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    Preparing For And Conducting Resident Introductions

    scrabble tiles write out "success favours the prepared"
    Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

    Whether introducing a new resident to an established resident group or changing your current social groupings because something is no longer working, conducting resident introductions can be tricky. Not every introduction is successful, and even those that ultimately are might come with some tense moments. To increase the chances of a successful introduction and to best ensure the safety and well-being of your residents and sanctuary personnel, it’s important to carefully think through and plan for resident introductions. In this resource, we’ll highlight some important steps in preparing for and conducting resident introductions.

    Species-Specific Guidance
    This resource is meant to apply generally to all species typically cared for at a farmed animal sanctuary. However, we’ve also got species-specific guidance. We’re currently making some changes to where that information lives, pulling it out of our arrival guides and moving it into standalone resources on species-specific introductions. If you can’t find a standalone resource (i.e., “Conducting Sheep Introductions At Your Animal Sanctuary”), please check out our species-specific arrival guides.

    Do Your Homework

    Before thinking seriously about conducting resident introductions, it’s imperative to have a basic understanding of the species involved. In addition to understanding the general needs of the species in terms of things like housing and diet, it’s also important to understand the social needs of the species – how their social groups are typically structured and whether or not there are seasonal factors to consider (for example, in some species, spring brings about hormonal changes that can affect social dynamics, making introductions more challenging than they would be at a different time of year). 

    Additionally, it’s crucial that anyone involved in resident introductions be familiar with the body language and vocalizations of the species. What do they do when they are content, curious, agitated, scared, or confrontational? What types of interactions should you expect when two individuals meet for the first time, and what does typical posturing look like? If an individual really does not want someone else in their space, what types of behaviors are possible if the situation is allowed to escalate? Without this foundational knowledge, it’s impossible to responsibly move on to the rest of the “steps” outlined below.

    Make Careful Choices

    The reality is not all sanctuary residents can live together. Therefore, it’s important to think carefully about which introductions are most likely to result in happy and healthy living situations for all and which are more likely to cause strife. While introductions of individuals of the same species are not guaranteed to be successful, there can be additional challenges and considerations when thinking about an introduction that involves individuals of different species. Be sure to check out our species-specific resources on safe cohabitation for more information. 

    Taking what you know about the species involved into consideration, be sure to think about the following:

    Resident Health

    First and foremost, are the residents involved healthy enough to be introduced to others? If one or more of the individuals are new to the sanctuary, have they completed their quarantine period and gotten the all-clear from your veterinarian? Whether the individuals are new arrivals or longtime residents, be sure to consider if there are concerns regarding infectious disease spread. Depending on the disease in question, the introduction may need to be postponed until disease transmission is no longer a concern, or it may be that the introduction needs to be called off entirely. 

    In addition to the risk of disease transmission, consider the general health of all involved. Given that many farmed animal sanctuary residents come from backgrounds where their needs were not met and the fact that certain species and breeds face lifelong challenges due to the way they have been bred, it’s not uncommon for sanctuary residents to have chronic health conditions that their caregivers need to manage. Be sure to consider what impact an introduction’s stress and possible physicality might have on all individuals involved. 

    Care Needs

    Above, we mentioned the importance of understanding the needs of the species involved. It’s also important to think about the needs of each individual. When considering a particular introduction, be sure to think about the care needs of all involved and whether or not you can continue to meet those needs after completing the proposed introduction. This is not meant to suggest that social groups can only consist of individuals who have the exact same needs, but you do need to think carefully about if and how you can meet everyone’s needs going forward.

    Resident Safety

    If considering an introduction that involves two different species, it is imperative that you think carefully about whether or not this is safe to do, but even when considering individuals of the same species, there may be safety concerns that make a particular introduction unadvised. Be sure to consider factors such as the age, breed, sex, physical characteristics, physical capabilities, health (as described above), and personalities of all individuals involved. Do any of these factors make a particular individual more vulnerable or more likely to cause harm (even inadvertently) to certain residents? As with care needs, this does not mean that social groups must be made up of individuals of the same age, sex, breed, size, etc. However, depending on the species and the unique individuals involved, some of these factors may result in safety concerns that must be taken seriously.

