There’s little I enjoy more than driving home new hens. Usually in some ersatz container – sheet over stock tank, random boxes. Today my coat over a box with no bottom.
I like carrying them hugged in my arm for the first time, telling them they’re going to a new home now, their heads bobbing around looking at everything from 4´ higher up than usual. Sliding them into the carrying container du jour. The quiet that falls once we get on the road, broken by a few questioning little chirps from the backseat, some shuffling on tight corners. I sing to them, or play the radio
Today I picked up three hens I hadn’t known I would be, leftovers from the year’s laying flock that were hanging around as outlaws in the barn. I can’t resist a good hen, especially when it’s otherwise doomed.
They’re nice. Low hens, tame and easy to catch. Curious, as they always are, but laid back. In the dark I carried the broken-bottomed box of birds on my forearms, with their feet sticking through and grabbing onto me, from my truck to the greenhouse to tuck them into the coop, their new home.
Actually he spent most of his first day trying to avoid them. They were following him everywhere, grooming his ruff, and generally crowding him. The girls couldn’t get enough of him and he just wanted to figure out where he was.
They were just determined to follow him around.
He is very handsome as described, with his Copper Maran feathered feet.
He got some peace on the roof of the coop.
We were checking on him frequently during the first day, not knowing whether there would be a bloodbath (there wasn’t). Once we both went to the GH and he wasn’t there. We looked all over, under boxes, in the corners. He wasn’t even in the coop. With nowhere left to look, I lifted the lid on the Silkie coop, saying “Well he can’t be in here!” He was. He was in the corner of the coop with one Silkie hen on the other side, probably there to lay an egg. I guess the hens really got out of control.
He’s like a member of a royal court, with breeches, buckled shoes, and maybe a rapier.
I thought I might call him Jacques, since when I was driving him home I couldn’t remember any lullabies but Frére Jacques. Over and over and over… But I’m not sure it fits.
Things have settled down since the first day. He started doing his job, announcing food discoveries and doing a bit of dancing.
He crows a lot. He’s got a deep voice. And I’ve seen him mating a leghorn. But I’ve seen more unconsummated high-speed chases around the greenhouse.
Then the Silkie rooster, one third his size, automatically responds to the sounds of a screaming, running hen. He in his white pint-size majesty comes lumbering over silently, looks at “Jacques”, and Jacques runs off to hide behind something. Very funny. I’m real glad that they don’t fight at all, but also hoping that this guy will get a bit less timid over time.
He likes to be up high. On the bales, or the coop, or…
I was standing in the middle of the GH, bent over at the waist to knock some persistent ice out of a water fount. There was some warning flapping behind me, and the new roo flew up and landed on my back. It was a nice shelf. The times I’m not carrying a camera! When I finished laughing, and messing with the fount, I transferred him to my arm, where he contentedly settled down on my elbow as if to stay a while. He’s a big heavy bird. Friendly though.
I can’t believe it but I’m SO happy. ALL MY BIRDS ARE GETTING ALONG! The one silver lining to the loss of my big rooster is that I don’t have to segregate my birds. Two winters I’ve attempted to divide the greenhouse into two territories, Silkieland and Layerland. I say attempted because there were always breaches no matter what I tried.
First there were the guineas, with the GH all to themselves.
Then there were the two Silkie moms and their nine chicks between them, who got to stay in the greenhouse mostly because of inclement weather.
Then I moved in the layer coop, the day after the rooster was killed. The Silkies had the yard outside for a week of lovely weather, from whence they could see inside through the screen door.
Next I opened the door dividing the flocks, and waited to see what would happen. A few red hens popped out, looked around, ate some grass, and went back in. Hey, the guineas came outside, flew over the fence, and were walking around the other door looking confused. The Silkies did not drift into the greenhouse.
The next morning, the Silkie rooster came barrelling inside when I opened the layer coop. The reason: one of his hens is sleeping in the wrong coop. He chased her a merry race and taught her a lesson, and then raced back outside, where the other rooster was taking advantage of his absence to get some. Life’s hectic for Snowball. He’s got a lot of responsibilities.
They did not integrate on their own until, due to a bad forecast, we lifted the Silkie coop into the GH. These long-suffering coops (Oh, they’ll last a year) are still enduring, still doing their job.
And then, miracles! they all just … got along. The layers drink side by side with the guineas, and the chicks are all up in the middle of everything, as they always have been. Infants of any species seem to get big tolerance passes. They can poop anywhere they like and be grabby and no one pecks them. The guineas are smaller than the layers right now, but they seem to know that’s a temporary state of affairs, and they face off. Staredowns, with their necks stuck out. I’m gonna be bigger than you real soon.
