My first answer is always to quarantine properly. Never just sneak them into the coop with your other chickens at night, that comes later.
The eagerness to add to the flock too quickly without a few weeks of a separation can lead to heartache and potential loss of life, so there are some basic rules that are essential to follow.
If you find yourself quoting any of these reasons below, this is the danger list and an absolute no-no.
Reasons why people do not want to Quarantine
- I don't have enough space to have two sheds/yards
- I hate waiting
- Sounds like too much work
- I've bought chickens from the same breeder before so I trust him
- I've divided my coop in half, that should be good enough, isn't it?
- I checked them over and they don't look sick or have lice
Are there any exceptions to the Quarantining?
If you buy all of your hens at the same time from the one location and they were all housed together, with no other hens at home in your yard, you will be fine.
So when anybody asks me how I remember all the quarantining steps I explain the DITTO method.
The D.I.T.T.O. Quarantine Method
Keep the new birds at least 5m away or even more if you have the room. Many diseases are airborne. Fences should never touch. This will mean a second coop/yard with a feeder and water source.
Do not wear the same clothes/shoes when going from yard to yard. Germs will live in many things. Your boots are the priority as the manure is likely to be a source of contamination.
The longer you keep the hens separated the better the odds are that someone will show symptoms. Give a two (2) week minimum. Four (4) weeks is optimum for quarantining.
Send in one new chook as a test. This is most applicable to large flocks.
Watch BOTH the new and old hens for signs of illness.
- Congested breathing
- Unusual gait (walk)
- Discolouration of wattle/comb
- Unusual poos or daggy bottom
- Loss of feathers and heavy preening
Tick of Good Health...next is Socialisation
If you are fully satisfied that the girls are all healthy after a few weeks, then its time for socialisation. This is a time spent with you as their guardian.
Step 1. Allow the older hens to walk around the yard of the new hens to greet them through the fence.
Step 2. When their body language signals that they would like to peck together near the fence without running away then you can bring them out for a supervised play. Return the new hens to their yard to minimise their stress. Repeat until you feel that the hens can walk around the yard together.
Step 3. There will be moments of fighting as all chickens have a pecking order. Allow them to find their natural order but break up anything that appears too nasty.
Step 4. Integrate the new hens in with the older hens at night for roosting OR allow the new hens to follow the older hens in and out of their yard until they naturally integrate and sleep together.
This may take up to a week. You will know when the girls are ready by watching their socialisation habits and giving them the option to follow the other hens. They may eventually abandon the quarantine coop all together in favour of joining the main coop. Remember to keep your quarantine coop for future illness outbreaks.