    Ease Into It

    Once you’ve identified the individuals you plan to introduce, you may want to start getting everyone familiar with each other before attempting an introduction into a shared space. If it’s safe to do so (i.e., none of the residents are actively quarantined or isolated, and there is no concern regarding infectious disease spread), consider if there are ways to familiarize individuals with each other before moving them into a shared space. Can you set them up in living spaces that allow them to see, smell, and hear each other? For example, if you plan to introduce a new cow resident into your cow herd, can you move the individual into a pen within the structure your cow herd resides in? Or can you move them into a space where the new cow resident’s outdoor space shares a fence line with your cow resident herd’s pasture? Similarly, if introducing a new chicken to your resident chicken flock, can you create a separate space by using an X-pen or other types of divider to create a safe space for them within the flock’s space? Just make sure the barrier is sufficient to keep everyone separated and that everyone has access to all they need – food, water, shade, etc.

    Safety Considerations
    Depending on your physical setup and the individuals involved, the above practice may not be the way to go or may require careful planning and modifications to the living space to make it safe. While a physical barrier can help keep residents safe from each other, interacting with each other through or over a barrier could pose safety risks. Be sure to think carefully about the barrier and how individuals may interact when they first meet. In some cases, gaps or abrasive materials may need to be covered to prevent injury. When moving individuals into adjacent spaces, it’s important to closely observe everyone’s reaction to the new setup. If one or both parties are overly enthusiastic about being together, they could injure themselves trying to get over/through the divider. Alternatively, if individuals are fighting through the barrier, they may be at risk of injury or over-exertion. In some instances, individuals may develop a false sense of confidence and may actually fight more through the divider than they would without it.

    If housing residents in adjacent spaces is not possible or has proven counterproductive, there are other ways to help individuals become more familiar with each other. Perhaps housing them in spaces that are not adjacent but still allow them to see or hear each other might be helpful. Or, you might swap used bedding from each space to give residents the opportunity to investigate the new smells that come with it. You could do something similar with other objects, such as stuffed animals, blankets, etc., so long as they are safe for the individuals to be around.

    Plan It Out

    Once you’re ready to physically introduce residents in a shared space, it’s important to plan how you will do so. Think about the following:


    It’s a good idea to check out the weather forecast to get an idea of when the weather conditions might be most conducive for resident introductions. As mentioned above, some seasons may be less ideal for introductions due to hormonal or social dynamic changes, but it’s also important to think about the weather conditions that go along with each season. Conducting introductions during extreme temperatures, heavy precipitation, or muddy conditions may put residents at risk. Additionally, if one resident is wary of another, they may be uncomfortable moving into the indoor living space, even if the alternative means staying out in the sweltering sun or pouring rain. It’s best to conduct introductions when the weather is mild and would be safe and comfortable for someone to stay out in. Hot weather poses an added risk because residents may be more active during an introduction than they otherwise would be, which could put them at risk of overheating. 


    When do you think would be the best time to conduct the introduction? Think about sanctuary operations, personnel availability, and daily routines. Some days may be too busy to accommodate the time and supervision an introduction requires. We’re going to talk about supervision later on, but when considering the timing of the introduction, be sure to think about timing in relation to available personnel. Are there certain days or times of day when experienced folks will be most able to conduct and supervise introductions? Speaking of supervision, be sure to plan introductions early enough in the day to allow for ongoing supervision. 

    In addition to thinking about sanctuary personnel and their daily routine, be sure to think about your residents’ daily routine as well and how this might impact introductions. For residents who are fed at specific times of day, would introducing residents at this time be likely to cause more strife? Or would feeding time offer a useful distraction? For residents who go out foraging in their outdoor space, would this be a better time to introduce someone new into the group than when everyone is inside relaxing at midday? Think through how your residents spend their time and consider if certain times are more or less ideal for conducting an introduction.

    Veterinary Availability
    When thinking about the timing, it’s a good idea to consider veterinary services and availability. Of course, the goal is for everything to go smoothly, but if someone needs veterinary care, are there certain days or times when this is more or less difficult to secure? This consideration applies to all residents, but it’s important to think about the different degrees of risk involved when conducting an introduction involving larger residents. While you may be able to quickly break up a fight between two ducks by quickly picking one of them up, breaking up a fight between larger residents may be more tricky and less immediate. One of the worst feelings is knowing someone needs veterinary care but not being able to get it for them. If you know that it’s difficult to secure veterinary care on Sundays or that your veterinarian will be out of town during a certain period, it may be wise to avoid conducting an introduction during that time. Many caregivers can attest that things always seem to go wrong when your veterinarian’s office is closed, so why tempt fate if you don’t have to?


