Self-reliance and sustainability in the 21st century.
Guest Post by Michelle Mather
Last week we picked up four new "ready to lay" hens from our local feed mill. They are the same type of chickens as our first four - I believe they are called "Red Sex Link" as they are a cross between a Rhode Island Red Chicken rooster and a Delaware Chicken hen. We had thought about getting some "exotic" looking chickens for our second batch, but in the end we decided to stick with what is working so well. Our original four hens, Henny, Penny, Flora & Belle, are now about 19 months old and laying quite regularly and consistently.
Also, our rooster "Colonel" is pretty flamboyant looking, so our desire for exotic colouring has been satisfied with his addition to our flock.
I picked up the new "ladies" last Wednesday. I have a rather large cat carrier and so we put a towel down and off I went to Napanee to pick up our new chickens. Last year when we picked up our chickens the fellow ahead of us had ordered 3 but hadn't brought anything to put them in. So he grabbed a feed bag and instructed the feed mill employees to just stuff the chickens into the sack. Needless to say, our chickens had a much nicer ride home!
Once we arrived home I decided to let the older 4 and the rooster out to free range and I put the cat carrier inside the pen and opened the carrier door. It took a few minutes but finally one of the new girls stuck her head out and began pecking at the ground in front of the carrier. Soon all four of them were out of the carrier and exploring their new territory.
Eventually I herded them into a new section of the pen that Cam had fenced off where they could see the other, older chickens but they couldn't touch each other. When we put the older ladies and the Colonel back into the pen they made some aggressive moves towards the new, young ones, but they couldn't get through the fence to hurt them.
On the first night we tried following some advice that I had found online. We waited for the rooster and the older chickens to get settled in the coop and then we tried sneaking the new ones into the coop. No go! What a ruckus! The rooster in particular seemed incensed that we would allow these intruders into his coop! So we tucked the four new girls back into the cat carrier (with some straw on the bottom) and put the carrier on our enclosed back porch, safe from predators.
The next day we put the new girls back into the new side of the pen, but this time we left an open spot in the fence between the new section and the old section. The new girls could come and go from the new side as they pleased, and during the day they would often visit the old section of the pen but run back to the new section whenever they were chased by one of the "old gals." There were some squabbles during the day but the youngsters quickly learned to run and climb a hay bale to get away. We made sure to provide them with food and water on their side of the fence too.
On the second night we decided to keep Colonel out of the coop. We put the new hens into the coop, closed the door and then waited for the older ladies to show signs of wanting to go to bed. Pretty soon they were prowling around the base of the "gangplank" wanting to retire for the night. Eventually we let them in, there was a bit of squabbling, but pretty quickly the 8 hens all settled down. We locked Colonel out of the coop that night and instead I left the cat carrier in the pen and he tucked himself in there for the night. Once again we put the carrier on the enclosed back porch, safe from predators, and he seemed to have a fine sleep that night.
By the third day we were able to open up the fence between the old and new section of the pen. There was still some squabbling between the old and the new birds, but much less than on the first two days. We really got a chuckle that evening when we noticed that Colonel was the first one into the coop to put himself to bed! It seemed like he was saying "There's no way I'm sleeping in that cat carrier again tonight!" He jumped up on top of the nesting boxes and hunkered down. The older ladies soon joined him. The younger ones hung out at the bottom of the gangplank and as soon as things seemed quiet in the coop, they too headed to bed. There was a few complaints but we quickly closed up the door and they all settled down. Phew!
We haven't named all of the new girls yet. We are calling one of them "Feist" (after the singer) because she is such a feisty little thing! She doesn't take any guff from any of the others and even if one of the older ladies or the Colonel tries to chase her, she holds her ground!
Last year it took our hens a couple of weeks before they began laying eggs. One of the new ladies has already started laying! Two days ago she escaped from the pen and tucked herself under a raspberry bush. I only knew that she was there because Colonel managed to escape too and he stood guard over her. I put her back in her pen and she escaped again and the second time I found a tiny little egg under her!
Yesterday she again escaped and again we found her under the raspberry bush. This time we tucked her inside the coop and closed up the door. About 20 minutes later I came back and there was an egg! Her eggs are teeny tiny but she is laying already! I'm hoping that she gets the hint that we'd prefer that she lay in the nesting boxes!
As you can tell, we continue to enjoy life with our chickens! They love a bowl of oatmeal first thing in the morning. I take a quarter cup of instant oatmeal, add some hot water from the tap and dump it into a bowl for them. They fight over it! They love grapes and sliced bananas and chopped up apples. Cooked pasta is one of their favourite treats and it's pretty funny watching them grab a long string of spaghetti and run around the coop trying to keep it from the others.
On my recent birthday I was given a lovely little book called "Minnie Rose Lovgreen's Recipe for Raising Chickens." (Thanks to Shirley for the book!) The woman who wrote this book was born in 1888. She first published her little book in 1975. According to my math she would have been 87 years old at the time! After a lifetime of raising chickens, she says "The main thing is to keep them happy." This wisdom seems to be working with my chickens!
Our cat Lizzie likes to hang out with the chickens too!
Michelle & Cam have written a book about their move from the city to their off-grid home in the country that they call "Sunflower Farm." The book is called "Little House Off the Grid" and is available from Mother Earth News or from www.aztext.com