When the new boys got released and wandered out of their corner, they met the roosters who already lived in the greenhouse. Cue the battles You’d be forgiven for thinking that rooster fights are actually high jump contests.
Back to staring for a while… A victor is emerging. They’re both tired. Panting.
When I was driving to go get the new Silkies, I was thinking many things along the lines of “What am I doing?” But then I got there and it was not a good situation for chickens, so it all made sense, and I took all the birds I could away, glad I could liberate some.
The next morning, I opened the ramp on the new flock to the first real dirt and sunlight, and more space than they’d ever had, and…nothing. No one budged.This pretty little Silver hen was set to be first out, probably just because she slept by the door.When I opened up, she immediately started doing owl impressions, swiveling her head around to look at everything.She was especially interested in looking up. She’s never seen so much up. Perhaps they’ve never seen sunlight. She was taking her sweet time about assessment, so I left her to it and did something else.
20 minutes later:Oh! She’s dipping a toe in! A whole foot!Two feet! And a roo peeking out behind. This whole procedure to get to this point took another twenty minutes (she’s going to have a sore neck), so I left her to inch down the ramp on her own. No one was exactly pushing past her to be the first.An hour later. Finally, landed! The brahmas spectating at the viewing window.
Another hour later:Half the birds are still in the box, but the ones out have polished off their food, knocked over the waterer, and are SO into scratching. I’ve never seen scratching with such enthusiastic abandon. I expected some wild, weird, bad behaviour from the crazed refugee chickens, but they seem pretty… normal. Sweet, mild. Peripherally vision challenged. Harriet Potter has found her happy place.The roosters sizing each other up. That’s exactly what the viewing window is for. Controlled contact.
I have the most thoroughly integrated flock of hens I’ve ever had, to date. They hang together, closely. I fact, I rarely count them anymore, because I’ll see them as a group, in at most two not very distant packs, and know they’re all there. No more outliers or lone wolves (I know, I know- inapt).
They have friendships and preferences; two or three will roll side by side and, say, stay out to the very last minute, or linger under the birdfeeder together, while other girls lurk on the dog’s bones, but all of them are never very far apart, and usually surprisingly close together.
This is odd because the current layers are from three sources. The “old original hens” – the wise old survivors that grew up free-rangin’, yo, the “co-op hens” – unfortunate clipped beaks, and no survival skills at all, and the “leftover hens” from the neighbour, the arrival of whom seemed to catalyze the new familial cohesion.
I can tell the birds of various provenance apart easily. The old birds are looking dull, and the leftovers are the darkest.
Why are they so tight all of a sudden?
I wish I knew. They just like each other more now?
With all the young hens around him these days, the rooster reminds me of an aging rock star with a bunch of groupies.
I added a handful of pullets in November. Now this year’s additions outnumber the old originals.
Naturally, they chose their own methods of integrating with the flock.
I moved them in at night, gave them a sawhorse to perch on, and carefully strung up a canvas barrier, so that they could spend a day of two learning that they live in the greenhouse now.
Right. The moment that I released the hens in the morning, flap flap flap! One of the new additions burst right over the canvas and rushed right into the middle of the others. Scratching like she’d always been there, she was instantly indistinguishable from the other pullets.
Just great. Now when I open up the greenhouse, she’s not going to have any idea where she is or how to get back. Sure enough, a few minutes after all the hens file out and down the path the usual direction, there’s the one hen wandering in the grass, cooing querulously. At least now I know which one she is.
I started to chase her; herding working as well as it usually does. She had that natural chicken talent of plunging off into something dense at the last minute before going where you want her to. So I chased her, and she got more and more agitated, and louder, and finally, she was screaming and flapping away from me hot on her henny heels, and… finally, the rooster got involved.
He started making pronouncements and she started veering towards his voice and all the other hens squawking in sympathetic anxiety. Roo to the rescue; he came running, pounced on her, mated her, and that was that. She belonged to the flock, and she was by the rooster’s side all day (I learned to recognize her by the colour of her legs).
The other new hens were not quite so bold, and deferred to my plan for them for a whole day. After a day of looking cornered and anxious, they flew over the barrier too, and came back to the greenhouse at night perfectly.
Well, the new hens have been here two weeks. They are not treated very well by the old hens, who seem hugely irritated with them, and outcompete them for food. So, we scatter food all over, and give the young hens more food in the afternoon after the big ones have sailed off to forage outdoors.
I was hoping for the rooster to adopt them and take care of them a bit better, but after great initial attraction, he has decided his old girlfriends hold his interest better.
They sit forlornly under the coop, like they don’t know what else to do. I don’t know if they’ve never been outside before. They have cute, skinny profiles, with perky upright tails. Sadly, their beaks are clipped, so they look damaged, injured.
These new chickens are like little waifs, with no life skills. They are bad at scratching and foraging. They are bad at leaving the greenhouse.
They very quickly mastered trailing around after me and whining. They are great at flying, perhaps because they aren’t big Zeppelins yet.
They are especially bad at sleeping.On the first night, as we expected to have to do, we collected them from all over the greenhouse, and put them in the coop. One of them left a little muddy egg behind.
I divided the coop with some hardware cloth so they could have a safe section, but begin to learn that they live in the coop, and the old birds could suck it up and deal.
In the morning, I went and released them, and then prodded them out and down the ramp.
The next night, strewn around the greenhouse again.
The third night, I took the barrier out of the coop, and wow! One of the new hens went to bed by herself!
She’s roosted up in the corner that had been fenced off, and the old hens are all grouped up on their side in disgust.
The other new hens got a bit more creative. They were still piled up on the Tupperware lid, usually four of them there, but for the life of me, I couldn’t find MJ. Finally I went looking on the Silkie side, and found this:
What the heck? I wasn’t even sure what was going on here at first, but
she was jammed between the feed sack and the plastic.
Tired of getting scooped up from the ground, or else having the concept of roosting take hold a tiny bit, they started to take to the air.
I don’t know how she managed it, but she was perched up on the divider fabric, sound asleep. It must have swung wildly when she first landed on it.
A few more started to get into the coop at night, but there were two persistent Tupperware sleepers who insisted on roosting on the lid, for days. It was a big night when there was only one holdout sleeping on the lid.
Meanwhile, other birds got closer to the coop.
Are we doing it right?
No, in the coop, in… two or three on the coop, night after night.
How about now?
Finally! OMG, all in the coop! (the old hens are still disgusted).