Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chicken Update

I've been trying to integrate the new Jersey Girls, Thelma and Louise (modeled by granddaughter Amanda to the right), in with the rest of the flock. They were isolated for at least 30 days in a cage in our basement to make sure they were healthy and to give them a chance to catch up in size with the other hens. Being Jersey Giants, the chicks are much larger than other breeds and even though they were 4 months younger than the others, they were almost as large as the smaller Hamburg hens already. We started gradually, as recommended, by placing the chicks in the fenced-in garden while the older chickens were out free ranging in the yard. Chickens don't accept outsiders very easily and can kill each other. I stood outside with them several times, ready to intervene whenever a hen (usually Fenix) went after the younger chicks. Ideally, you would have two adjoining yards, separated by a fence for a couple of weeks so they could get accustomed to the sight of the new ones but not able to hurt them. We don't have the set up for this, so we did supervised visits. This worked okay and I noticed that although the others may chase the Jersey girls, they didn't pursue them enough to actually hurt them. Chickens have really short attention spans so the thought process demonstrated was along the lines of, "Hey! There's the new chick! Get her! Wait! Where is everyone else going? Is there more food over there? Wait for me!"

After about a week of supervised visits, I moved the youngsters into the coop at night. Chickens are completely blind in the dark and won't move because they can't see where they're going. They also don't have a good sense of smell so introducing new chicks at night when they couldn't be seen made sense.

Normally, I keep the chickens enclosed in their yard surrounded by electric netting to keep the predators out. I let them out in the afternoon so they have a couple of hours of free-range time in the yard before it gets dark. When it starts to get dark, they instinctively go home to roost in the coop so they are positioned in a safe place before night falls and they can't see how to get anywhere. This way, I don't have to try to herd them up to get them back in the coop.

This had been going well with the new girls even though they kept to themselves in the yard so they wouldn't get picked on. You've heard of the term, "pecking order"? They knew to get back in the coop with the others, however last week, only one Jersey girl made it back to the coop. Apparently, a predator (we suspect the fox we saw last month) came upon the Jersey girls off by themselves and picked one off. She never would have voluntarily wandered far from her sister. They were a team, anxious if they became separated. I looked all over; no sign of feathers, nothing. Of all the chickens, why a Jersey girl? The Jersey Giant is my favorite because they are the friendliest of our hens and like to be held. I've had the chickens outside since July, free-ranging most afternoons, sometimes all day. This was my first loss. The whole family feels sorry for the remaining Jersey, Thelma. Getting another one to keep her company isn't that easy as they would have to go through the same introduction period.

We're now overprotective of Thelma, realizing that if losing one was this devastating for us, losing the other would be tragic. Right now, the plan is to add more fencing to expand their area and not add anymore new chicks until spring. With about two hundred neat-looking chicken breeds to choose from, it's hard to not want one of each. Just four more, I promise…..

On a more positive note, the chickens are now laying eggs more regularly. Hitting puberty and having the days get shorter at the same time seemed to adversely affect their egg laying. We got our first green Americauna egg on Halloween and finally got our first white Hamburg egg last week. In November it seemed like only Foster was laying and that was once every 4 days or so. With the Hamburgs now laying, the others are either more inspired or have finally come of age. Yesterday, we got a record 5 eggs, 3 green and 2 white. Last night, we had breakfast for supper; pancakes, turkey bacon, and scrambled eggs.


  1. Sorry you lost Louise. She looks very pretty in her picture.

  2. So you're finally have green eggs (but without the ham)!