Six Things to Do When Introducing New Chickens to Your Flock

Remember your first day at your new job?  You walked in carrying your little file box containing not much more than your coffee cup and your potted plant and found your way to your new office.  Everybody’s stared at you and you didn’t know any of them.  You didn’t know where the break room or the bathroom was—you didn’t know where anything was, and you weren’t sure what you were supposed to do next. 

Now, imagine that all your new co-workers had beaks and were crowding around to maliciously peck at you and you’ll be pretty close to what it must be like to be that new chicken you’re introducing to your flock.  Which is why you can’t just open the coop door, toss in a few new chickens and hope for the best.  It will be a stressful time for you and your flock, but with a little planning and strategy you can make it a little less stressful.  

The Life and Times of Betty the Transgender Chicken

It was a melancholy day in June when I went to the coop to commiserate with the flock.  I had just buried Arlene, my favorite Barred Rock hen and I was in need of some solace.  Instead of solace I found pandemonium.  A bunch of hens were after Betty the Easter Egger and it was not a simple situation of grouchy old hens visiting random pecks on a lower ranking hen that gets too close.  They had become a vigilante mob, and this was an all-out attack.  I had seen this kind of mob violence before – it seems to happen when a hen becomes sick or debilitated.  The hens of a nearly similar rank will often take advantage to eliminate her completely from the pecking order.  I’d been noticing that Betty had been experiencing some leg weakness – it was getting hard for her to jump onto the roost.  I was clueless as to what the cause was, but apparently the other hens decided that Betty’s time had come.  Betty ran around the coop trying to escape the pecks of the other hens to no avail – they chased after her aiming hard pecks at her head and comb.

Emile the rooster showed up on the scene, as he always does when there’s a kerfuffle.  He takes his job of maintaining peace and tranquility in his flock very seriously.  Betty actually tried to crawl underneath Emile to escape the pecks of the other hens, which would have been comical had it not been so pathetic.  Emile is a bantam roo, so there’s not a lot of space between Emile and the floor.  I sighed, entered the coop, snatched up Betty and looked her over.  She was bleeding in a couple of places on her comb from well-aimed pecks but otherwise she seemed to have escaped unscathed. 

A Chicken Feeder, A Waterer, and Other Odds and Ends

A Feeder

I've had a lot of problems with feed billing. I'm not talking about getting annoying notices in the mail from the feed store that my payment is overdue. "Billing" is a kind of confusing term poultry people have given to a behavior chickens engage in - they use their beaks to scoop a lot of chicken feed out of the feeder and onto the floor. I reached a point where I would have chicken feed an inch deep on the floor around the feeder whenever I would clean the coop. I kept telling the Hipster Hens that chicken feed is NOT chicken litter. It costs a lot more than pine shavings, and it's makes me really grouchy when I have to shovel all that feed mixed with litter and poop onto the compost pile. I turned to the internet for help and found lots of advice - some of it not so good. For instance, starving your hens to alter their behavior seems both cruel and sort of dumb. Chickens are chickens and will act like chickens. Scratching at and billing their food, is just what chickens do. I did find a number of recommendations for commercial and homemade feeders that would make billing food out of the feeder difficult - which seems like a good logical approach.

The one that made the most sense was a recommendation by Jason at "Locally Laid". He waxed ecstatic about a plastic gravity feeder made by Kuhl Corp and sold by Stromberg's Poultry Supply. (It's worth mentioning that neither Jason nor I have any sort of relationship with either company.) Without any further deliberation, I ordered one and installed it in my coop. It has been a miracle. The amount of feed the chickens manage to bill onto the floor is a fraction of what it used to be with my old feeder. The secret is the extra-deep feed pan and the inward curve at the edge of the pan. The chickens still noodle around in the feed with their beaks, but the feed stays in the feeder. I'm saving so much at the feed store that maybe I should go out and buy the large screen TV for the coop that all the Hipster Hens have been asking for!
Kuhl feeder.  Inset - feed pan with curved edge.

Meet the Flock Roundup – August 2017

Snowball the Silkie Rooster:  Feeling very modern and sophisticated in his fancy new hen pen.

Emile the Bantam Cochin Roo: "You conniving scoundrel! Here you are in my coop with that menacing camera contraption again! You've been warned! If you harm my hens in any way you will feel the wrath of my fierce spurs!"

When the Rooster Crows at the Break of Dawn - Why Roosters Crow

It is a warm and humid morning in mid-August and not yet light.  Wakefulness is coming to me this morning before the sun, and I open my eyes to look around the room, lit only by alarm clock glow.  A slight breeze blows through the open windows and all is quiet.  The nights sounds of owls and coyotes have ceased and the birds have not yet started their songs of daybreak.

Then I hear the first morning sound floating up the hill, “Err-err-eeeeeerrrrr!”  Emile is awake.  “Err-err-eeeerrrrr!”  In a bit Emile’s call is joined by another one, a bit flatter and raspier, “Err-err-Rup!  Err-err-Rup!”  Snowball has added his morning commentary. This duet continues for a while and then is joined by another voice, more shrill and abrupt, “Errrrr-errrrrr!”  Now Paul is chiming in.  I swing my legs over the side of the bed and start my day—the sun is just beginning to lighten the eastern horizon. 

Meet the Flock Roundup – July 2017

Suddenly, after celebrating her one-month birthday, Paula the Salmon Faverolles chick is starting to look like a teenage chicken. Look at the feathers sprouting all over her legs & her pretty salmon colored wing feathers!

Squawky the Speckled Sussex chick looks longingly out the window at the great wide world. A week after this shot, the chicks had their first opportunity to go outside!

Leaving Chickhood Behind – The Hipster Chicks Move Out of the Woodshed

On Saturday evening, I went into the woodshed with the bag of dried mealworms.  The chicks know this bag of deliciousness on sight and gathered around for a treat.  Valerie and Squawky, who are not shy, ate some delightful treats right out of my hand while the others blissfully pecked them off the floor.  Then Valerie, as she often does, hopped right into my hand.  That’s when I closed my hand around her and shoved her into the cat carrier that my wife, Kathy, was holding.  I also nabbed Squawky before she could run away and put her in the carrier with Valerie.  Both chicks cried out continuous shrill peeps of fear and alarm, and the others scattered for the corners of the woodshed.  We carried these two little girls down the hill to the pole barn and released them into the new coop that I’d prepared for them.  The time had come for these nine-weeks-old chicks to take the next step towards henhood. 
Life So Far for the HIpster Chicks:  They hatched on June 6 and were put in a transport box - I picked them up and drove them to their new home.  Their first week was in the big blue bin - mostly under the heater.  Then they moved to the plastic kiddie pool, where they started roosting on top of the heater.  Finally, at about three weeks old, the kiddie pool went away and they had full run of the woodshed - until last Saturday!