I’ve kept hens for about three years now. Until this week I still had three of my original four hybrid hens, but sadly on Monday Spot, my beautiful Rhode Rock (the black hen in this trio), passed away. This was sad in itself, but also left me with three hens, one of whom (Gertie) hasn’t laid for some time, and the other two (Mabel, and younger hen Flora who came into the flock as a pullet last year) are moulting and won’t lay me anything for a few weeks at best – at worst they won’t think about it again until the days start to lengthen again.
Since my first four pullets came into lay, I haven’t bought a single box of commercial eggs (admittedly hen-keeping neighbours and colleagues have provided the occasional half dozen when my needs have exceeded my supply!). So, I had an egg supply problem, and one that I didn’t want to solve by going back to retail eggs. We thought about this for a while, and decided it was time to bring in a few more hens.
This wasn’t a decision we made lightly – last year, after losing Hazel, the first of my four original girls, we introduced two new pullets to our flock. The process was hugely stressful – hens can be vicious creatures, and it’s when when they turn nasty that you really see them for the tiny little feathered dinosaurs they are! Flora and Daisy eventually settled well, but the introduction process was ghastly (and at times, brutal). Sadly, we then lost Daisy tragically young last Christmas.
On Thursday, I drove a 200 mile round trip to see a chicken supplier, Chris at Poultry Park in Newent, who I knew from our previous life in Gloucestershire. I came home with three traditional breed birds – two hens, a Cream Legbar (Legbars lay blue eggs) and a Welsummer, both a year old and ‘retired’ breeding birds, and an 18 week old New Hampshire Red pullet. Dave, our collie, was immediately intrigued by the new arrivals, and came very sweetly to say hello!
The new girls have moved into a run extension at the bottom of the old girls’ run. The idea is to allow them some time to get used to the sight, sound, and smell of each other before introducing them to the same living space. I tried the ‘short, sharp shock’ introduction approach last time, and wished I hadn’t, so it’s slowly-slowly this time.
The existing trio of hens were not impressed by the arrival of the new three girls, and Thursday afternoon was a chorus of sometimes angry chickeny-shouting in the garden.
Their first night, the new hens roosted in a ‘contraption’ of a henhouse we put together from an old cardboard box, a hedgerow stick, and a tarpaulin. Necessity is the mother of invention, or so they say! Anyway, the New Hampshire pullet (now called Midge) didn’t appreciate our efforts and decided to sleep out on the roof rather than inside the house with the other two!
If only it were all that simple, of course. There’s a lot to do, yet, before the new girls can be settled in nicely with the existing trio.
On Friday evening, I got home to find my lovely husband half-way through building a new contraption out of the remains of an old laminate-chipboard office desk. I would have taken photographs, but it was getting late and we had to get the job done! The new house is a huge improvement, much more robust and seems appreciated by all three girls, who are happily sleeping and (in the case of the adult hens) laying eggs inside it.
The three new girls are new to each other, too, of course – and with two of them being adult hens, there’s been some politics to work out. Agnes, the Welsummer, is the biggest of the batch, and has decided to assert her authority. This was all getting a bit nasty on Friday and by Saturday Dorris and Midge were looking a bit cowed, hiding away in the house with Agnes strutting about outside, or worse, guarding the pop-hole to the henhouse.
We resorted to applying some anti-peck spray to the neck and shoulder feathers of the two smaller hens. They’ve also had several spells of free ranging time this weekend, and whether it’s that, or the slight re-arrangements we’ve also made to the space and the feeding arrangements, or just time passing, relationships seem a bit better and less stressed. By this evening with everyone was out in the run, eating and drinking and scratching around together and only occasional outbreaks of pecking-order politics. Gertie, Mabel and Flora seem less on edge and more settled back in their normal daily routine, too. They’re even giving the odd egg!
All seems relatively settled for now, and with Agnes also laying some gorgeous chocolate-brown eggs, after three years of hen keeping, finally, I’ve got the egg basket (well, egg-skelter) of my long-held dreams. Yes, I know they all taste the same, but aren’t they beautiful?
I expect the next few weeks to involve more than their usual share of stresses and difficult moments – never a dull moment with pets and livestock! I’ll keep you posted!
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