    You should also think about the location where the introduction will happen. In some cases, this may be a neutral location neither party has lived in previously, but other times it may be that the introduction will take place in one of your resident living spaces. Conducting introductions in a neutral living space can sometimes increase the chances of success since neither party is “intruding” into a space the other resident(s) feels is theirs, but depending on your setup and the species involved, a neutral space may not be possible or practical. If using a neutral space, ensure it is appropriate for the species who will be spending time there. If this neutral space is not going to be where the group ultimately lives, it still may be best to house the residents in this neutral space for at least a few days after the introduction so they have time to settle in and get used to each other before moving them into a more permanent location.

    If you plan to conduct the introduction in the resident living space where everyone will ultimately live, you still have some location-related things to consider. Where in the space will you conduct the introduction? If you need to move large species with a trailer, you may have a bit less leeway regarding the area in which you bring them, but if you can, think about the layout of the space and which area(s) offer the amount and type of space that is best. Conducting introductions in outdoor spaces is helpful, particularly if outdoor areas offer more space to move around. You should avoid areas with treacherous terrain and deadends where an individual could be cornered by others. In some cases, you may need to prevent access to certain parts of the living space during the initial stages of the introduction, opening them back up when you feel confident that it is safe to do so.

    Prepare Ahead Of Time

    Once you’ve got a plan for when and where to conduct the introduction, be sure to think about what needs to be done to prepare for the introduction. (If you opt for the “ease into it” route, be sure to think through what needs to happen to prepare for that stage as well). Preparing for an introduction might include the following:

    Secure Supplies

    Are there certain supplies that you need to purchase before conducting the introduction? For example, it’s typically good practice to offer additional areas where residents can eat and drink away from others if they choose. Do you have the supplies necessary to do this? Similarly, certain supplies may make it safer or easier to intervene and move individuals away from one another if needed. For example, pig sorting panels (pig boards), rope halters, or towels might be useful depending on the species you are working with. It’s important to think about how sanctuary personnel can intervene if needed while staying safe and treating the residents with the respect and compassion they deserve.

    Make Sure You Have Your First Aid Kit Stocked
    As we mentioned above, the goal is always for introductions to go smoothly and for no one to be injured in the process, but it’s important to be prepared should things go less smoothly. Even a minor scuffle could result in an injury that needs your attention, so be sure to have your first aid kit stocked and nearby. 

    Do The Prep Work

    Think about what needs to be done before conducting the introduction. Do more feeding stations need to be set up or additional mud wallows dug out? Does the fencing need modifications to make it safer? Do any areas of the living space need to be blocked off with temporary fencing? Or perhaps certain care-related tasks need to be done. Do your rooster residents need their spurs dulled, or do your pig residents need their tusks tipped to reduce the likelihood of injury during the introduction? Create a checklist of tasks that must be completed before the introduction occurs, and ensure they are all done beforehand.

    Come Up With An Exit Strategy And A Plan B

    In an ideal world, all introductions are successful on the first attempt, but this isn’t always the case. It’s a good idea to devise an exit strategy and a plan B if things aren’t working out to avoid having to figure things out on the fly. If tensions escalate to the point of needing to split up certain individuals, how are you going to do this? With smaller species, you may simply pick them up and carry them to an awaiting carrier, but what about larger species? If they were brought to the current space via trailer, don’t assume you’ll be able to guide them back onto the trailer easily. It’s a good idea to identify a separate area you can walk them towards in the event that larger residents need to be split up. This may sometimes require temporarily closing one or more individuals inside while others remain outdoors.

    If the introduction isn’t going well or you feel it requires more time and supervision than you can continue to provide, it’s helpful to have a plan B ready to go. Will the individual(s) go back to where they were previously living? Or is there another area where they will go? Avoid putting yourself in a situation where there is no plan B. For example, if a new resident has finished quarantine, but has remained in the quarantine area while they wait to be introduced to other residents, don’t schedule said introduction for the same day that you plan to welcome a new resident who needs to move into the quarantine area unless you have somewhere else for the individual to go if the introduction does not work out. Without a plan B in place, you may be more likely to make a decision that is not in the best interest of all the individuals involved.

