The first ray of sun through the chicken door intrigues the chickens. Do we want to go out? Is it cold? Is it muddy? Is it windy? Well, it’s sunny.
In New Silkie land, there are telltale signs of the dirt bath seeing use – dirt sprayed around. This is promising. They are becoming real chickens. A few hens use the space beneath the coop (as I knew they would), for sanctuary, and are reprogramming in peace. Chicken meditation.
Sitting chicken is still with us and coming out of the coop at least part of the day.
These guys know what to do with a dirt bath:Look how clean they are.
At night now (it’s so cute), I take their fence down, and all the “old” Silkies trot out in a line and file up the coop ramp. Even the covered wagon empties out. While I go close the other three coops, all of them make their way to bed by themselves. The Colonel has them all trained. It’s adorable.
I’ve never thought about chickens smelling before (I don’t think they have a strong smell if there’s lots of carbon to neutralize the nitrogen of their shit), but the new chickens brought this sick, tangy smell here with them. I don’t understand it.
Hopefully, a bath will clear up the problem.This should be good: chickens’ first bath.
Except, they didn’t use it all afternoon . It looks like no one even walked through it. I’m hoping that they’ll figure it out themselves, because bathing lessons could get awkward.
Maybe they have to see another chicken bathing to understand. That can be arranged. Puffcheeks spends all day in the tub.
The roosters have been amusing themselves with fighting through the fence. There are no winners. Only the fence loses.
It poured cats and dogs last night with a thunderstorm, and I happened to be outside with a light just in time to see a little frog climb up on the rim of a rain bucket and get comfortable. Cute.
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 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.
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’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.
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.
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).