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).
Now they are hopping around outside and lounging in the sun, or the shade. The red hen loves the little pine tree. I saw the first time she got into it: lots of dipping and hopping while she was looking up into the branches. I was like, what is she doing?
Then she leapt up, and maybe she surprised herself, because she squawked and hollered about it even as she looked quite comfortable settling on a branch next to the trunk.
Then I forgot to check the coop for complete contents when I closed them at night. I woke later with a start, remembering, went out, and sure enough, she was still in the tree. Nearly invisible but for her bright black eye when I parted the branches with my flashlight.
I’ve gone out a couple times since and the other Silkies are in evidence, but no red hen. Where the heck is she? Sprinkle some food, and boop, she hops out of the tree and comes running.
Yes, I have taken to washing the feet of my chickens. Not because I have too little to occupy my time, nor because I’m one of those clean freaks.
My Silkie flock has come down with a case of scaly leg mites this winter. Scaly leg mites are pretty super gross. Silkies are especially prone to them. My old rooster has it the worst, the young rooster the least, and the hens just bad enough for me to feel bad for them.
And so, the Rx is washing the feet. In tick and mite shampoo for dogs. Soften the skin adhesions on their legs in warm water and scrub them with a toothbrush, and then, cover their feet and legs with Vaseline, which asphyxiates the mites. Also, clean the coop and dust everything with a little diatomaceous earth.
In the winter, we were waiting for nighttime, then going out together, putting a toque over their heads and quickly washing their feet while they were hooded, then returning them to the coop to grumble about the alien abduction they just experienced while snagging and bagging the next bird.
In the summer, this is not practical. My birds routinely stay up longer than I want to, so if I was going to wash chicken feet at all, it had to be in the daytime.
Turns out it’s not so hard.
The capturing of the birds is the hardest part. They hate being captured, but once they are, they perch quite nicely in my hand.
The actual washing of the feet is pretty hilarious. Holding the bird in one hand with their legs between two fingers, I dip the feet in the warm water. If the water is too hot, they make a fist and retract it, but usually they obviously relax, standing in the water but sitting in my hand, and looking interestedly around.
What ladies don’t love having a nice foot bath?
The rooster gets a little too relaxed and tips forward like a narcoleptic, so I just tip him off my hand onto his chest with his legs hanging in the water.
A little less convenient for scrubbing his feet, but it more than makes up for inconvenience with hilarity.
I usually soak and scrub, wait, soak, rub their legs with my thumbs, scrub some more. Soaking is more important. Scrub too hard and it can hurt them, and they can bleed. They will let you know when it gets to be too much, making a little fist. I’ve had it!
Next comes the vaselining. It gets all over their foot feathers and seems like it would pick up all kinds of crap, literally, but it doesn’t really, and the next day there’s a big difference. The crusties are softened and wash off more easily.
Several days in a row is a good program, and then do it again after a week, and then again.
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…
Since the tragic loss of the exceptional and beloved pet chicken Friendly last fall (I’m still sad), all the other chickens, indistinguishable in looks and behavior, have been just Chicken. Even Naked, once her proud new plumage got a bit dingy, disappeared into the flock.
Now that the hens have been released, there’s one chicken distinguishing herself.
Typically there are three hens that stick very close to the rooster. His girlfriends. They cuddle with him at night while the other four perch over the nest boxes. When he food clucks, the girlfriends dash up to him (as HW says, “Whatcha got, big Daddy?”), and the other hens barely glance up, rolling their eyes, “It’s probably just a stick again”.
Me: walking with some tools in a bucket. I happen to be passing near the greenhouse.
Rooster: tall neck, warning clucks.
Hens: freeze mid-step like it’s Simon Says. Outliers start to creep back towards the rooster and the group.
Me: nonchalantly stroll past the hens, feeling examined.
Hens and rooster: excited murmurs- Was that a bucket? Psst, bucket! She was definitely carrying a bucket!Bucket! Whisk, whisk, whisk (the sound of chicken thighs rubbing together)- pursuit of the bucket ensues.
Me: sharp turn to see if I’m being followed.
Hens: Freeze! What? We were just, uh, hanging out. Right.
Me: Wave clipboard at them in lieu of hat. Hens pretend to retreat, none of us are fooled.