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.
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.
The chickens have done their anthill number on a new anthill, this time right by our main path; practically on it.
Whenever we walk by, they eyeball us Am I really gonna have to get up? Soooo comfortable…, and then at the last minute scoot away into the brush trailing a puff of dust, like Pigpen.
It’s especially funny catching the rooster thrashing around in the dust bowl, all unkempt. It’s usually a conjugal event, if the rooster’s involved, and then both birds look up at you like they were busted in the bathtub together – which in fact, they are.
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.
It was time to move the dog house from its temporary location over to by our house.
Since the dog house, large, for a large dog, weighed about 300lbs, this meant taking it all apart, carrying the frame through the woods, and putting it back together.
First thing, the steel roof came off.
This made the dog very nervous. He settled into the house like an Occupy protester and started dealing out morose looks.
Next, the sides started coming off, until we were down to the stick frame.
Perhaps I should explain that the dog is very attached to his house. He loves it. I’m not sure why he’s so attached, but it’s his happy sanctuary. He visibly relaxes when he retreats to his house. He keeps a select few favorite bones in there with him, and he gets a little worked up when I get in there to fold his blankets.
But it needs to move with us, so a little renovation is in order.
We took his blankets out and made a spot for him aside from the dog house. He elected to stay in the house.
Finally, we had to make him get out of the house, and sit on his blankets. He did that with all the joy of a hunger strike.
We moved the house frame to its new spot, every step anxiously supervised, and the moment we dropped it in place, guess what?
Then we brought over all the pieces, reassembled, and insulated his house.
He’s still not sure about us. Now he knows what we’re capable of.
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).