Once we had our lovely hen house and pen ready (full story here) we started enquiring about chickens. We found a superb breeder on Gumtree who had a variety of pullets (baby chickens) available that were just coming in to lay. We had decided on the Rhode Island Red (RIR), an American breed known to be good layers (approx. 250 eggs a year), as well as good for eating.
Although I was tempted by the amazing breeds on offer to us, including some that looked closer to cockatoos than hens with bright white feathers, fluffy heads and feathers on their feet, we came home with two lovely RIR’s.
We made sure both had full red wattles, bright eyes and glossy feathers (all signs of a happy healthy hen) before we got them in a cardboard box and popped them in the boot.
We kept it pretty dark so they would settle faster, and drove them home where we shut them in the hen house (with food and water) for a day or two so they would adjust to their new home.
On the second day of confinement a friend who had lost the rest of her flock to a fox asked if we could rehome one of her hens. We gladly collected that evening and popped her in with the others to stay in the hen house overnight.
The next day we took each hen out of the house and clipped their wings before we let them loose to run around their new home, and find all the treats we had scattered about.
Having seen a bit of their personality come through at feeding time we decided on ‘release day’ that we should really get on with naming them. We had joked that our fenced off island was like a mini Alcatraz and going along this theme we went with characters from ‘Orange is the New Black’. Taystee was an obvious choice for one and another was named Red for her bossy attitude and marking around one eye that looked remarkably like heavy eyeliner. And our late addition…? Chapman of course!
The hens love their new home and started laying (in random places) within a day or two. We are still training the chooks to nest on perches while they sleep as they are in the habit of sitting in the nest box and pooping there all night! Hopefully once the nests are clean they’ll lay more eggs there, as they currently alternate between using them and the dust bath they made by the door to the pen, resulting in a few almost being trodden on during our early morning feeds! We usually get one or two eggs a day and hopefully by summer we’ll be getting three so I’ll have an excuse for some baking.
Our new favourite game is throwing worms onto the top of the pen – they drop though the net and the chickens catch them then run around with them in their beak, trying to gobble it up before it’s snatched from them. Taystee is by far the worm champion, but Red makes sure she gets most of the green treats!
Cheers Pippa and Theo