It's been the week of chickens for us but now at the end of it we have a happy and healthy flock. We went from three down to two then up to four and now we have six. Of the six, five are hens and one is a small and shy cockerel. You might think we're crazy but we decided to bring in a boy to see if he could bring a bit of sparkle and life back to the hens.
As you might have read in my last post, our little red hen Geraldine passed away leaving Carmen and Miracel all alone in their big coop. After a day or so we decided that it would be best all around if we brought in a couple more hens. We were worried about their mental state since you need at least a mini-flock of three hens for them to be happy. We were also concerned that the coop would be too cold with just two small hens sleeping in it.
Luckily Brian, our hens' breeder, had loads of hens and agreed to give us two more. A day later we went out to his farm to have a look at what he had and to discuss logistics. His chickens are semi-wild so we weren't really looking to choose which ones we'd like at that stage. We asked Brian to just catch us two young hens when it was most convenient for him and we'd pick them up the next morning. I don't know how he catches them since it seems that most of his hens fly some twenty or thirty feet up into trees to roost. But catch them he did and at 6.30 last Wednesday we drove up to find two hens waiting for us in the front porch.
Getting them home was easy and we put them in the run before we let the other hens out for the day. We sectioned off part of our existing run with a fence and the Hubster built a little hen house for the new arrivals to roost in. The plan was to release them into the pen and gradually let Miracel and Carmen get to know them through a barrier. It did work out that way for a bit but by noon both 'Skinny Minnie' and 'Alice' had managed to fly over the fence! We should have heeded Brian when he said they were good flyers. In fact 'Skinny', the little six month old pullet can practically fly like a pigeon. I wonder if Old English Game chickens are related to grouse?
Fortunately most of the initial pecking and fighting was done through the fence, so by the time that the new girls started mingling with Miracel and Carmen they'd already taken a lower status. There were still occasional pecks but we were both surprised and relieved that it wasn't much worse. The new girls did have trouble finding their way into the coop at night though so I had to catch them and pop them through the coop door. We checked them a bit later to make sure no mischief was taking place but all seemed fine. I woke up early again the next morning to open the coop door before the hens woke up. It would have been terrible if there were a scuffle inside the enclosed space. The good news is that by day two they were all acting civilised and the two new hens figured out that coop = bed.
Even after two days we realised just how much the hens had livened up by being a four opposed to just three. They weren't the best of friends just yet but got along just fine. We imagine that it was easier to integrate new birds since the existing flock was so small and that food was in abundance.
It was then that we decided to bring in a couple more birds, including a cockerel. We've been hesitant to add one to our flock due to potential issues with the neighbours but were won over by the idea of a quiet rooster. While Brian was showing us around his farm we noticed a lovely little chap out with the sheep who apparently didn't make much noise. Having a boy chicken around can make hens happier so we thought to give it a try. If Randy the rooster turns out to be more vocal than he's advertised we'll sadly have to take him back to the farm.
We've only had Randy and the new black hen 'Willow' since Saturday morning but their introduction was fairly similar to the experience with the other two. The one difference was that both the two newbies knew 'Skinny' and 'Alice' so they formed their own little posse. Though Miracel and Carmen wanted to fight them on the first day both Randy and Willow ignored them through the fence. By the end of the day all the hens had a chance to get to know Randy a bit better and all I can say is that they certainly approved! The little guy didn't get one peck and Miracel has become disciple number one. By Saturday night the whole flock went into the coop together and they've been doing fine ever since.
After reading about all the issues of introducing chickens on the internet we were extremely relieved that the process was so painless for us. We can only think that it was a combination of some of the chickens knowing each other and the fact that the existing "flock" was so small. They're all doing great though and we're so happy to see Miracel and Carmen so lively. We're also pleased that Randy hasn't uttered so much as a peep, let alone a crow. Let's hope it stays that way!