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The Return of the Chicken Chronicles

Several of you have emailed me and asked for an update on the peeps, so here it is:

As you may recall, on the dark, tragic seventh day of April, one of my baby chicks was nearly pecked to death by one of our adult hens.  It was truly horrifying and while I don't care to relive it, you can.

It's now been about five weeks since the tragic incident. As you can see, Lady Bird (the blonde one, a Buff Orpington) has made a full recovery.  If you look closely you'll see a small bald patch remaining on the side of her head, but it's filling in with feathers as we speak.  All is well.

Lb and ida

That's Ida sitting next to her.  They are about half to three-quarters their full adult size at this point (they're 3 months old right now).  That's still too small to fend off a seriously angry adult hen. So while they can come out and free range in the backyard, where it's easier to get away from a hen who just feels like pecking at something to show who's boss, I'm still not willing to lock them up together, where they could be more easily cornered.

Which means that they sleep in a makeshift enclosure inside the chicken run–exactly the sort of enclosure I was too lazy to build at first, which is what led to Lady Bird getting pecked.

I'm making do with a wire dog enclosure, some chicken wire, and other assorted odds and ends I had around the house.  At this point, we think we'll have to keep them separated until everyone is about the same size, which will be sometime in late summer. Maybe they'll get together sooner, but only after I've seen them spend lots of time together without any blood getting drawn.

The whole experience has really put me off the idea of adding new chicks to the flock.  I know farmers do it all the time, but I just don't have the stomach for watching the weak ones get pecked to death, and all this supervised, gradually socialization of the chicks and adults is just really more than I have time for.

If I was going to get new chicks more regularly, or if I had a little more money to throw at the problem, it would have been a smart move to get one of these Lucky Dog kennels, which sell at my feed store for about $200.  I could have put it inside the run and had the perfect, sheltered-from-the-rain wire enclosure so that the peeps could be near the adults without being endangered by them.

Photo

I know, it seems like total overkill for a couple of baby chicks.  But it gives them lots of room to hop around, and if you stuck a couple of roosts in there at various heights, they could hop up and down and be very happy. And because it has a person-sized door (as opposed to my makeshift thing, which has a door meant to accommodate a shih tzu), it would be easier to get in there and clean or do stuff. And the waterproof roof is really nice.

(I should point out that a critter could tunnel under it and get the chicks.  If you were putting it inside a run that's already critter-proof, that's not a big deal.  But if you were going to put it next to your run, or somewhere else, you'd need to bury hardware cloth underneath it to make absolutely sure nobody could get in, and maybe add a layer of chicken wire around the sides to make sure critters couldn't reach inside.)

And it comes apart easily, so it could be stored, loaned to a neighbor in need of a temporary "chick shelter," or donated to a rescue project.

But I don't have one of those.  So our little social experiment continues. There's your update–good luck to those of you who are doing your own chicken-raising this year.

Posted by on May 19, 2010 at 5:40 am, in the category Uncategorized.
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17 responses to “The Return of the Chicken Chronicles”

  1. Another way around introducing hand raised chicks is to have a broody hen do it. Thats what we did with our first round of chicks (we originally got adult hens for our first flock). The hen took care of the little girls, defended them from the other hens and made sure they were safe at all times and stayed close. The hen and chicks stayed in the general population pretty much the whole time, except for the very beginning we kept them separate during the day, but everyone was together at night.

  2. Li'l Ned says:

    I’ve just had my first taste of chick carnage, as a newbie chicken owner. Caught it in good time, but yikes. Glad to see your girlie is healing up. Gives me hope for my wee blondie. I love the dog run idea too. I scored a used collapsible one — less sturdy than this one — at the thrift store and have made it into a poor white trash-looking chickie day spa until my official coop and run is finished a-building. Meanwhile I will goop up Betty with purple no-peck glop and keep on eye on the little terrors.

  3. Katie says:

    1) Thank you for the update. I enjoy watching other people’s chickens.

    2) I have a neighborhood hawk that enjoys my yard. Therefore I don’t have lots of other critters, but I’m guessing the hawk could eat my baby chickens if I ever got any?

    3) Some shameless promotion, but more for Rebecca–she did a HILARIOUS post about protecting your chickens from werewolves (for a big blog tour yesterday), and chicken lovers will get a kick out of it, I’m sure. I almost fell out of my chair laughing. Lots of really cute and funny chicken pics in it!

    Here’s the link: http://gossipinthegarden.com/2010/05/18/chickens-werewolf-survival-guide/

    LOLOL

    (I’m glad your chicken is getting better, Amy.)