The layers are a bit bossy to the Silkies, but I’ve also seen the rooster run off a rude big hen. YES. I’m so glad it’s working!
Often the guineas are up on the haybales, just watching everyone else.
They still move as an inseparable unit, even if they’re doing different things. Some will be drinking, or eating, and the others will be curled up resting, but right next to them, and then they will all shuffle along together to the next stop.
Now there are five. One guinea disappeared as a very small chick, in the first few days. Actually vanished – I’ve never found a body, and there were no signs of foul play. In September, I found one hen dead in the morning, of unknown causes, like she died in her sleep. All the others came shuffling out of their hay-cave, and one was left, still. I believe there are now two guinea cocks and three guinea hens, judging by size – the differential is growing.
They look much like turkeys to me now, with bald-ish necks, sparse feathers, and they stick their heads out long. So funny/cute! They are “the Africans” or the “little clowns” because they do funny stuff. They are starting to make their weird sounds, and 5pm is the time to practice, every day. Can hear them ten acres away, shouting.
I “cleaned it up” some in the GH. Made some chicken play structures, which they dutifully appreciate.
All the vegetative debris and dead tomato/squash vines are just entertainment for them. Places to run around and hide, and lose a pursuing rooster. They pull down old tomatoes, eat any leftovers, dig, and dirt bathe. It’s a big party. The cardboard boxes too. They always like standing up on things.
There’s still a truckload of wood chips in there that I pushed aside to plant in, and a great deal of hay, so lots of carbon, and I’ll bring in more if I need to. It smells good, not like a chicken concentration camp. My hens will lay all winter in the greenhouse.
At first the layers weren’t sure. They weren’t allowed in the GH all summer, now they aren’t allowed out? They like to slip out the door behind me when I carry something in. Then five minutes later they’re outside standing on one foot in the frost, looking at me. This was a bad idea! All the food’s in there!
Soon I’m going to introduce a new rooster. He’s a gorgeous young bird, a Copper Maran, big but gentle. I’ve been telling my hens I’m about to set them up with him. I have a younger man for you to meet! I’m hoping that if he’s introduced to an unfamiliar room where the Silkie rooster already rules the roost, they won’t have a bloodbath fight. Because the Silkie would lose. This is why I’ve had to keep the flocks separate before.
I know that the space is too big for one rooster to rule, because the second rooster has started to crow! The poor, put-upon, brown beta rooster, who’s molting with anxiety, has enough literal space now to figuratively spread his wings. I hope to give them each a flock and enclosure of their own next year.
All the birds love salad. I thought I was just being lazy, letting a patch of salad greens go to seed, the mizuna growing into beachball sized clouds, and mustard greens into stalks my height and as thick as my wrist that tipped over under their own weight, but I was actually being brilliantly foresightful. I’m going to do it on purpose next year. The chickens love a good salad. I carry in an armload of greens, sprinkle it in a line along the open side of the GH, and all the birds move in, ripping and picking, all mixed up together in inter-avian harmony. Makes it quiet real quick.
The Silkies especially think that the thing to do with turnip tops is to pick them up and whack! them on the ground. It’s not the usual chicken lift and drop, it’s very aggressive, like they’re flail threshing. What’s really funny is a chick trying to do it to a foot-long turnip frond. That’s like a person taking a 30 foot pine tree and whacking it on the ground. It works about as well for the chick, but they try.
I thought they might be into cold-hardy greens considering what they did to the volunteer kale.
The incursion of the birds has pushed out the rodent population, as I hoped. The numbers are now down to one very bold resident squirrel. I hope he gets pecked. Chipmunks are gone.
Now that the coops are in the greenhouse the first Silkie with aspirations above her station has told a friend. Two Silkies are going into the layer hens’ coop to lay eggs! The one is still sleeping in there. Her chicks are convinced they sleep in the cardboard box still, and every night have to be chucked into their coop.
In the morning, I let the Silkies out first while I do everything, to give them a little advantage, first beak in the trough, before opening the layers. They know. They can hear, and they grumble! The rooster comes and waits at the bottom of the ramp for the Silkie hen to traipse out, then he pounces! Every morning. He knows she’s in there.
A couple of days before we moved the Silkie coop into the greenhouse, I got paranoid about the Silkie moms sleeping on the ground, and I popped the two moms and their chicks into the layer hen coop after dark, using the less favored nest boxes. They seemed happy. The one hen was already laying in there, after all. Then the third night, oh no.
One hen, the mom of two, had three chicks under her (sleepover!). The other (less intelligent) six were huddled in the box where their mom had taken to sleeping. No mom. I put them all away and start sweeping the greenhouse with a light. Uhoh. UhohUhohUhoh. She’s not there.
