It’s been a long time since I blogged. I gave it up because when the dog killed my sweet chickens I lost my muses, I kept away from it because I was enjoying life on the farm without thinking about how I’d word what I was seeing, doing and experiencing. Now I think it’s time to get back into it, probably in a less intensive way. The lovely feedback I’ve received here, in email and on other people’s blogs asking when I was going to be back has helped encourage me to sit down and post. So, for now anyway, here I am.
I’ll be updating the tabs across the top of the blog and posting a few catch-up posts over the coming days (I apologise in advance for the length of the posts, there’s a lot to catch-up on). And without further ado, I’m starting with my worrisome chickens…
We adopted 3 perfectly nice chickens back in November. Lenny is a lovely rooster and he has always taken such good care of his flock that it’s hard not to like him. He calls them over and gives them the best grubs when he digs one up, he screams like a banshee when a hawk lands in the tree above the coop – making sure the girls are safe in the coop – and he generally hangs around making the flock a family.
Penny likes Lenny a lot, Henny adores him and he loves her passionately. Boy does he love her. So much so that her back and shoulders are totally denuded of feathers. That’s a problem. She gets sun burnt in summer and will freeze in winter. In autumn she gets burnt and freezes. It’s autumn now and any new feathers she gets vanish within a couple days even if Lenny isn’t around (is she pulling them out, is Penny, is her back so damaged they fall out?).
Something had to be done. We didn’t want to kill Lenny (he’s just being a good rooster, after all) but we wanted to give Henny a chance to regrow feathers. We tried separating Lenny for a while but that was unsatisfactory for several reasons. In the end we decided to adopt 3 more hens and wanted to get some that were past their prime, who needed a home, who might give us a few more eggs a week but mainly would share Lenny’s love and take the pressure off Henny. We thought of Ian at Clarendon Farms. We know he keeps lots of free range organic hens, we’ve met him a couple times and know he can’t keep the girls forever and so we thought he might sell us some of his older chooks. Turns out he was happy to give them to us. They’re 3 years old, not laying much but should be happy here on our farm for the rest of their days (2-4 years I guess).
Enter Holly, Molly & Polly. 3 Isa Browns that are used to free ranging with a LARGE flock and protector dogs. They now have a good-sized run with a dog who is a bit too keenly interested and a neighbouring flock who are kind of scary. Here’s how we’re integrating them…
- Frank built them a temporary mini-coop out of an old table.
- We put a fence down the middle of the run so the 2 flocks could see and smell each other.
- It took a couple days for the new girls to get used to their new environment (those first 3 nights, dusk was a stressful time for them as they tried to figure out where to roost).
- We opened the fence between the run, rake in hand to separate any bad fights, and watched for 30 minutes or so a few times over a few days.
- Everything was going pretty well. Henny & Penny were being mean to the new girls but Lenny seemed keen on them. So we put Lenny in with Holly, Molly & Polly and forced him to roost with them at night and thought getting him to adopt them would be 80% of the battle. That went better than we hoped. Maybe too well.
- Back to opening the fence while we stood guard. The girls have established a pretty clear pecking order (in order: Penny, Henny, Holly, Molly, Polly) with Lenny at the top. Lenny will come to the aid of his new harem if things get too aggressive.
- But… (why is there always a but?) Lenny now hates Henny. Why? Is it because she was wearing a cape (to protect her back which she took off AGAIN so now isn’t wearing), because she’s bald and ugly, because she is sick (maybe she caught a cold being naked when it’s 3 C/38 F overnight), because he saw her beat up his new girl friends, because she’s his sister and he suddenly has gone off incest? Whatever it is, he’s not nice at all. He chases her, grabs her wing and really pulls/shakes it. She doesn’t flex her left wing to its full length any more. And she runs screaming if he so much as looks at her. She cowers in her nest box (which is where she roosts at night). It’s so sad. She used to follow him everywhere, she simply adored him.
- The current plan is to spend part of each day with the run open and part with it closed. When it’s closed, Lenny is on 1/2 and Henny on the other. The other hens might be on one side or the other – that’s random. It’s hard on the hens who want to lay and don’t have access to their favourite nest box but that’s the least of my worries right now. (And the least of theirs, if Penny sees a hen in a nest box, she chases the poor little things out.) I open the run up and let them mingle which works for a random amount of time (is it getting longer?) then Henny flees to her box. After a while of her self-imposed imprisoning, I close the fence in the middle of the run again, coax her out and give her time scratching before opening the fence again. It’s exhausting for all of us.
- At night we leave the separating fence open and Lenny goes back to his old roost with his old girls and sleeps right next to Henny. Funny he doesn’t peck her at night. Surely this will get them used to each other soon.
This, of course, isn’t an exhaustive list of my worries. There’s the moulting (including associated lack of feather regrowth for Henny – oh dear), the possible return of the leg mites, the various palates requiring multiple food types, uncomfortably high numbers of soft-shelled eggs from the Isa Browns, random laying in the middle of the run, the list goes on. But I’m confident we’ll get there, it’s just going to take a bit more time.