Introducing new chickens to your flock

Introducing new birds to your already established flock can be very stressful for both the old and new birds. Established flocks of chickens usually have a pecking order, where each hen knows her place. New chickens disrupt the order and can cause social unrest.

Quarantine is also extremely important. If you have a flock of healthy, happy birds you don’t want to ruin that by not properly quarantining the new birds. You should keep your new chickens in quarantine for four weeks. If after 4 weeks your new birds have no signs of illness then you can introduce them to your existing flock. Now this may seem like a long time and a bit of a hassle; however it is much more of a hassle if your whole flock gets sick and you have to seek treatment, or may even lose birds.

If you are introducing baby chicks you should make sure they are big enough to defend themselves from older birds, they should be at least 6 weeks old.

First introduce them so that the chickens (old and new) can see each other, but can’t physically access each other. This will allow them to work out the pecking order without having to get physically pecked. Do this for a week.  They should be able get visual cues from each other to be able to work out the pecking order. You should now be able to introduce your new birds to the flock. Keep a close eye out for pecking between the birds, or any feather loss or injuries in the days and weeks following, as these can be signs of unwanted feather pecking behaviour.

 

Giving ex-battery hens a second chance.

Giving ex-battery hens the chance to run around a grassy, green backyard is a rewarding experience. They still lay plenty of yummy eggs and are less likely than baby chicks to be attacked by your pets, as they are usually big enough to defend themselves against an overly rude or intrusive pet dog or cat.

They are not usually all that well socialised and you will have to be calm and patient when introducing them to new things and other pets, otherwise they may get stressed easily.  
Why not consider adopting some ex-battery hens for your backyard flock?

 

Chickens and Dogs

Even the most placid of dogs will still have a prey drive so it’s important to first introduce chickens to dogs in a controlled and safe environment before introducing the dogs to a moving bird/s outside. A chicken running and flapping its wings is too much of a temptation for even a usually calm dog.

You should make sure your dog and chickens have a positive experience, reward your dog with their favourite treats for calm and gentle behaviour. It’s important to remain calm yourself, animals can sense when you are tense or anxious and this may affect how they react. 

Socialising puppies with a range of new experience, different people and animals will also help them to get along with others and also help them to be calm in new situations.

Dogs and puppies may react in a number of ways to the introduction to new chickens. They may be excited, nervous, aggressive, calm, passive, anxious, frightened or a combination of these.
The introduction process

Most likely your dog will be extremely excited around the new and interesting feathered creatures so proper introduction over a period of time needs to take place to ensure they are calm around the new additions. 

  • Introduce them first through a fence or a physical barrier. Reward your dog every time they are calm and relaxed around the chickens.  This helps your dog get used to the sound, smell, sight and movements of the chickens.
  • Repeat these sessions, if you are satisfied that your dog can be calm and passive around the chickens you can then move into having the dog around the chickens without the barrier, still with you present and with you controlling the dog with a harness and lead.
  • Repeat this scenario over a series of sessions, this may be over a few weeks depending on the dog. You may lead the dog through the chickens and reward them with their favourite treat when they ignore the chickens and are calm around them.
  • Once satisfied that your dog is not overly interested in chasing the chickens and is calm around the chickens you may then consider letting the dog be around your chickens without having them on a lead –but still with your supervision.


Dog breeds that may be more or less suitable with chickens

All dogs will react differently, let’s not forget that different breeds have been bred for different purposes, many have been bred for hunting and still have a high prey drive. This means you just have to take extra care to make your dog will get on with your chickens, and don’t leave them unsupervised if you have any doubts about their compatibility.

