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COLUMNISTS

When new chickens come to roost

Susan Manzke
The new girls in the flock are still awaiting acceptance from Susan's established flock of four hens.

Last winter, I thought about donating the last of my chickens to a friend’s coop. The roosters were already gone (another friend’s chicken stew). All I had left were five hens. Keeping those girls through winter seemed like a big headache for me.

Somehow my five hens and I made it through the cold months. They kept laying eggs all winter. Maybe the threat of moving them scared the eggs out of them.

Change happens. One day, a dog ran through the yard. I heard “SQUAK!” and I was down to four hens.

When spring arrived, my friend, Kathy had all kinds of questions about raising hens. She wanted to get five of her own. It was her idea to buy an assortment of chicks so she could tell her girls apart. These feathered pets would be living the good life in her backyard.

Kathy was in luck. Along with information, I had both a chick feeder and a waterer to give to her. No use buying new when I had plenty to share.

The chicks were mailed to Kathy. Before taking them home, she stopped here to show me her downy friends. Of course, the babies were adorable. Names were in the offing—with the help of grandchildren. The Black Australop became Chocolate; the Buff Orpington is now Tangerine; the Salmon Favorelle is now known as Bonnie Raitt; the Silver Lace Wyandotte is Elsa; and last but not least, the Barred Rock is Bat Girl. (My chickens have names, too. Each set of grandchildren has named them, so they have multiple names, all of which I forget.)

Kathy’s husband started building the chicks a chicken coop. That’s when they found out that even though their town allowed hens, their subdivision didn’t. The chickens had to find a new home.

A friend was ready to add Kathy’s five to her flock, but things happened. Their new country home wasn’t a go. That’s when Kathy came to me. “Would you? Could you? Take my babies (now teenager chicks)?”

I thought about it for a day. Did I want them? I sure didn’t need them. In the end, I said, “Yes,” to Kathy. I did explain to her that her birds may have issues when introduced to my four and that they weren’t going to be treated as royally as she had planned for her backyard flock. Here they would be chickens.

The half-grown chickens arrived in a large dog crate, where they had lived since arriving at Kathy’s. I waited until dark to slip them into my coop—an old farmer told me that if the birds woke up in the morning they wouldn’t notice the new chickens. They would figure they were there all along.

Older hens guarding the door to keep pullets out.

The first bird out of the crate was easy to catch and deposit in the coop. After her, things were tricky. By the end, I tipped the cage over to get the last one out, I was cranky and figuring I shouldn’t have taken the chickens.

When Kathy called in the morning to see how the girls fared, I said, “Well they’re all alive.” (We both knew that there was the possibility of mayhem.)

The five pullets huddled together in a corner, staying away from the hens. The big girls didn’t appreciate the newcomers and avoided them.

It has been two weeks now. The five pullets and four hens have not blended into one flock. The young ones wait for the older ones to roost before heading inside in the evening. I sometimes have to shoo them in, but at least there hasn’t been any bloodshed. I just have to make sure everyone is getting food and water.

I didn’t need or want the added hens, but they are here to stay. The crazy thing is one of my old girls is insisting on brooding (fertile eggs from another friend’s flock). If I’m lucky all six won’t hatch. If I’m unlucky they will and all be roosters. Oy vey!

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54265; sunnybook@aol.com; www.susanmanzke.net/blog and don’t forget Susan’s stories on YouTube.