You have two hens. You want to get another hen. How many hens will you have total? How many eggs will you get? What will this do to the pecking order? Show your work. You may use a calculator if necessary.
Seriously, introducing a bird* to your flock can be a process. There are several things to consider:
1) Disease: Your birds and/or their environment may have a pathogen that could kill the new bird. For example, a bird may develop immunity to one of the nine strains of coccidia (common protozoans that are nearly ubiquitous with chicken flocks) and may not have time to develop immunity if introduced suddenly to a flock with a different strain.
2) Social interaction: Birds are flock animals and hierarchy and social structure are based on the pecking order. Who’s on top, who’s on the bottom, and who’s in between is very important. Sudden disruptions to that system may lead to serious injury or death for a bird.
3) Environmental change: Birds, because they are prey species, are by nature suspicious critters, very wary of new surroundings, sights, and sounds. Some birds will starve to death rather than make a diet conversion. Others will take a while to settle in to new surroundings and may appear shell-shocked and uncertain in a new place for a week.
What to do?
When introducing a new bird to my flock, I follow these steps:
1) Vet the bird. Any new avian resident gets a check up at the avian vet. We check for and treat diseases, communicable or not, and assess the general condition of the bird.
2) Quarantine the bird. Check with your avian vet to see what quarantine period he or she recommends. During the quarantine period, the new bird will probably show signs of any subclinical illness that might be present. If this happens, repeat Step 1! If not, move on to Step 3.
3) Introduce the bird slowly to the new flock.
A. I hear you… Place the new bird in a place where it can hear the other birds but not see them. This allows the new one to get used to the sounds of the flock, and it allows the flock to get used to another bird in the area.
B. I see you… After a few days, I move the new bird’s cage so all the birds can see each other. The new bird has time to observe interactions, see its new flock, and interact more closely with them.
C. So you’re my new neighbor! Allow the bird out of the cage to interact with the other members of the flock. I usually suggest supervision for this step, and that it be done in an open area, so that if anyone needs to beat a hasty exit, it can be done.
D. Moving in! If all goes well with Step C, try caging them together. Keep a close eye out for picking around the head and eyes. If there is any sign of this, remove the picked bird immediately. This bird may have to be caged separately and may not be integrated successfully into the flock.
*Hint: It is generally easier to introduce two new birds to a flock, rather than just one. Also, it can be difficult to introduce young birds to a flock of older birds, and bantams to a flock of standard-sized birds.
If there is no picking, then congratulations! You have successfully made an avian introduction! Now put down the calculator and give yourself an A for the day!