I got six “new” hand-me-down layer hens last night. They traveled quietly and stowed easily into the coop.
This morning, they came down the ramp looking around with their necks at maximum extension. What? Is this where we live? Where are we? They walk around slowly, lifting their feet high and setting them down cautiously.
And the home girls are long necking at them. Who are THEY? Where’d they come from? Harumph.
Everyone is very suspicious, and the roosters are very busy taking charge.
There´s been a full scale cooporate takeover. The Colonel has moved in, and brought his ladies with him.
There´s been a couple Silkie hens that decisively moved in with the big girls weeks ago, but HW noticed the Colonel exiting the layer coop in the morning, and told me he suspected a relocation.
I think, because of the rain the last few days, that the Silkies couldn´t be bothered to walk the 40 feet back to their own coop, and just went up the proximate ramp.
The flocks hang out surprisingly intimately all day, piled up in the same dirt bowls, eating together, laying eggs in each other´s coops, and when it rains, huddled shoulder to shoulder under the nearest coop with their shoulders hunched up (the guineas too). I LOVE this! I´m so happy they get along.
I´m over the moon that since the integration of the flocks this winter and their coexistence in the greenhouse, that I can retire the tiresome, rickety Silkie un-“tractor”, and all the birds are fully free again. What they do with their freedom is sometimes unexpected, and usually entertaining.
Sometimes a name alights on a being like a hawk landing on a fencepost. Here to stay. The rooster formerly known as Snowball (we do our best, until their real name arrives), is now irrevocably, unquestionably, the Colonel.
The Colonel is the Big Boss of All the Chickens around here, ruthlessly laying down the law and keeping Jacques in line (that´s the big Copper Maran rooster at the back of the coop), despite Jacques being about 5 times his size. This was very unexpected.
Any human visitors think it´s absolutely hilarious when I point out the big boss. They point; that guy? The pint sized pompom? That big rooster is scared of HIM? No way! Then they are usually treated to an exhibition – the Colonel marching authoritatively towards the giant, showy rooster who dared to come too close, and Jacques the Giant hastily looking for somewhere else to be.
Jacques gets no respect. The Colonel keeps him looking over his shoulder. HW calls him a punk. He´s still growing into his leadership role, I think. He´s pretty good with his hens, unselfish and a food announcer; they like him, but he can´t count, and doesn´t organize them very well; they scatter, and scattering is not good for chicken longevity. Also, he attacks me daily. I whack him with sticks and throw water on him; he has a short memory. The Colonel doesn´t hesitate to rescue me, which is nice, but feels like the wrong order of things.
The Colonel keeps track of eleven Silkie hens, and they typically flow in a big group without stragglers (It´s awesome to observe chickens in as free a state as possible- they have a culture, and it evolves; they are in charge, and I serve them, with shelter, food, and evening security lockup). The Colonel has one young protege, a blond rooster that rolls with the big flock, but there are four more roosters that are exiles and just huddle at a distance. These poor roosters are due for rehoming – they´re on Kijiji. They´re quite gorgeous, and they´ll make great rooster-leaders if they get a chance.
The mud season might be very short here in Nova Scotia this year. Or else we´re just being served an appetizer of summer in mid April. 20° C and sun sun sun. I got a mild sunburn on my second garden day. The ozone layer ain´t what it used to be.
The chipmunks are back! Where DO chipmunks spend the winter? The birdsong has changed. Sparrows are here rummaging under the feeder, and the birds that wintered over have moved on to the good wild food. Swallows have been seen – the rumours are flying, the first tick bite reports are coming in, and the peepers started up yesterday morning. That means bugs and buds are right behind.
The chickens are all being encouraged out of the greenhouse, although we haven´t lifted their coops out yet, and they are reveling. Making fools of themselves in a group bath.
Unexpectedly, the Silkies are still hanging out with the layers.
Or at least, hanging around nearby, like wannabes watching the cool kids.
As usual, the guineas are furtively skulking around in the bushes. They march around systematically cleaning up (hopefully, vacuuming up ticks). They look like rocks, with their heads down all the time.