  4. Liisa says:

    @ Katie: We have hawks and falcons too. Our hens are smart enough that when anything flies over, they take cover under a rose bush. We’re on our 4th year with no hawk incidents. :-)

  5. We just put our 7 week old youngsters outside last Friday. However, before we did, as we have the space here, we built a new coop for ‘old hens’ to retire to. I have a very bossy hen at the top of the pecking order, and just didn’t want to go there. The new chicks are all together now in the main coop, and the hens are in the garden coop. I’m glad to see that Lady Bird is over the worst of her ordeal. It is amazing how ruthless some hens can be.

  6. Bev says:

    Buff Orpingtons are famous for going broody and make great mommas – true defenders of the chicks. Of course around 6 weeks, momma abandons them but by then, the older gals are accustomed to them.

  7. Ficurinia says:

    I don’t have chickens, but I wish I had a larger garden for them. I have had many pet birds though and once I had a female budgie who tried to kill a younger female living in the cage with her. I actually took her to an avian veterinarian and she had about 10 stitches all over her tiny head when she came home. (I had no idea that a fight like that could be so bloody!) She lived many years, eventually, she even found a mate who loved her very much despite the scars.

    Birds will be birds I guess, but it is sad to watch.

  8. Thanks for the update! It makes raising backyard chickens sound more and more like a PG-13 adventure!

  9. Jenny says:

    Go Lady Bird!

  10. Ott, A says:

    Read about your blog in my latest Birds and Blooms magazine. So glad to have found your blog. I blog about my garden as well. You’ll have to stop by and check it out sometime. Happy Gardening!

  11. Steve says:

    What type of breed is Ida? I have adult hens and would like to get a few more chicks to combine with the flock when they get older. It seems like after a few months or so, I should be able to introduce the younger hens a few incremental hours at a time. I don’t have the time or patience to manage separate coops, but I have a small cage for the chicks. How can I determine whether one of the older hens is broody? Are some breeds known to be broody?

  12. Chuck Nevitt says:

    I remember keeping our chicks in a fenced enclosure until they were good-sized juveniles. The yard as a whole was big enough to provide ample escape room.

    One pet peeve about chicken ownership in general, in relation to gardening: can we have a moratorium on pictures of chickens peacefully browsing amidst the greenery of the vegetable garden? Somehow, my hens got in my garden yesterday and did a good deal of damage. Yes, I know, permaculture this and circle of life that. But I want my greens and my morning glory seedlings back. My asparagus beds are for my family’s enjoyment over the long haul, not for some excavating birds, thank you very much!

  13. John says:

    We added to our small flock last year. We had to expand our coop so in the process we put a screen of hardware cloth down the center of the coop to keep the old and new flocks separated. We added a second entrance to allow access to both areas. Finally, since we had to expand our run also, we set it up so that we can segragate one section of the run. This allowed us to keep the two flocks close without having them intermingle. Once the new girls were big enough to keep their distance from the older ones, we began the mingling process. As long as you have enough room for the younger chickens to escape the bullies you should be OK.

  14. Steve says:

    To Chuck: I completely agree with you. In my yard, the Chickens do significant damage to seedlings and transplants under, say, about 4 inches in height. I have had to section off the areas with seedlings (I use 1.5 ft tall cut metal fencing) and I may completely fence off the garden area and let them roam the lawn/grass, etc. The Chickens do eat weeds and they do eat bugs and worms (which they consider a delicacy) but they provide limited control at best. Still, they make an excellent addition to my yard.

  15. Chuck Nevitt says:

    Steve: Yes, I may open the garden up to them in the very depths of winter for some direct fertilization. Maybe. Depends on how my campaign to get more winter veggies goes. I ended up blockading the garden with 4′ wire fencing from Home Despot. The youthful chickens of last year had no problems with 1′-2′ barriers. This year, they’re pretty hefty and have been reduced to a few opportunistic raids.

    Those pictures of idyllic chicken/garden coexistence are great marketing but alas, painfully misrepresentative of the true situation!

  16. Angela Davis says:

    Sounds similar to what I’m doing. I have one chick that I keep separated in the coop at night but during the day my three month old chick hangs out in the front yard and the rest of the chickens wonder the back. My problem isn’t the hens but my rooster. My chick just isn’t interested in his advances yet.

  17. Deirdre says:

    I’m getting my first pullets soon. Three of them will have been raised together. My son bought six, but is only allowed to have three on a standard lot in Seattle. My lot is much larger than standard so I can have more. I’d like to get a fourth, but she will have been raised elsewhere. She will also be a few weeks older than the others. Will it be a problem when I try to combine them or will her being bigger give her an advantage in the new pecking order? It will be a new pecking order since they will have been separated from their original “flock”. Will the fact that they will all be new here make a difference. Should I keep them separate, but side by side for a while first. I’m assuming I’ll need to keep them all in the tractor full time for a couple of weeks until they figure out where home is and to return to it. Thank you for any and all advice.

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