There’s little I enjoy more than driving home new hens. Usually in some ersatz container – sheet over stock tank, random boxes. Today my coat over a box with no bottom.
I like carrying them hugged in my arm for the first time, telling them they’re going to a new home now, their heads bobbing around looking at everything from 4´ higher up than usual. Sliding them into the carrying container du jour. The quiet that falls once we get on the road, broken by a few questioning little chirps from the backseat, some shuffling on tight corners. I sing to them, or play the radio
Today I picked up three hens I hadn’t known I would be, leftovers from the year’s laying flock that were hanging around as outlaws in the barn. I can’t resist a good hen, especially when it’s otherwise doomed.
They’re nice. Low hens, tame and easy to catch. Curious, as they always are, but laid back. In the dark I carried the broken-bottomed box of birds on my forearms, with their feet sticking through and grabbing onto me, from my truck to the greenhouse to tuck them into the coop, their new home.
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.
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).