The pigs are reveling too. They have dug themselves a nice hole and stretch out with extended hooves, basking in the sun and pig-snoring, but I haven´t been able to catch them at it on camera, they leap up as soon as they hear me, and they have good ears.
ONLY move the chicken coop when the birds are in it. If they don’t wake up in it, then they don’t know where it is. Is magic! No coop!
I went out to close the coop last night. We moved it midday and the birds were happily milling around and under it all afternoon.
But in the evening, I went out to close them in, and what do I find?
Every single bird standing around in a confused cluster where the coop HAD BEEN. When I arrived, they were quick to tell me all about it, too.
You’ll never believe it! Our house is gone! Is mystery! Just gone! We found our way back here, like good chickens, even though there was this fence in the way, but there’s no house anymore! Is disappeared! We are very confused.
First of all, they had to make an effort to escape to the former location of the coop. It probably involved climbing up on the coop in order to fly over the fence. I was kind of impressed that every single bird was out.
Second, the coop is in plain sight, no obstructions (except the fence they crossed on the way out), about fifteen feet away.
I knocked down the fence, crouched down, and tried to slowly herd them towards the coop. Surely they would go Oh, there it is, and go in.
They ran around me and returned to the vacant spot. They were starting to slump down into chicken rest, too, getting dopey.
I opened the feed bucket by the coop. They came running to the sound, but then seemed to forget why they were there and drifted back to the missing coop. Sleeeepyyyy. No coop. Doesn’t matter….
I started scooping up chickens and stuffing them onto the top of their ramp. Now the chickens got agitated and started scattering and hiding in the brush. One of the chickens ran back out of the coop to rejoin the flock. The rooster attacked me for the first time ever; I must have grabbed one of his favorites. I’m glad he has it in him, but it was a shock (just scratches).
H.W. is all business about chicken snatching and rapidly got the remaining birds stuffed into the coop. Oh, here it is!! Even the rooster; not so tough once you grab him.
Beak count, and…one missing. Of course. Now it’s totally dark. I kept hunting, getting chowed on by mosquitoes. Eventually I found her, and the chicken catastrophe came to a close.
The new hens have integrated pretty thoroughly now. They don’t completely mingle with the old hens, but some spend their days with the big sisters, and they go in the woods, and all forage outside like they were meant to. They love being invisible in the shrubs during the day.
Their combs are growing, and they are filling out, and the dark brown that they all used to be is lightening a little. Aw, they’re growing up.
They are laying like nobody’s business, perfect, small brown eggs.
And they are developing their own quirky chicken habits.
MJ has taken to hopping over the fence and hanging out with the Silkies.
She’s like, I’m white, too, this is obviously where I belong.
It started with her being an enterprising food thief and a good flyer, while the flocks were still in the greenhouse. She would cross the divide to steal food, because the Silkies eat like, well, birds, and never finish their ration.
But she seems to prefer the company of the Silkies, and is often to be found of an afternoon lounging with them under the pine tree.
We filled the greenhouse with wood chips to cover the bare and compacted “soil” in there, until we can get to it, so it smells like a sawmill in there now.
For now the birds are allowed in there still, and they shelter there when it rains.
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).
We collected our pre-ordered 18-week old layers from the co-op today. A half dozen of them, to refill our stock. Three birds were lost last year to various predators, because I couldn’t get them in the greenhouse fast enough.
They’re cute. Really not much more than teenagers. Very slim, with tiny pink combs. We brought them home in two tupperwares, and fenced off a corner of the GH for them.
HW was all for dumping them out of the bins, but I insisted they be allowed to relax and come out when they were ready. They took their sweet time coming out on their own.
The first one, briefly called “Boldy”, peeking out.
When the chicken man was shoving chickens into the boxes of all the people arriving for their layers, he paused with us and said “There’s a weird chicken here. It’s all white. Otherwise normal. Do you want the weird chicken?”
Of course, I said. I’ll take the weird chicken. So we have one reverse chicken, white, with flecks of brown.
HW instantly dubbed her M.J. (It don’t matter if you’re black or white!) Oh, there’s another one peeking out.
At about this point the old hens, on the other side of the fence, began to take an interest, and the rooster started putting on a big show, strutting and prancing…