Merging your flocks
Hens form strong social groups and establish a pecking order within just a few days of being introduced to each other. In the absence of a cockerel this will range from a top (dominant) hen down to a lowest ranking hen. Once each hen knows its place in the flock and they should get on fine.
An established flock will not readily welcome new hens to their group and can be surprisingly vicious. Introducing hens to an established flock will need patience, and often takes a couple of weeks to settle. Methods of introduction vary according to your individual set up so there is no single solution to achieving a happy flock, but the tips below might be useful.
Establishing a flock of ex-bats
When you collect your ex-bats, it is important to realise that although these girls might have come from the same farm, they may not know each other. A new pecking order will need to be established and this can take a few days to settle.
Initially the hens will be more interested in their new surroundings and at this stage they are normally polite to each other. However, within a few hours one or more birds may start to exert dominance by pecking or attacking the others, keeping them away from food and chasing them around the run. The dominant hen may also jump on backs and grab the combs of other birds; not ladylike behaviour, but an effective way to assert authority.
This behaviour is natural and often results in the less dominant birds immediately accepting their lower position within the flock; after a week or so the flock should settle.
All new hens should ideally be kept separate but within sight and sound of your existing flock for a week/ten days. If the new hens are not ex-bats, this provides an important quarantine time as hens from auctions, markets and hobby breeders are unlikely to be vaccinated. It’s also a good idea to worm and treat all your hens against parasites, especially red mite in the summer months. Observe new hens closely for any signs of unusual behaviour, illness and infestations before introducing them to your existing girls.
When it comes to introducing your flocks, always give advantage in numbers to your new hens. For example if you have four hens, we advise you take six new hens to minimise bullying (introducing two hens to eight hens, for example, would create a great deal of stress to the new, outnumbered hens).
Merging two flocks will depend entirely on your set up, so please ask our re-homing team for advice. The ideal method is to give both flocks equal knowledge of a common shared area so all hens are on neutral territory when they meet. Knowing the best places to hide can really make a difference to a new hen entering an established flock, so give her time to learn the shortcuts and places to escape bullying.
If possible, move your established hens to a temporary run for a few days and put the new hens in the main long term housing. This will allow the new birds to get used to their permanent home. If you can, allow the established hens to see the new hens through a fence and when the new birds have built confidence and settled in, you can begin the process of merging. There are two ways to do this:
- Start by letting the birds share the same space for small periods of time over a number of days, ideally allowing them to merge an hour before dusk. At that time of day they will be more focussed on getting to bed than arguing with their new flock members. Gradually extending the time the birds spend together will allow you to finish the merge when you feel all the birds are confident.
- Alternatively, once the new birds have become acclimatised to the new permanent housing, you can carefully place the already established hens in the hen house at night to minimise disruption.
It is important to let your girls out at first light, so in summer black out any windows with a black plastic bag to prevent bullying starting before you get up. There will inevitably still be some squabbling as they establish a new pecking order, but this should settle within a few days.
If you have a small coop and run with no room for other housing in your garden, we do not advise you take on new birds until you can give advantage in numbers to the new hens. Merging flocks within a confined space can be very distressing – and not only for the hens.
With all flock integrations, try to provide as much safe range space as possible and always have several sources of food and water.
All merging/integration problems should resolve themselves in two weeks. If they persist, please contact our Advice Line on 01884 860084 so we can give you bespoke advice.