Living with chickens at our place has its interesting moments as we create a hen haven for our chickens. Backyard chickens are becoming more popular and if you have the space and are able to offer a good home for your girls you will have end up eating amazingly fresh and tasty eggs. Yes, the eggs our girls lay are sensational. Eggs from the supermarket cannot compare!
Providing a good home for chickens is more than building or buying a chicken coop. We like our home to be a safe haven, a place where we can find shelter, comfort and security. Similarly, we like our girls also known as Princess Chickens to have a comfortable and safe home – a hen haven. A true hen haven also includes providing your girls with clean bedding in their resting and roosting area; clean nesting material; unrestricted food and water; shellgrit to strengthen egg shells; treats for entertainment and to give some interest to their day, as well as the space and freedom to roam around. Then by magic a chicken coop is not only a hen haven, it becomes a palace!
Introducing new chickens to the hen haven
It is going on 8 months since we introduced our two new girls, Golda and Melba to share Cluckingham Palace with Carmella and Lucy. There are several ways you can settle in new chickens. One of the recommended ways is have them in separate coops but close so they can get to know one another. The other approach is to put them all together and let them work it out. I did the latter after my first plan of separation did not work. After putting them together they had no choice but to work it out.
In the early weeks of settling into their new home Golda and Melba were very timid and slept together huddled up at the back of the coop (downstairs). They did not go up to join the older girls on the roosting bars (we have two bars suitable for 8-10 chickens) upstairs. They either did not have the confidence or they were too frightened as they were smaller than the older two. They were about 12 weeks old and they were still growing feathers. Melba is the most timid hen in the flock and early on was picked on by Carmella and Lucy. But Golda, who was more assertive had no trouble at all from the beginning!
Golda and Melba only discovered their sleeping area after I picked them up one night and placed them on one of the roosting bars. As chickens can’t see at night it was easier than doing this at dusk. They were a little anxious but after I completed the procedure two night in a row they got the hang of it. The next night they went up the ramp all on their own to take their place on the roosting bar. However, it took weeks until they all worked out who would take what place on the roosting bar (they all share the same one). When Lucy could not get her favourite spot she sulked and went and slept in the nesting box. Just as well I found out, by accident when collecting eggs late one evening. Each night I would nudge her out of the nesting box and then shine the torch so she could find her way to the roosting bar. At times she would push one of the others out-of-the-way for her preferred spot. It was a very interesting exercise. After a couple of nights I did not need to give her a nudge but just talk to her and she would grudgingly make the trek over to the roosting bar! Several weeks later Carmella did the same thing. As soon as I lifted the lid on the nesting box she would move and wander over to the roosting bar and settle for the night. Yes, Carmella knew where she should be sleeping! My persistence eventually broke the habit. Why would I bother? Because it is a bad chicken habit sleeping in the nesting box. Chickens poo during the night and there would have been a mess in the nesting box resulting in soiled eggs. As it happens the nesting box with its soft pine shavings is clean and so are the eggs.
Chickens living and roosting together
Now after 8 months Melba has more courage to stand up for herself. When I feed the Princess Chickens their kale treat, instead of tying it up with string and hanging it in the run I hold on to it. Earlier on as either Carmella or Lucy would pick on Melba (the pecking order) she developed a habit of running in grabbing a piece of kale and running away. Now with me holding on to the string I move it around and the others have to concentrate on this rather than Melba. Gradually, over a few weeks, Melba instead of running in and then running away is now standing alongside the others to get her share, no longer getting bullied – the Hen Etiquette Training School is at work!
Chickens are very intelligent. Ours can distinguish between me and my One&Only (O&O). Often when my O&O appears they will look up and then keep on doing what they were doing. If I turn up, they think I have a treat for them and they run or should I say race up to the top gate. Chickens should be treated well, as they have feelings. If they are frightened they will run away. They have individual personalities. Lucy likes to be close to me if I am cleaning out the coop or nearby in the vegetable garden. She comes to investigate. When I am cleaning out the roosting area (upstairs) from a door that folds down at the back, she will come up the ramp to watch what I am doing. She just enjoys hanging out with me! On the other hand Carmella once she realises there are no treats I am ignored. At other times, Carmella, when not satisfied with the kale will give a complaining and consistent clucking noise to let me know she wants something more interesting, like meal worms or that left over roast meat. It goes on and on! Not only are our chickens living and roosting together, we are living right beside them. However, our lodgings are a little more palatial. We have not told them, so they think they are living in luxury! At least, is must be “as good as it gets” for chickens living in their hen haven.
Get in touch with the earth. Raise chickens and plant herbs, fruit and vegetables – even if you have a small plot of land. The rewards are endless.