This summer we significantly revamped our chicken keeping. First, we added three new chickens. Pam and Andy of Raintree Poultry spent a couple of hours showing us their flocks and helping us pick out three pretty new girls: a White Sussex, a Buff Sussex, and a Gold Star. The Sussex are a heritage breed, broody and flighty but that’s okay with us. The Gold Star is a sex linked hybrid (means you can tell male from female chicks by color) and should lay well.
New chickens needed a new chicken coop. For a few weeks in the dry summer we kept them in a large dog cage with a tarp on the top and a bar through the sides. Hey, it worked! The two Black Australorps wore a grove in the dirt around the cage circling and waiting for them to come out.
Meanwhile, Ted worked on a beautiful piece of equipment. It’s designed to come apart completely for easy cleaning. It has a clear section in the side so we can look in and see what’s going on in a flash. It’s painted the same color as our barn-like storage shed and looks fantastic.
The sides both pull up, and also come off. There’s a door on the front for the chickens to go in and out, and a door in the back to reach in and get the eggs. Ted put a mirror on the egg door so you can see the whole nest box area without rooting around to feel for the eggs. Very neat!
This summer we also put up the electric fence. This was recommended by chicken farmers in our area to keep out larger animals. The hens can fly over it fairly easily, but it keeps the rooster in until we let him out. We aren’t closing the chicken coop door, relying on the fence to protect the chickens. That way they can go in and out whenever they want.
When we released the new hens there were a couple of days of excitement. The moment we released them our New Hampshire Red rooster Nigel jumped them. Then the pecking order was established. This is such a literal term! The Black Australorps pecked all three of the new girls for a couple of days. Then when that order was established, the White Sussex pecked both of the other new hens. Consequently the Buff Sussex spent her first two days of liberty with a drooping wing. After some (frantic) research we decided that it was probably stress. We were right too, the wing firmed up again after a few days.
The White Sussex managed to roost in the electric fence her first night. All three of us spent some minutes gently disentangling her wings from the netting. After a few nights of the new pecking order they all adopted the new coop and figured out who was going to roost where. The flocks haven’t come together though. It’s still three new hens, plus two aging hens, plus Nigel, who shuttles between them.
There’s more to that story. Our neighbors up-hill brought home a new Rhode Island Red rooster. New roo followed one of his hens and found…our girls! This seemed to have gone on for some days before we caught him fighting with Nigel. The next thing we knew, Nigel was cowering behind the house while the new rooster had his way with the girls. Poor Nigel!
What to do when you’re neighbor’s semi-rural flock collides with your semi-rural flock is not a topic covered in any of the guidebooks! We decided to watch the flocks closely. The uphill flock comes closest to ours in the morning, in the afternoons they go elsewhere, so we let our flock out in the afternoon. Their yard is plenty big for the number of chickens we have, we just like them to be able to forage for themselves. Ted and Alex also have a new policy of spraying the hose at the new rooster when he shows up.
In the fullness of time when Nigel has passed on to the chicken coop in the sky, we will get a new rooster, who will then be the younger, bigger, badder roo, and the spur will be on the other foot!