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.
Then the coop gets a thorough raking out and a new starter blanket of straw. I used to sprinkle some diatomaceous earth around at this point too, but am desisting in this season because DE is deadly toxic to all bees. The birds are at their healthiest now, anyways- unconfined, with lots of bathing options, so the DE stays stowed during the summer.
With my dozen chickens, I clean the coop every 3-4 weeks.
Then the wheelbarrow goes a-mulching trees and the garden, completing the cycle. I think of it as a slow release nitrogen dose.
She gets a big roomy box, too, for all that family. They will stay in here together for a few days, and then the In’s and Out’s will begin again with her. Now the white hen’s chicks have it all figured out- I can count on them to get in and out of the coop without assistance- I get a short reprieve before it begins again, this time with SIX chicks.
It’s nice they are all the same age, too, since she did it right. I can barely tell the youngest chick, the late hatcher, but there is one a tiny bit smaller.
I’ve given them a lovely first meal – quinoa with ground sun and flax seeds, finely grated (zested?) carrot and cucumber. It was a big hit with the white hen’s chicks, also with chopped apple. I couldn’t believe how much of it the four of them would consume in a day. They are only tiny, but they’d polish off a cupful twice a day. Quinoa is fast becoming the number one choice of bird food around here.
It seems to me that once hatched, the chicks spend at least 24 hours under mom, adjusting or something, before they come out and begin to eat or drink. It’s not like they just can survive 72 hours on the energy supply from the egg, but that it’s natural for them to have a long transition from egg to outer world. Even once they were all hatched, it seemed with both hens that it was two days before the chicks started to come spilling out and express interest in what’s beyond mom’s feathers.
Just when I was starting to worry- she’s been sitting on those eggs forever- HW comes in in the morning and says Have you looked under the brown hen lately? Oh, you’re gonna be excited!
FIVE chicks! Five healthy, brown and mixed (spider markings) chicks. OMG, so, so SO cute. And an egg with a tiny hole in it. I didn’t even know she had six eggs under her.
I peeked at that egg later in the morning and it had a slightly larger hole in it. A whole day behind the others, though. Will it hatch?
At coop-closing time, I wiggled my fingers under her to see if there was still an egg, or a shell to pull out. The hen firmly pushes her wings against the floor, making a barrier (while growling, a most amusing sound). You can only nudge in under her chest or butt. All underneath her was tiny legs and little squirming bird bits. She contains multitudes. The egg was there, intact. I pulled it out.
It’s not every day that an egg, in your hand, shouts at you. It’s disconcerting. CHEEP! The bird inside was very much alive. Although still all crammed in its box without hinges, key or lid, it let me know- it’s alive, and busy. Put me back! I swiftly tucked it back in to the mom furnace to finish hatching.
Wow. A 100% turnout from the brown hen. She’s smaller, but smarter.
Sure enough, the first night out, they did not go back into the coop. Dusk fell, and the rooster finally retired, leaving the hen downstairs, under the coop, settled into her chick-warming shape. She’d been doing this most of the day, as the chicks could only handle a few minutes scurrying around before running under mom for a warming.
Ok, I thought, when I realized she was committed for the night, I’m gonna have to crawl in there. Since the Silkie fortress is much more robust, it’s also a lot harder for me to access. I have to climb over at the end by the pine tree, and crabwalk under the bird netting.
I take the hen and put her up on the ramp. She comes flying back down, wings out, on the attack, mad! I scoop up chicks and pass them into the coop as quickly as I can, getting pecked and pinched. The cheeping is desperate from over my head, and the the rooster is making his excited sounds. Then I have to grab mom and toss her up on the ramp, and her squawking instantly changes to clucking when she sees her young (How’d they get up here?) and she strolls up into the coop and settles down. I crabwalk out of the chicken run, hoping this doesn’t go on for weeks like last year.
Almost an exact repeat. This time I go for the chicks first and deposit them at the top of the ramp. Then the hen hops up on the ramp and goes up herself.
Yep, same. Hen settled in under the henhouse, most responsibly keeping her chicks warm. The chicks are getting faster, but the process of putting them upstairs is smooth now.
That’s what I was afraid of! The hen’s in the coop, tucked in most comfortably, and all the chicks are huddled under the henhouse, crouching pathetically against the food dish. I guess three days grace was all they get before…what? They get left to their own devices? I crawl in and start grabbing the chicks. Uhoh! At the sounds of distress, mom comes rocketing down the ramp, on a rampage! Flying attack beak! She’s battling me so fiercely, I have to protect the chicks I’m trying to grab with one hand from stabbing beak with the other hand. I should mention that being attacked by a two-pound hen, even giving all she’s got, is not all that threatening, even while crouched awkwardly in the small space under the coop. I got, like, one little scratch.
However, when I put the chicks up at the top of the ramp tonight, because they are cold, and mom is at the bottom of the ramp waging war, they come skittering back down, to her, crying. I may as well be putting marbles on top of the ramp. Mayhem.
Now here comes the rooster, roused from bed. Finally I toss the chicks into the straw in the coop behind him and their way is mostly blocked by the rooster, and as soon as I get them all up there at once, the hen runs right back up, purring. Sigh.
Evening five: Exact repeat of evening four.
Evening six: What’s this? They are all, magically, in the coop together! They figured it out!
So much for the In’s.
But can they get out in the morning?
Morning one: No, they can’t. I see the hen patiently going up and down on the ramp, talking to them (she’s such a good mom), but they don’t all figure it out. Surprisingly, the diminutive white chick makes it down and the brown chicks are left upstairs, confused. I nudge them down on the ramp and they run down, relieved.
Morning two: This time one brown chick is left behind.
Morning three: Interesting. The white chick is upstairs. Didn’t she already pass this test?
Morning four: Yay! They’re all out!
Morning five: Not so fast. Two brown chicks left behind again, confused. Weird. They’ve all managed it at least once.
There’s no physical challenge negotiating the ramp. They seem to have a problem with the visual barrier. Once the hen goes down the ramp, they can’t see her, and so she must have disappeared. They can hear her, because she’s right underneath them, but since they can’t see her, they don’t move. If I put them onto the top of the ramp, they don’t drift down the ramp, they just hop back into the straw, unless they catch a glimpse of her. Then they scamper down like lightning for a warming. You’re alive! Maybe their little chicken brains just need to develop past the peekaboo stage, where one understands that just because you cannot see it, it does not cease to exist.
Now the brown hen has been placed in her broody box. The brown hen is a little duchess compared to a cranky fishwife. The white hen is fierce- irritable, feisty and spitting. The brown hen is prim and quiet, hunching firmly over her eggs and protesting, but politely, when you touch her.