Parsley is a delightful savoury treat – for humans, guinea pigs and even for chickens. The girls had been proudly presenting me and my family with freshly laid eggs so it was my turn to treat them. I bought three reasonably priced parsley plants in a supermarket and planted them in the side garden, otherwise known as Hen Garden.
The ladies headed straight for the herbs. In the space of less than two hours, the parsley was no longer to be seen. It had been eaten, trampled on, demolished and vandalised.
(I call them ladies but that sort of behaviour is not very ladylike really. Is it Dottie?).
And it did make me think, my back garden is pretty much green with many plants (unfortunately many weeds and unidentifiable ones too) – Hen Corner in contrast is brown and barren except for a few lonely specimens such as an apple tree.
It wasn’t always such a forlorn desert.
Where has all the greenery gone?
Then I spotted Mabel gobbling up yet another leaf from one of the lucky plants still standing.
So it took two weeks for Mabel and Ava to meet and greet Florence, Jemima and Dottie through the fencing, first of their coop, then of the small run.
The first time Florence set eyes on the two new girls peering curiously out of the wire mesh, she launched herself aggressively onto their coop, flapping her wings.
Not what I expected from the once docile, sweet Flo.
Jemima did the same.
Not what I expected from the lazy, often broody Jemima.
And Dottie? Who was bossy and used to peck Florence when she was a youngster?
She ignored them.
To be fair, most of the time everyone ignored each other. There were curious glances but otherwise both groups of chickens got used to the other gang being in the vicinity. As long as they were kept apart from fencing, that is.
Dottie and Florence meet Mabel and Ava
Jemima meets the new girls, Mabel and Ava
After a week of ‘quarantine’, where Mabel and Ava got used to their new surroundings, they were allowed out in the small run. The older hens roamed free in the outer garden. I worried that the youngsters would try and sneak through the flimsy netting and (typical of my worst fears) get pecked and eaten by a three-strong gang of tough pekin bantams.
Well, maybe just the pecking although I have heard of cannibalism in chickens…
It went smoothly but, because of my concerns, I continued to keep close watch while they were out.
They were often in full sight of the other chickens.
Then it was deemed time for them to wander the full length of the Hen Garden. I closed the other chickens in, and Dad and I cleared the garden of anything that could possibly be a danger. We also closed off any potential small areas of escape. I worried they would fly away, squeeze under a tiny hole or eat something they shouldn’t.
None of these things happened. They loved their new-found freedom.
Then it was Meet and Greet Day. One by one, in the comfort of my living room, Ava and Mabel met Jemima, Florence and Dottie. All went well except Florence pecked Ava (where was the nice Flo?) and oddly, Mabel pecked Dottie.
Originally, they were all going to be introduced that night as I heard bedtime was the best time to introduce chickens. But after the two pecking incidents, I, well, ‘chickened out’ (!) Instead, every day for the next fortnight, all the chickens went out in their designated Hen Garden but slept in their respective coops at night.
At first, there was chasing by Jemima (well, at least it woke her from broodiness) and Florence. No harm done but it did make Mabel and Ava wary of the mean girls.
There also seemed to be segregation, with one group at the top and the other at the bottom of their garden. And vice versa.
But gradually, over the fortnight, Mabel and Ava creeped over towards the group, little by little, step by step. Still a little chasing went on, usually by Jemima, and I caught Dottie peck Mabel (was this revenge?) but generally, they slowly, surely, accepted the two youngsters.
When Mabel and Ava wandered over to the older hens’ coop and pottered around, eating grain, there was an air of acceptance.
I was nervous when the big moving in day arrived. At 5pm, when it was twilight, not dark for us humans but bedtime for chickens, Dad and I took out Ava and Mabel from their perches and placed them on the perch in their new home.
A couple of times I sneaked towards the coop, hovering by the door, waiting in anticipation for any noises.
All quiet on the chicken front.
The next morning, they were all as one. A little bit of bickering went on about corn (well, if you can’t argue about corn, what can you argue about?) but otherwise…
I left them in their coop, to their own devices, while I went for a walk. When I got back, I found Florence had laid an egg (good girl, Flo!) and she had been followed into the bedroom by Jemima, Dottie, Mabel and Ava.
Over the last week, the once segregated groups have integrated into one, bigger group. It took patience, anti-pecking spray and nerves – and a few weeks – but it looks like Ava and Mabel have made themselves at home and made new friends at the same time.
Most importantly, they also learnt very quickly where they could beg for mealworms!
As regular readers will know, there are three feathered inhabitants of Cosy Cottage – Jemima, Florence and Dottie.
That is, until now.
When I first got the hens, I had been thinking of adopting between three and five but, out of caution, I ended up with three bantams. This was fine until Jemima and Florence both ended up being broody and Dottie was left out, looking as if she was Dottie-no-mates. Which she probably felt as well. At that point I started thinking, would it be a good idea to get another two?
Then Dottie became ill and I contemplated the horrid possibility of losing her. Then there would just be two and if anything happened to one of them, there would be a sole bantam wandering the garden, looking and feeling glum, no doubt.
There is a joke among chicken keepers called Chicken Maths where one and one hen will eventually end up… Well, whatever the chicken keeper chooses! Ultimately, the saying is that no matter how many hens you begin with, you will end up wanting more.
I didn’t think that I would feel like that as I was restricted for space, living in the suburbs. But the above issues this year did make me think…
And as summer turned into autumn, I realised that if I were to get any more, now was the time, rather than winter with the risk of bird flu, freezing nights and darker days.
So I returned to the birth place of Florence et al, and as luck would have it, the poultry farm had two colours remaining – black and black speckled. (Before you think I am vain or superficial, any colour would do but I liked the idea of telling the girls apart). Of course if I had one or more Jemima or Florence lookalikes, I would have bought leg rings so I could differentiate between them.
So Ava (nicknamed Little Ava) is 14 weeks old, all-black and the smaller of the two. Mabel is 12 weeks old, black speckled, has a much paler comb and is a larger lady. They are currently living in a CosyCoop, a cheaper version of the more famous plastic Eglu, and is actually where the older girls once lived for a week, when they first arrived a year ago.
Most of the time, the bantams have ignored the young girls as they free range around them. However, unfortunately both Jemima and Florence have been less than welcoming, trying to peck the young hens through the barrier.
To say I am dreading the integration process proper, where all hens will mix freely and reestablish their pecking order, is an understatement.
Wish us all luck!
Facts of the Day
1. Introducing a new bird can upset the pecking order. It’s suggested two or more hens should be introduced at a time to minimise bullying.
2. The flock of established hens will resent newcomers until the pecking order is re-established.
3. Allowing the two groups to meet through wire mesh during the first introductions is a good idea.
Information courtesy of Mini Encyclopedia Chicken Breeds and Care by Frances Bassom
It’s hard for me to believe but Florence, Jemima and Dottie first came to Cosy Cottage more than a year ago, in August last year. Here’s a few highlights… And lowlights… of what happened over the year:
February – August 2017 – Building the coop
August 2017 – The girls arrive for the hen party!
September 2017 – Florence grows up
December 2017 – The new gate equals Freedom!
February/March 2018 – ‘Beast from the East’ brings snow to Britain… And Cosy Cottage
June 2018 – A mouse in their house
Summer 2018 – Broody girls and a hot summer
Jemima and Florence (behind) in the nesting area
July 2018 – Dottie’s illness and recovery
Now… I hope to have many more months and years with these delightful ladies. They may be slow on the egg department but they are all charming and make me smile when I see them first thing in the morning. And mealworms make them smile!