The pecking order

The Snail-of-happiness flock now comprises four hens: the oldies – Lorna and Esme; and the newbies – Perdy and Aliss. Our original idea was to separate them during the day, with newbies in the run and oldies free to roam the garden as usual. Then to put them all together at night when everyone was sleepy.

This worked fine on the first day in the sunshine. However, since then winter seems to have arrived and free access to the garden was inappropriate as there was so much standing water. Also, all of them needed to be indoors quite early because the rain was so heavy the water was soaking them to the skin (very unusual, they usually only get superficially wet). Unfortunately when they were placed together in the hen-house there was an unseemly scuffle! Newbies ended up sleeping in the shed.

To alleviate some of the stress we decided to construct a new house using assorted stuff from around the house. We now have a second hen-house made of a large dog crate and some heavy-duty plastic carpet protector, held together with cable ties and with a perch made from a piece of old skirting board. You see, I knew being a squirrel would come in useful eventually.

The new residence in situ

This, currently is Aliss and Perdy’s house, although the picture shows it with Lorna and Esme just after we put it in position. Eventually it will be home to all of them as it’s bigger than the original hen-house, unlikely to support the dreaded red mites and will not rot. Also, because it’s a dog crate, it will be completely fox-proof. It’s currently sitting on a pallet, but we will raise it higher to provide additional shelter underneath.

So, for the time being, the pairs are being kept separate, although able to interact through the mesh. When we do put them together Esme is determined to show the new ones that she is boss. Everyone we know who keeps chickens seems to have different advice on what to do:

  • just put them together and let them sort it out
  • keep them apart during the day, but visible to each other and make them sleep together
  • keep them apart but visible to each other for several days, then put them together
  • isolate Esme for 24 hours but put the others together and when she is returned to the flock she will behave better towards all of them…

I guess that eventually we’ll just have to let them sort it out amongst themselves, but for the time being they are separated by mesh and sleeping separately. I have been advised that if we had a cockerel, he’d probably help to keep the peace, which might be true with respect to the hens but not, I suspect, with our human neighbours. However, the interactions are fascinating and despite all the disturbance the new arrivals have caused the oldies are still laying… so we had boiled eggs for lunch and I’ve made cup cakes. Oh yes, eggs, that’s why we have them, not entertainment!

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