Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Establishing a pecking order

On Sunday we added, three new hens to our flock bringing the total to six, I have since learned that we should have quarantined them first but I didn't know so I am keeping my fingers crossed that we have no problems. 

It was only a short drive home but our new birds had been through the stress of a poultry auction which must be incredibly distressing, to let them calm down and settle in we shut them on their own inside the hen house with some food and water for the rest of the day. 

When we did open the pop hole they were quick to come out and started wildly pecking at the grass in a way that makes me suspect they had come from somewhere that didn't have any. 

Our new girls are in a bit of a sorry state truth be told, they are white leghorns, nice and young but a bit ruffled. a lot of their feathers are dirty and  scruffy, they have almost no tail feathers and naked vents and bellies. However the seller they came from had some really amazing looking hens of other breeds in the auction and there is no sign of parasites or disease so I think the wear is just superficial. I was chatting to a proper farmer type at the end of the sale who had also bought three birds from the same batch, he was holding all three quite happily in one hand so I assume he was fairly experience, anyway, he said they were nice little birds and would be fine with a bit of feeding up, he put the poor condition down to then being part of a very large flock where there was probably quite a lot of competition for resources.

The Leghorn is pretty much the standard commercial bird in America where they like white eggs. They are egg machines, wiry little birds that put all their energy into egg production and stay lean as a result. They are flighty and quite jumpy but quite hardy (although I expect the huge combs are going to need a bit of vaseline in the winter!) 

There was a bit of bullying when the old and new hens met, the old hens giving our poor little new ones a bit of a hard time, however it wasn't too bad because the leghorns are so nippy and flighty that they were good at just keeping out of the way of the bullies. 

When I went to shut them up the old birds were sitting like queens on the top perch and all three of the leghorns had squeezed into a next box as far away as they could be, I left them like this and in the morning all seemed fine. 

However on the second night we had problems, it was getting dark and the leghorns refused to go in the hen house, instead they were trying to nest down on the outside of the house in the drizzle. Predators are professionally controlled by the surrounding farmers but leaving hens outside the house was a needless risk so we needed to shut them up. I caught one and put him in the hen house and shut the door. When I looked through the vents it was horrible, all three of the old birds jumped on the trapped leghorn and started pecking her to bits, I quickly got her out and didn't want to risk putting her in again. 

Instead we got an empty rabbit hutch, filled the nest bit with sawdust and made a perch from an old bed strut taped onto some bean tins. It was a bit cramped but safe and dry. We put the birds in and they all jumped into the tiny next bit and stayed there. 

I was a bit worried because but last night was very relieved, when I went to shut them up all six birds were roosting quite happily together in the main hen house. 

Looks like the settling period is over and the pecking order has been established. Hopefully harmony with reign for now on.

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