Once you have chickens, they seem to multiply - even without a rooster. Recently, my husband's co-worker decided he didn't want hens any more and gave us two of his beautiful silver Wyandottes. We are delighted: More eggs, more entertainment, more fun!
However, if you've never added chickens to your flock, there are a few things you should know:
* Adding even just one hen ruins your girls' world. Hens have a literal pecking order and when a new hen arrives, they determine that pecking order from scratch. Therefore, it may take several days - sometimes even weeks - before your flock really settles in. (Check out the photos of our flock to the right and below for an idea of what to expect.)
* It's best to add at least two hens at a time. Two can team up to fight off the rest, if necessary.
* It's better to add hens who are at least as big as the hens you already have. Bigger birds will fare better than smaller birds. (Chickens don't play fair; they love to pick on the smallest hens.)
* Make sure there is plenty of food, water, and roosting space for all. Don't give the birds more reason to fight than they need to.
* Let the birds get to know each other while being in separate pens. Ideally, put two runs next to each other so they share one wired wall. This gives the new birds time to get to know your flock while not allowing them to really fight.
* Expect some blood. Chickens are ruthless when it comes to determining their pecking order. A little blood pretty much a sure thing. Remember, once the pecking order is established, the whole flock will get along pretty peacefully.
* Consider letting the new birds get up and personal with your flock while they free range. This may reduce stress for all the birds.
* Supervise and keep the first handful of chicken get-togethers short. Then put the hens into separate pens again.
* Some people like to introduce new birds in a sneaky fashion: They allow their flock to roost for the night. Once it's totally dark out, they quietly add the new birds. In the morning, they wake up all together - and, apparently often, act as those they've lived together forever. A pecking order still occurs, but according to many hen owners, is less violent.
* Others suggest holding a new hen when you introduce her to the flock. Start by standing, then slowly kneel. Your flock will probably react negatively, but hold on tight to the new bird. Then walk her around the hen house and run. Take your time. Finally, put the new hen down - but stand right next to her. Hen owners who do this believe this process firmly establishes your mark of approval on the new hen and smooths the integration process.
* If you are introducing chicks to your flock, NEVER do so until the chicks are fully feathered out. In fact, the bigger the chicks are, the better, so consider having a separate coop/run for chicks. Some people build a separate "room" in the hen house to protect chicks.