In the Hen House

Silver Wyandotte Hens and Rhode Island Red Rooster
Silver Wyandotte Hens and Rhode Island Red Rooster

Bwawk! Ur ur ur ur urrr!

There is a lot of that going on at the farm. Two years ago, in the spring, we started a flock of 18 Rohde Island Red and Buff Orpington chickens. I love having the chickens. Not only do they provide us with the best eggs I have ever tasted, they are also a great source of entertainment. Our flock is truly free range. They do have a large fenced in area ,but the gate is left open most of the time so they may forage our 7.6 acres, and occasionally, they do the proverbial chicken cross the road thing; the best that I can figure is they do it to forage the neighbors property.  Last year my husband and I would often pull up our chairs outside the chicken yard, in the evening, and watch “chicken TV”. It was relaxing, we didn’t have to pay for electricity to run it, and it was far more entertaining than anything on the boob tube.

By this spring, for various reasons, our flocked was down to 8 hens and 2 roosters, so we decided to add 10 Silver Wyandotte pullets. We bought chicks that were only a few days old and brooded them in the house for about the first two weeks of March. When they began to fly up and out of the brooder it was time to move them to the hutch on the deck. We covered it with canvass to protect against wind or rain, gave them warm straw for bedding, and put in a heat lamp to keep them warm. After about another two weeks, when they had most of their feathers, and seemed to be too crowded in the hutch, we decided to move them to the coop with the other chickens. I was a bit nervous about this, because I was not sure how the old hens and roosters would accept the young pullets. I read several websites and books that said, they should be slowly introduced to the flock by doing things like putting them in a separate enclosure where the adult birds could see them and get use to them for a while. None of what I read considered introducing birds this young into the flock. Well, like with wine making, we decided not to do this by “the book”, we would do it “our way” and just accept the results. We took the, approximately 4 week old, pullets and put them in the coop with the others. Though there seemed to be some curiosity from the other hens, for the most part they just left the young ones alone. I guess I should have expected this from a flock of birds who seem more than happy to let all the starlings in the neighborhood share their coop and their food all winter long. The young ones stayed together in the coop, in the yard, and all ten would cram into a single nest box at night to keep warm. It has only been in the last month or so that the Wyandotts seem to be splitting up some and doing their own thing. I attribute our success to two things: first all three breeds, Rhode Island Reds, Orpingtons, and Wyandottes are considered to have mild temperaments, second I can’t help but wonder if introducing the new birds at a young age, before they were ready to become part of the pecking order, did not play a part.

Egg from 5 month old Silver Wyandotte compared to egg from 2 year old Buff Orpington
Egg from 5 month old Silver Wyandotte compared to egg from 2 year old Buff Orpington

The young Wyandotte hens recently started laying eggs. They are small and cute, compared to the large and extra large eggs laid by our older hens, but they are just as tasty. The eggs will get bigger as the hens continue to lay.

Two of our Buff Orpington hens brooded and hatched chicks last year. This spring, when one of them got broody we decided not to let her hatch chicks because we did not want her taking up that nest box for 3 weeks, and we felt our flock was at full capacity. She was, however, very insistent, she would not leave the nest, which happened to be the favorite nest box of all of the hens. Apparently she was letting others in to lay their eggs in the box, but production was dropping. She would also peck us and hiss when we would remove the eggs from underneath her. After 2+ weeks of dealing with her I thought we might be better off if we just let her sit on and hatch some eggs. My reasoning was that at least we would know that she would only be in that nest box for another three weeks, (until the chicks hatched) and that possibly after a few days we could move her with the eggs to another nest box, and the rest of the hens would then have their favorite nest box back. That did not work. So, although my husband was not really on board with it, we gave her six eggs that we marked with black X’s. We did not check the eggs to see if they were fertile, but knowing how “active” our roosters are, we assumed some of them would be.  We continued to check underneath her daily and usually found one or two eggs that did not have an X. She was apparently letting others in to lay their eggs still. After 20-21days we had 3 eggs hatch. The first one did not make it completely out of it’s shell alive, but the other two were the cutest little fluff balls you’ve ever seen. (All chicks are.)

Now it’s bwawk, ur ur ur ur urrr, and peep peep, peep peep.

Buff Orpington Hen raising two 1 week old chicks
Buff Orpington Hen raising two 1 week old chicks

Mother hens, at least the ones that we have, are very attentive to their chicks. It’s fascinating to watch and listen as she teaches them. She is very protective when the others get curious. In the first couple days she taught them to eat and drink from the feed and water dishes we provided inside the coop. At one week old she took them outside and began teaching them to forage. She keeps them close, and she will make soft clucking noises to show them what to eat. After only two days outside she had taught them how to use the ramp to get back into the coop at night. The chicks we had last year took longer to learn this. She will mother them for several more weeks, I think last year the chicks were at least 8 weeks old before the hens stopped mothering them, but eventually they will become just two more chickens in the flock to her and will have to find their own way into the pecking order.

Rhode Island Red Rooster
Rhode Island Red Rooster

Lastly, on the subject of chickens, BEWARE OF THE ROOSTER! I’ve know for a long time that Cocky, our Rhode Island Red Rooster, does not like me or does not trust me. I’ve made it a habit not to turn my back on him. We have sparred many times and he has been lofted off the end of my boot several times. A few days after the chicks arrived I went into the chicken yard to refill the water and food for the chicks. I didn’t bother to close the gate since Cocky was no where around. As I was refilling the small chick watering jar/dish I felt something hit the back of my calf. I turned around and saw Cocky, crouched in the sparring position. I tried staring him down, and when this didn’t work, I lofted him with my shoe. Not to be deterred  he kept coming at me, so I grabbed a large stick and swung it at him a couple times until he finally walked away. When the battle was over, and I had a chance to look at my leg, I discovered that blood was running all the way down my leg from the spot where his spur had punctured me. I have taken good care to wash and disinfect this wound often in order to prevent an infection, and it seems to be healing nicely. I told my husband that I thought this rooster would look nice on the tines of a pitch fork. Bwawk!

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