New chickens – highs and lows

The chickens

Well, we’ve had chickens for a week now – and what a week it’s been…

Seven days ago, we set off with two cardboard boxes and two very excited children, to pick up our first chickens. We came back very happy with a Light Sussex, a white part-Leghorn, a grey Bluebell and a brown Rhode Rock. For their new home, we tidied up the end of an outbuilding that already happened to have strong fox-proof wire over the windows. As it’s a good, safe space with plenty of air, we didn’t bother with a coop as such – we built perches in there instead, and filled it with straw – somewhere safe for the chickens to go at night after free ranging during the day. After a bit of a flap getting the new arrivals out of the boxes, they seemed surprisingly unruffled. They must have felt reasonably at home, because surprise surprise, that  afternoon we found two perfect eggs waiting for us in the straw.

The eggs tasted wonderful – fresh, free-range eggs, with zero food miles. In a way it’s a bit daft us having chickens, as eggs are the one thing you can buy in our village (there’s a huge free-range chicken farm here). But we also want other yields – great compost, bug-hunting in the veg garden – and that good feeling of sharing our space with other living creatures that we have a symbiotic relationship with.

And for the first few days, it was great. But it’s been a very a steep learning curve, chicken-wise. Sadly, after apparently settling in well, we found the smallest hen badly wounded by the two dominant hens; she died shortly afterwards. A certain amount of tussle is to be expected as new hens sort out their ‘pecking order.’ But there is a risk that, if the pecking draws blood, the bright colour can apparently cause the other chickens to attack in a bit of a ‘feeding frenzy’ – in the same way that they will rush to the same spot to peck at a bug or bits of corn. Most of our experienced chicken-keeping friends told us they’d come across incidents like this – though we were really unlucky for this to happen in the first week. It’s amazing how attached you can get to another creature in just a few days – and it’s been hard to look at the ‘culprits’ in the same way. But it’s also a good reminder that, despite the appealing feathers and fluff, chickens are a ‘law of the jungle’ sort of animal.

Our kind breeder gave us much sympathy, advice, and a new hen – another grey Bluebell. So now we have two tribes – the gentle grey giants and the feisty white hens. They range together well enough in the day, but we haven’t been brave enough to put them back in together at night. One tip we’ve been given is to put all the hens in together when they are asleep – after gently smoothing diluted vinegar onto all of them. Apparently, if they all wake up smelling the same, they are more likely to accept each other as part of the same flock.  Right. I’m off to smear vinegar on a chicken (not a sentence I’d ever expected to write). Wish me luck.

6 responses to “New chickens – highs and lows

    • Thank you for your kind message. It was so sad – and being newbie chicken keepers, we of course worried about whether we could have prevented it – were there signs we should have spotted? We had been checking on them regularly and all had seemed peaceful, with no signs of injury – so unless we’d been with them constantly, I’m not sure if there was anything we could do. We’re more careful now tho – really monitoring the ‘bully’ hen, and keeping them apart at night. In the day we’ve put out several feeders/drinkers so they don’t have to squabble over food too much. They seem fine in the daytime – mostly interested in grass! I just worry about them all being in together when they go back indoors. It was a horrible way to start off our hen-keeping, but we’re definitely a bit wiser, I hope.

  1. What a beginning! I’m sorry it started this way. I’ve been keeping hens for three years now and I’m still learning. But they are such lovely creatures to have around it’s been worth it.

    • Thank you for the encouragement…Some bits have been great – collecting eggs, watching the hens explore the field for the first time. So we’re hoping that things will improve from now on!

  2. Sorry about your first bad experience so early in your new venture. We have our 2 Light Sussex girls just 2 weeks now. They are so fascinating to watch and that first egg was amazing. Only one is laying, the other is presumably moulting and has lost a lot of feathers, but is eating and dust bathing as much as the other. They have a corralled area in our garden and seem to be well-settled. Good luck to both of us in this new and exciting venture 🙂
    Catherine.

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