Finally it occurs to me to check the coop, and there she is! She’s lined up on the rail with the big red birds, head down. In fact, I could hardly see her because they’re all so much bigger. She’s done with chicks and moving on up with her life.
She’s big for a Silkie hen, but still! Who does she think she is? I can’t believe they tolerate her.
I’ve got new hens! Four new-to-me deliveries, two reds and two leghorns (people often get rid of hens this time of year- most of my layers are handmedowns). What a novelty, to have white eggs! They got right on it too, one leghorn laying in the coop on her first morning. She’s the fast learner. Came walking down the ramp on her first day.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We picked them up after dark, and I carried them home in a box on my lap, petting them through the cardboard flaps.
I didn’t have much of a choice, I put them into the coop with the others, and had to hope the rooster would handle welcoming committee duties, as he has before. I pushed his usual concubines aside and tucked the new hens right in next to him, to bond.
Well, Day One dawned, and I let down the ramp. Leghorn One trotted down the ramp with the others, and joined them at the trough.
I lifted the lid on the coop. The remaining three were huddled there in panic, just until they all burst flapping out of the open lid and ran away squawking. So I left. That’s no good. That means they will not no where to return to at night, and they didn’t.
I tiptoed back later, and the new hens were all milling around the coop, eating. And so was the rooster! He was hanging out with the new girls! Most of the old girlfriends had decamped to the house after breakfast like they always do.
I like the way leghorns look, with their ultra-stiff erect tails.
And their floppy combs, often flapped over one eye, like an ill-fitting beret.
HW says they remind him of Beatniks, and if he creeps up real quiet, maybe he’ll hear some chicken jazz, or a poetry slam going down.
At night, as predicted, they hunkered down in the brush a few feet from the coop. It took several days of nightly scooping for them to get the idea, one at a time, that they live in the coop.
They’re sweet little things. They’re very tame. They come right up to me, and let me touch them. The rooster spends all his time with them now, staying with them as they ever so slowly expand their scope outward from the vicinity of the coop.
The new girls don’t know that the greenhouse is off-limits, and blithely trot in behind me. Don’t mind if I do! Hm, good stuff in here.
Then I get to shoo them out.
One is very low on the chicken totem pole. Cringe-ingly subservient, as pictured top-of-post. She had a chance to make a new start, but missed it. I should call her Violet, as in “shrinking”. She’s always got her head low, ducking and genuflecting.
They’re getting the hang of having the world to roam in though:
As these hens went tentatively trotting down the path after the others, I thought They’re gonna fit right in!
A couple nights later, I come home and go to feed them chicken supper, and there are no leghorns. Oh no, did they get eaten because they’re white? All the other hens show up for dinner, but the leghorns. I look all over. As a last resort, I check inside the coop. They’ve already gone to bed! They are the early birds. Early to bed, early to rise, first down the ramp in the morning, with an egg already laid.
The lightning bugs are out in force tonight over the blueberries and the moon is pink and bright.
I was bodysnatching chickens out of the coop under cover of moonlight to rub vaseline on their feet. Yes, you read that correctly. This is half of the anti-scaly leg mite procedure, which my Silkies seem to always have, and a few of the layers have mildly. Since their feet look remarkably better after a night of vaseline so I thought I’d experiment with the moisturizing treatment before the exfoliating scrub, what the hell.
I did the layers first and they were not into it. Easy to catch, but the coop was a writhing mass of complaining murmurs in the background. They were squawking and squirming around fighting for the corner. It was like Playing Koi (Lumosity)- what birds have I done?
The Silkies are a different breed. They all stay in place and I pick them up one at a time, spa their feet, and replace them. Just a little bit of peeping protest (including the rooster-he emits the most unmasculine squeaks when he’s handled) and then they stretch out for the foot rubs. They are so small and delicate and soft and fluffy like you think a dandelion should feel.
It must be very confusing, but they seem to sort of enjoy the massage part.
We got two hot days, finally, but could I open the hive? No! We had rip-your-hat-off wind that would not take a break. Too windy. Someday I’ll get to see in the hive.
HW is in a 600km randoneuring event this weekend. He is almost finished the two day (!) ride, but the heat and wind must have been horrible. He is having difficulty in the last hours.
I am pleased with my sweet potatoes. i planted the “slips” that came, although they looked like ragged little stems (accompanying literature said ‘this is normal’)
But then, overnight, stems standing up and new leaves a purply brown colour. They live!
Whoa! This new build is on a low swinging branch of the apple tree. Only a few feet off the ground. But these wasps know what they’re doing. There will be no commute at all to the windfall apple feasting that will come soon.