    Along these same lines, sometimes introductions are mostly successful, showing signs that this living arrangement should ultimately work, but lingering tensions need to be worked out. If residents need to be closed inside overnight to ensure their protection from predators, these tensions may make it unsafe to close everyone in together or may cause distress to certain individuals even if their physical safety is not at risk. Similarly, if larger mammalian residents are not closed inside overnight, you may have concerns that a particular individual might choose to stay outside overnight either because they want to stay away from others or because they are intimidated by others. In situations such as these, having the ability to provide a separate sleeping space within the larger space can be really helpful. For smaller residents, this may come in the form of a carrier lined with comfy blankets and equipped with a bowl of water. For larger residents, it may come as a separate pen they can be closed into at bedtime. In some cases, providing separate overnight spaces for the first few days, weeks, or even months may be necessary to ensure everyone’s comfort and safety, so think through how you would provide this if necessary.

    Conduct The Introduction

    We’re not going to get too detailed about actually conducting introductions since there is so much variability between species, but once you’ve done your prep work and the time is right (based on the decisions you made when planning things out), then you’re ready to move ahead with the introduction! The key points we want to stress here are that 1) close supervision is imperative, and 2) you want to have enough experienced folks on hand to intervene if necessary. Taking into consideration what you know about the species involved, observe everyone closely as they meet and interact with each other. While a full-on brawl may be a clear indication that either the introduction is going to take more time or that you need to move on to Plan B, you also need to pay attention to more subtle cues from your residents. If someone is showing signs of distress that doesn’t abate over time, you should take a step back and consider whether they just need more time to adjust or if you need to devise a different plan.

    Continued supervision is important even after any initial tensions (hopefully) die down. This is particularly true when there are many individuals involved. When introducing two residents to each other, you’ll likely see pretty quickly how they respond to one another, but when many individuals are involved, it may take time for everyone to meet. Additionally, certain areas of the living space or certain times of day may elicit different reactions. Through continued supervision, you’ll not only ensure someone is around to intervene if needed, but you’ll also get a better sense of the current group dynamics and if any adjustments need to be made (for example, perhaps separating individuals prior to meals to avoid a scuffle).

    Reassess As Needed

    If the introduction does not go as smoothly as you hoped, think carefully about the next steps. If you are part of a caregiving team, it’s a good idea to have a group discussion about where to go from here. Depending on the situation, you might decide to leave individuals living together for the time being, continuing to closely supervise how they interact. Other times, you may see signs of promise but feel individuals cannot currently stay together safely. In this case, you might regroup and identify another time to try the introduction again. There will also likely be times when it’s clear that your plans for folks to live together are not in the cards, and you need to go back to the drawing board. These can be tricky decisions to make, so it’s really helpful to talk them through with other experienced caregivers when possible. Remember to be patient – some introductions take more time than others, and sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error before landing on a living situation that makes everyone happy. While ultimately, we do not recommend social species be forced to live in isolation, if someone needs to live alone temporarily while you come up with another plan, remember that there are things you can do to make this time less isolating. Be sure to check out our social enrichment resource and species-specific enrichment resources for inspiration. Also, keep in mind that sometimes you have to get creative. While we would never recommend separating bonded companions, you may find that a particular resident group would benefit from being split into two separate groups and that doing this makes an introduction into one of the groups much easier than when both groups lived together!

    Be Thoughtful, But Also Keep An Open Mind
    When making choices about resident introductions, we are, in many ways, making an educated guess. Based on all we know about the species and individuals involved, we try to make the best choice possible for everyone. This can sometimes be harder when one of the residents is new, so it’s important to take time to get to know them during quarantine. That said, sometimes it takes time for an individual to feel safe enough to “be themselves” or to open up around humans, and even with residents whom we know well, to some extent, we are still making assumptions about who they may or may not like or get along with. While these assumptions may be correct, or there may be too much risk involved to consider testing those assumptions, we’ve seen firsthand that sometimes the living situation you least expect to succeed ends up being, from outward appearances, exactly what both parties want and need.

    We know that time is often in short supply for animal caregivers and that the process described in this resource is more time-consuming than simply conducting resident introductions on the fly, but trust us that it is time well spent. While careful consideration and planning don’t guarantee a successful introduction every time, it will increase your chances of success and, in the event of a “failed” introduction, will also help ensure that everything is in place for a speedy response. Given the potential risks involved in a resident introduction gone wrong, this is an area where the upfront time investment can really make a huge difference for everyone involved.

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