Integrating New Chickens into the Flock: “The Playpen Method”

Integrating new chickens into an established flock | The Chicken Chick®

Integrating new chickens into an existing flock does not have to be unduly stressful for the chicken keeper or the chickens. The main concern is always that the two groups of chickens will not get along, but if done correctly, it can be done without drama or bloodshed.  I use an approach to flock integration that I call the “Playpen Method.”  I have used it successfully with each addition to my flock over the years.

Chicken Tractor for integrating new birds with an existing flock.

The Playpen Method is simple: allow the newbies and the original flock members to see and hear each other without having physical contact for a period of time. This allows both groups to familiarize themselves with one another while maintaining a “safe zone” for the new chickens. Integrating new flock members should be done slowly in order to minimize the stress on everyone. The process will take varying amounts of time depending on the flock and individual personalities within the flock.

Pet playpen located inside the chicken run.

The Playpen Method entails creating a confinement system (“playpen”) for the newbies in the vicinity of the flock. This can mean that the flock remains in the run with a small, separate playpen near or in the run for the newbies. It can also mean that the flock free-ranges with the newbies in a playpen nearby.

I have used several different playpens for my newbies but the technique is always the same: look but don’t touch.  Water and feed should be made available to the birds in the playpen at all times. After the confinement period of approximately a week, provide the newbies with an opening from the playpen to venture out if and when they wish. They will stay close to the playpen and maintain a safe distance from the flock initially, but eventually they will become comfortable and begin mingling freely. It is normal for the existing flock members to make it clear to the newbies that they are in charge, however, there should never be excessive chasing, harassment, bullying, aggression or similar monkey business. If hostility is persistent, the newbies should be returned to the playpen for a few more days before trying again. 

The newest chicken tractor Mr. Chicken Chick built. Get the DIY instructions HERE!I hatched two different groups of chicks a few weeks apart and wanted The Littles to have a chance to spread their wings for a few days before letting them play with the big chicks. It’s safer that way and the older chicks became caretakers of the babies soon after being brought together. Hardware cloth inserted in the middle of the brooder provided proximity and safety for everyone.

I hatched two different groups of chicks a few weeks apart and wanted the Littles to have a chance to spread their wings for a few days before letting them play with the big chicks. It's safer that way and the older chicks became caretakers of the babies soon after being brought together. Hardware cloth inserted in the middle of the brooder provided proximity and safety for everyone.

The dog kennel below is subdivided for two different age groups of chickens. The ‘teenage’ chickens will reside here for a week until being moved to the grow-out coop next door. When they are moved, I will close off the nest boxes for the first week or two, which will prevent anyone from hiding or sleeping in them and teach them to sleep on roosts as they should. When chickens get into the habit of sleeping in nest boxes they soil the nesting material where eggs will be laid. Good coop management and flock training leads to clean eggs.

Newbies whose playpen is NOT in the coop, are put in the playpen every morning and returned to the brooder at night until I’m certain they’re reasonably comfortable with the flock. It’s a little tricky to get them to understand the concept of going into the coop at night, however, as they have not been trained to the coop yet. When they are placed into the coop full-time, close off the nest boxes as described above to discourage sleeping and pooping in them. This process will vary depending upon a variety of factors, including coop setup and available equipment.

Some minor scuffling is to be expected as the established pecking order is shaken up. However, if there is any persistent bullying or bloodshed, remove the victim from the general population immediately, clean their wounds and keep them physically separated (ideally, within the flock) until they are fully healed. This is necessary for their own safety. If the victim is bullied upon her return to the flock, separate the aggressor in a playpen within the flock for a few days to prevent physical interaction. The goal is to reduce the aggressor’s stress, promote her familiarity with the newbies from a safe distance.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Petra Flynn
11 years ago

I have accidentally done this! Now I can add the newbies to the 'flockers' without worrying (as much). Thank you for this article.

Sharon Crosetto
11 years ago

That was a great post! I hate bloodshed and bullying:)

11 years ago

Good to know I am doing something right. I jsut did this with my newest girls and they are all getting along great! Thanks for the confirmation!

Fairy Castle Farm
10 years ago

Very cool, I was doing this without realising!! So I totally agree that it works!!!!! Also when I let the newbies out of the pen, I make a hole only big enough for the newbies to get through so that they can get away from the Flockers in need. Then as they out grow the hole well, they are official flockers themselves :O)

10 years ago

Love the tractor!! can you give plans for it I would like one for my garden!!!

Kathy Mormino, the Chicken Chick
Reply to  Anonymous

We didn't have plans, my husband just threw it together. Sorry. 🙁

1 2 3 101