens may only eat a little feed per bird, but adding more chickens to the flock will increase the feed consumption. If you’re raising chickens for profit, the more birds you have, the more profit you’ll make. However, this could pose a concern for the backyard chicken-keeper raising chickens simply for enjoyment.

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The cost of your monthly feed bill will depend on the number of birds in the flock, the feed brand and whether you feed organic feed. Generally, a chicken should eat about half a cup of feed daily —varying on breed, access to green pastures and even the time of year, as chickens tend to eat less in summer and more in winter. A flock of 10 chickens will eat approximately two and a half pounds of feed daily. However, this will vary due to each flock member’s breed, age and metabolism.

After new birds are added to the flock, monitor them for success or fallouts.

More Space in Coop & Run

A major mistake a chicken keeper can make when acquiring new birds is failing to have adequate spacing in the coop and run. Chickens living in crowded conditions are more stressed, have increased chances of contracting respiratory issues and other health problems, and are more likely to feather pick, egg eat, and display other cannibalistic behaviors.

Experts suggest supplying at least 10 square feet in the coop, 15 square feet of run space, and 10 inches of perch space per hen, but giving your birds even more space is a good idea.

Even though our flocks like to be outside free-ranging as much as possible, there are times when leaving the coop isn’t a safe option. Heavy snowstorms, high winds, hurricanes and predators are all possible scenarios that may require your chickens to spend a day or two inside their snug coop. For these reasons, building a larger coop and run than you need will make your chickens less grumpy when they need to stay indoors.

When building the run, always plan for a larger run than the number of birds you plan to house. This practice ensures your hens will have more access to green grass. (This is especially important for chickens housed in a permanent run.)

Expanding your flock may include building on your existing coop and run, or depending on your setup, buying a separate coop and run may be the best option. Building onto the current enclosure is usually the more affordable option; however, buying might be preferred if you aren’t handy with tools.

Whether you build or buy isn’t as crucial as ensuring there is enough room to house chickens without overcrowding. Always have additional housing set up and ready for the new arrivals before acquiring new birds.

Acquiring New Chickens

There are many ways to expand your flock, from purchasing chicks from the local hatchery or feed store to adopting a hen or rooster from your local animal shelter. Personal preference plays a part in deciding what option you choose, so let’s look over some of the popular choices.

Chicks: The most popular choice backyard chicken keepers choose to expand their flocks, chicks are difficult to resist with their tiny size, adorable faces and loud cheeps. Purchase chicks from a reputable source to ensure bringing home some healthy additions to your flock.

  • Hatcheries are the best and most popular way to purchase new chicks or hatching eggs. While many hatcheries require a minimum of 25 chicks per order, some have dropped those numbers to as little as three during the warmer months. When purchasing hatching eggs or chicks, try to purchase from hatcheries that support the National Poultry Improvement Plan (NPIP).

Don’t Get Greedy

Getting more chicks or chickens when you don’t have room for them causes overcrowding in the coop and run and increases your flock’s stress levels. Stressed chickens are more likely to feather pick (a behavior leading to cannibalism) and can cause egg eating or reduced egg production.

The best way to overcome this issue is simply not giving in to “collecting” chickens. Let’s face it: If you go to the feed-supply store with even the slightest possibility of coming home with chicks you don’t have room for, you’ll do it. So, get disciplined. Trust me, it’s much easier to avoid if you tell yourself you can’t.

Avoid feed-supply stores and other places that sell chicks during spring chick days. Buy extra feed or other necessary supplies ahead of time to avoid unplanned chick purchases. And stay off the hatchery websites unless you’re actively planning on adding to your flock. Finally, don’t attend poultry swaps. The temptation can be overcome, so don’t put yourself in a position where you won’t be able to resist.

  • Hatch your own. If you have a broody hen and some fertile eggs on your hands, hatching your own can be very rewarding. Some poultry-keepers prefer to hatch their own to avoid the stress of shipping chicks through the mail.
  • A feed-supply store is another great way to bring home new chicks. While they may occasionally have chicks for sale, most stores require you to place your order in the winter months for spring arrivals.
  • Craigslist is a popular place to find chicks, but it should be avoided whenever possible. Chicks from backyard flock-keepers may carry harmful bacteria such as E. coli or salmonella that will spread to an existing flock.

Adult Birds: While some backyard chicken keepers prefer bringing adult birds home versus raising chicks, there may be better options than this practice. Adult chickens are more likely to carry diseases or parasites than chicks. Follow these guidelines to help keep all your chickens healthy.

Rescue Birds

Just like dogs and cats, chickens sadly get dumped on the side of the road, too. These chickens may wander into your backyard, be found in a mall parking lot or be temporary residents at a local animal shelter. Rescue chickens have much to offer those wanting to make a difference for chickens in need. When rescuing chickens, take the same precautions when purchasing adult hens to ensure everyone stays safe and healthy.

• Whether or not you purchase chickens vaccinated for Marek’s disease will depend on whether your current flock is vaccinated. Housing vaccinated chickens with unvaccinated chickens could result in sick birds.

• Buy from a reputable source. Poultry shows and swaps are a great way to bring home some new hens but also a great way to bring home disease. Purchasing started pullets from a reputable hatchery supporting the NPIP is a safer option, as these come fully vaccinated and have been tested to ensure they aren’t contracting a disease.

• Quarantine new chickens for at least 30 days before interacting with the resident chickens. Wear separate clothes and shoes to tend to the new chickens during the quarantine process. Tend to the established flock first, and wash your hands and face between interactions.

• Get them checked. Before allowing the newly purchased adult hens to intermingle with the flock, have a licensed veterinarian examine them for possible health concerns, including internal and external parasites.

When creating a mixed flock, choose breeds with similar temperaments, as docile breeds tend to be bullied by more assertive breeds.

Integrating New Members

Despite our best efforts, chickens can still spend much time bickering when introduced to new members. Adding additional feeders and waterers may ease some of the tension in the flock by providing chickens with more options to eat and drink while avoiding the flock bully(s).

Before allowing existing and new flock members to mingle, allow chickens to get to know each other through opposite sides of the fence. Doing so enables your flock to establish the new pecking order and smoothly transition. Introducing new members in a run versus the coop is another way to reduce pecking order issues.

Often, it can take several introductions before your flock will accept new members. With patience and ample space, your chickens will soon adjust to their new flock mates, bringing harmony to the coop.

This story about how to add new chickens to your flock was written for Chickens magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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