Choosing your Hens and Introducing a new Bird to your Flock
The White one
Do your research or you may have to re-home one...
Choosing your breed of hen is very important and you should spend some time searching the Internet and talking to your Chicken farmer before you decide which breed to take home. You need to consider the space you can give them, your neighbours proximity to the coop and whether you can take care of them and give them everything they need for a long and happy life. A happy hen is a good layer and will give you years of excellent eggs.
The White one (pictured above) is a hybrid of a White Leghorn and unfortunately we didn't do the research before we picked her. When choosing her the farmer did mention that she would be a bit flighty and need her wings clipping but the only bit of information we really listened too was 'she lays fantastic large pure white eggs, eats little and produces loads'! We now know that Leghorns are known for being flighty and noisy and wing clipping is a must but wont necessarily keep her down - she was an accomplished jumper! And if you thought cockerels were noisy just wait until you hear her morning chorus.
As city garden chicken keepers with our relatively small space, we chose three hens which we thought would be calm and quiet and we found there just wasn't enough space for the White one. Add to that the coop is approximately 25 feet away from our single glazed bedroom windows and we had a problem when she 'sung'. There were surprisingly no complaints from the neighbours, in fact one neighbour likes the noise very much telling me it reminds him of home where everyone keeps scores of chickens in their backyards and urged me to get a Cockerel - no thanks I like my sleep!
Sadly the White one wasn't for us and so I launched a facebook campaign "The White one needs a new home". Many of my chicken keeper friends are in a similar situation to us, small coops in small city gardens and so none of these homes would be suitable. A friend of mine responded to my ad calling Leghorns "feather pecking terrorists" and he has never got on very well with them. Whilst feather pecking wasn't and issue, her noise and escape routines were. I now know that they have a reputation for running away from humans and will rarely eat out of your hand, but the White one was different. She would jump up into my lap to take bread from my hand and follow me around the garden with the others. I have also learnt that her vocal ability was not usual in a Leghorn and it was possible that she was telling us that she needed more space (and displayed this by jumping over the 4ft fence out of the run every 5 minutes). It just goes to show that breed aside personality usually wins out - but it's good to have some background knowledge and know what they need to be happy before you bring them home.
Luckily I was put in touch with Emma, a lovely young lady who lives on a farm in North Lincolnshire. Looking at her photographs of the wide variety of animals she kept (Chickens, Ducks, Horses, Dogs, Cats, Sheep) and the space she had to offer, I got in touch and a plan was made for the transportation of the White one. Emma asked if the hen has a name, I didn't launch into the full reason why she is referred to as the White one but I did mention that my friend Hannah had said she should be called Blanche. So she was renamed and Blanche set off for the North.
Blanche did very well in the cat box for the 3 hour journey from London, we tried to keep her as cool as possible and on arrival at my parents she had a fine old time in their garden (with minor destruction) until it was time to be taken to her new home. I was concerned about how she would fit in, she was still young and more than a little feisty but hadn't been around a Cockerel, or any other animals apart from cats. The formation of a pecking order can be vicious, especially with a single newcomer in an already established flock. I needn't have been worried, she stepped out of the cat box onto the farm, ruffled her feathers and started the 'scratch scratch look' routine without a care in the world. The others largely ignored her, the vast amounts of space available undoubtedly helping the situation, and she didn't bat an eye at the very friendly sheep who came running and bleating a welcome. Emma has kept in touch and Blanche is doing well, and I am so very pleased - she deserves space to run and shout to her hearts content.
Our garden is now a little quieter, but the Black one seems to have taken over the mantle of morning chorus - although with not as much gusto as the White one. On the way back from Lincolnshire we stopped at Cambridge Poultry to pick a replacement hen. We wanted to keep our flock as three in case something happened to one of the birds and the other wouldn't be left alone. This time we did our research and decided that we should go for a Cambridge Blue. In her "biography" were the golden words, 'a beautiful docile bird'. A cross between an Andalusian and Barred Plymouth laying around 250 eggs in her first year. Our back up hens if the Blue wasn't available, or I didn't like her, were the Amber (a really calm White hen, great for anyone starting off with chickens, great with children and will lay 300 eggs in her first year) and the the Speckledy (a placid bird laying around 270 eggs in her first year). The key words of course being docile, placid and calm.
My hubby was on crutches, and with cross country not being one of his strong points I went out to the hen house alone to choose our new addition with the farmer. The Cambridge Blue was huge and stunning with grey blue feathers, but she was as big as our Black Sussex (who is a fine large bird) and at only 18 weeks old would probably grow more. She was very kicky and grumbly in my arms and left me with a lovely scratch on my stomach. Worried about space in our relatively small coop and not convinced she was that docile I asked the farmer's advice about the other hens. We skipped the Amber and went straight to the Speckledy. As soon as he passed this small speckled bird to me she rested her head on my arm, closed her eys and seemed content. As a smaller bird, with no kicking or complaining and the right amount of docile for me (and a better egg layer than the Blue), I declared her to be 'the one' and off home to London we went.
Speckles did have trouble integrating, the Black one and Red one were vicious towards her in the beginning. We kept them separate for the first week and I divided the outside run with chicken wire, so they can see her but not peck at her, and made a bed out of the cat box for her at night. They were all allowed into the garden together, there is enough space for Speckles to run away if needed, and I bought an anti pecking spray which is supposed to taste nasty to the others and should stop the abuse, but she still got caught by a beak every now and again.
The remarkable thing about Speckles is her temperament, we brought her into the house to clip her wing on the first day and rather than struggling to get away as the others did she sat on my hubby's knee - for an hour. She settled down, had a preen, a nap, watched a bit of telly and then decided it was time to go outside - just in time for a poo. We couldn't believe it, chickens aren't supposed to behave like this! Each day she came inside and spent hours on our laps (she did poo on me more than once). She wandered in and settled down on the carpet or on the side table, preened, had a nap and then wandered out again as though she owned the place.
Hubby fell in love, and declared her to be a pet and named her Speckles (not quite a real name as it's her breed but more of a name than the Red one and the Black one have got) thus securing a life without fear of dispatching her. She was still young and hadn't even grown all of her tail feathers yet and inside with us was clearly preferable to being outside with the other two. We eventually had to bite the bullet and put her into the main coop and after dusk one night I opened the front of the hen house and popped her inside and closed the door, all the time worried that the other two would notice and beat her up for just being there. All that happened was a reshuffle of space and a few cluck's and all was quiet. In the morning they all came down the ramp to eat together and whilst the other two were wary of Speckles they mostly let her be, as long as she observed the pecking order and allowed the other two first refusal of food and water.
She has now grown to full size, has a full set of feathers and is laying like a trouper. She fits in well with the other two, they all try to sleep in the same laying box at night and whilst running around the garden they are inseperable. It took time to integrate her but it was worth the effort. We lost our 'pet' but at least she is having a happier time in the coop and a happy hen means lots of lovely eggs.
Blanche and SpecklesClick thumbnail to view full-size
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