Some dog breeds maybe better suited to life around chickens, however remember that any dog breed has the potential to be dangerous around chickens, all dog breeds require caution when being introduced to smaller animals. Dogs can actually end up being a good flock guard and ward off predators. Many egg producers still use dogs as flock guards to protect their chickens from foxes, birds and other predators. Livestock Guardian Dog Breeds such as the Maremma are a popular choice; they have been selectively bred over hundreds of years to naturally bond with livestock (such as chickens) and protect them.
Hunting, herding or other working breeds may be more inclined to chase or attack smaller prey animals such as chickens. Traditionally gun dogs such as Setters, Retrievers, Pointers etc., have been bred to help hunt and retrieve game birds for their human owners. So they’re natural instinct may not necessarily be to get along with feathered friends. Though with the right introduction they may be fine, just take care when introducing them.

Herding breeds such as border collies, healers, kelpies etc. have been bred to herd livestock, so while they may not necessarily attack the birds they may stress them out by herding them around the backyard. So keep an eye out for any herding behaviour that may stress the birds.

Terriers have been bred for the chasing and killing of vermin (such as rabbits, rats, mice). Due to this background they usually have a high prey drive –keep this in mind when introducing them to your new chickens.

Indicators that your dog might have a high prey drive

All dogs have a prey drive, it relates back to their wild ancestors. Some can have a higher prey drive than others. Prey drive is exhibited in foraging and hunting behaviours. There are some things that might indicate your dog has a high prey drive.

  • Your dog is obsessed with squeaky toys - Squeaky toys can sometimes remind dogs of a distressed animal, if your dog is overly obsessed with, stalks, pounces, shakes and destroys squeaky toys it may indicate that they have a high prey drive.
  • Your dog chases everything that moves –on walks if your dog is on alert and in hunt mode even at the slightest rustle of leave, it may have high prey drive.
  • Your pet becomes fixated on smaller animals - Your dog may have high prey drive it is has a little too much interest in and is in high alert when it sees in smaller animals such as cats, birds, rabbits.

Chickens and Cats

Cats are true carnivores and are hunters at heart; so don’t assume they won’t be a little interested in the new chickens you bring home. You have to watch them around baby chicks more than you do around fully grown birds. Baby chicks are pretty defenceless and tempting to any predator so you need to make sure your chicks are housed securely, until they are at least 6 weeks old.

You can try to introduce your cat to your chickens in a fairly controlled environment, maybe put your cat in a harness and introduce them indoors so that you are able to control your cat if it does look like a threat to the chickens. Place your cat near the chickens and see how they react. Some cats will not be too phased and may not be all that interested. Other cats may approach the chickens with some interest, however if the cats become a little too much of a threat, it usually only takes one quick peck on the nose from a chicken for your cat to respect the chicken’s boundaries.


Introducing chickens to your garden

One of the main concerns people have when getting chickens is how to stop chickens from ruining your garden. Chickens love to dig around in the garden and can be great for pest control; however some breeds can be more destructive than others. Traditionally smaller breeds (such as silkies and bantam varsities) are a little gentler on your garden than larger, stronger breeds.  You should take into consideration how many chickens your backyard can carry comfortably. Chickens are good foragers, most lawns are able to cope with two or three chickens grazing however if you have too many chickens you run the risk of overgrazing. Depending on the size of your yard and chicken coop you could try rotational or limiting how much time they spend out of their coop foraging.

Well established trees or shrubs usually won’t be affected by a chicken digging around in the top soil, however flowers or seedlings may not get off so lucky. It’s a good idea then the make sure there are good quality barricades or dividers between you young or delicate plants.

Docile breeds of chickens

Docile chickens are less likely to be spooked or flighty around pets or children, which means they are more likely to get on with them.   

Silkie-bantams
Children love the look of these fluffy, soft birds. They are a smaller more manageable size and they love to be handled. They have a sweet nature and lay about 120 smaller sized eggs a year. Being calm and outgoing means they can get along well with other pets too, though the smaller size and fluffy look can also be tempting for dogs and cats with a high prey drive.

ISA Browns
They are docile, friendly chickens that enjoy spending time with their human families. They are usually not as flighty around children and other pets. They are low maintenance, hardy and are exceptional layers. They are a large enough size that they are less likely to be attacked than smaller breeds of chickens.