And this is a chicken path. I’ve started to notice chicken ley lines where they move through the veg in single file. Often they use our paths, but they also make their own trails.
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.
And they put themselves to bed perfectly too.
The naked chicken is healing.
We built a fence, so the chickens’ days of lounging in the garden are over.
The fence won’t keep much more than the chickens out at this point, but we haven’t had any deer around yet, and the chickens are threat number 1.
When we had three sides done, hens were finding their way around to the unfinished side to get in, so there was more hat-throwing.
H.W. also helpfully provided proof that the chickens can fly over the fence, when they are sufficiently motivated.
They are ranging further, nearer to camp Silkie every day. I hope I’m there to see first contact. What will the Silkie rooster make of the big hens when they sail out of the grass at him? Gorgeous Amazon hens! or Mutant monsters!
The hens are all well-attached to the rooster now. Occasionally there’s an independent or a pair palling around at a distance, but usually all the hens are in the same vicinity.
They are endlessly entertaining, popping out of the grass, sneaking, running, exploring. They love it under our box truck and hang out under there every day, whether rainy or sunny. I keep expecting to have to get eggs from under there, but they lay in the coop now without variance.
All 10 stowed themselves at night again. Ahhh, the time of adjustment is over, and there’s no need to worry about them any more.
H.W. has a swarm of chickens near him most of the time when he’s working. Chainsaw, splitting firewood, dragging things around – they drift along behind him as he works. I don’t know if they’re hoping for something more than the company. The chickens all pal around together most of the day, now. It’s a lot harder to count 9 hens at a glance.
Almost always, there’s seven around the rooster, and then two just a little behind, or off to the side a bit. It’s lovely to see them all drifting around together, squabbling or worm-running or digging. Hens look like sailboats cruising around, especially when they’re eating. They’re rarely not funny, whatever they’re doing.
I can recognize the low bird now. She’s missing a lot of feathers on her head behind her comb from being pecked. I saw another hen pluck a short feather out of her head at feeding time, and then she ran under the truck. I see this hen sometimes drifting off on her own. I’m surprised at the pecking; there is no shortage of space or entertainment out here. It’s not realistic at all to quarantine one bird, but I want to help her out.
H.W. cut down the remaining snag created by the hurricane. It was a tough fall and I was working the come-along trying to pull it over where we wanted it to go. Lots of yelling, roaring chainsaw; this doesn’t bother the birds. Naturally, all the chickens wanted to be in the fall zone and I had to push them off into the woods for their protection. The tree came down where we wanted, ahhhh. Success; relief. H.W. shuts the saw off and we’re quiet – there’s nothing more to say, it’s all done. But the rooster freaks out when the tree falls, going off like a siren, shouting, shrieking blue murder. BABWOCKBABWOCKBABWOCK! The end is nigh! Doom and destruction! The sky is falling! He doesn’t stop for a long time.
Uhoh. H.W. put the birds away in the night, a little bit earlier than full dark. I asked if he counted beaks in the coop and he scoffed, “No, but they’re fine”. Three nights straight they’d all gone to bed perfectly, so I figured yes, probably they are just fine, no need to worry. In the morning on my way to let them out of the coop I opened the truck for feed. A lone hen popped out from somewhere! She’d spent the night out, I don’t know where. She started telling me all about it! BuhBUHbaBAbabuh!BUHbuhBAbaBAbaBUH!!buhbaba!BUHba….on and on, very funny with all the variety of pitch in her voice. She was all worked up. When I released the others she ran back to the embrace of the flock and the rooster did a little dance at her. The rooster dance seems to be a kind of chastisement or herding behaviour, as unfortunately, this rooster doesn’t dance before mating.
The chickens have learned that I bring food. They see me and all run towards me down the path. It makes me feel quite popular. If I don’t give them anything, they mill around, some poking their heads up high and tilting them to look sharply at me. If I walk away slowly, they lurk and then follow me furtively a few feet off. If they’re positive I have food, like if I rattle it, they will all jog along behind me as I walk. How do they know, even from a distance, that it’s me, even with a complete wardrobe change? H.W. does not get this treatment; they know us apart.
What good good chickens. They look after themselves all day, lay 7 eggs every day in the coop, and all go to bed at night. Perfect chickens.
A hen made it all the way along the path to our camper! She went strolling by the front of the camper and walked into the woods. That’s far past where all the other chickens have made it to, and ever so close to the Silkies. I thought we’d have contact for sure, but not quite. The Silkie roosters were on high alert, hearing her in the woods, but she didn’t quite make it over to them. It was the low hen! I gave her a pile of seeds and scraps, and she could enjoy without competition. I expect to see more of her over here by herself.