A Chick Update (Part 7)

If you’ve been keeping up with this series of posts, you know from A Chick Update (Part 6) that the chickens are now in the coop with the older hens and that the hens are doing everything possible to teach them how to be better chickens. A funny thing started happening this past week. The chicks are starting to recognize that the hens sit in a certain manner in the nest box. Of course, like children everywhere, the chicks have decided to emulate the behavior. So, they get up into the nest box, fluff out their feathers, and proceed to sit with the greatest of care. Unfortunately, all of them are sitting in the same nest box for the most part, which was amusing enough when they were smaller, but is absolutely hysterical now because one or two of the chicks usually end up falling out. The chicks will eventually get the idea.

These young hens are experimenting with the nest box, but they're all trying to use the same one.
Young Hens Experimenting with the Nest Box

Today is a sort of graduation day for the chicks as well. As of tomorrow, the chicks will have spent two weeks with the hens in the coop. Not only are the hens getting a bit irritable, but the chicks need to start growing beyond the coop as well. As of tomorrow, the chicks will have the opportunity to go out into the run and get some sunshine, along with a little freedom from the hens. However, I can’t just let them crawl out under the run fence as the hens have been doing for the last while (just so you know, chickens are excellent at tunneling under fences), so I’ve cleared all the brush and made sure that the fence will keep the chicks inside—at least for now. The hens can still get out by flying over the top of the fence. That was my original idea anyway to keep predators at bay.

I’m sure the chicks will be absolutely terrified when I open the run door. Once they get past the usual surprise though, they’ll go outside and run about. They still peep, but it’s not hard to hear them yelling, “I’m free! I’m free!” or the equivalent in chicken anyway.

Trying to get them back into the coop will be interesting. The last time I had chicks, getting them back into the coop consisted of chasing them back up the ramp at the end of the day. Nothing would prompt the chicks to go back inside. The hens may try to help me out, which would be nice. I’ve noticed that they herd the chicks about in the coop. If not, I’ll be out there again with my fishing net to catch any chicks that won’t go into the coop no matter how nicely I ask. After about two weeks, the chicks will get the idea that when I call from inside the coop, it really is time to come in for the day. Everything takes time.

As the chicks continue to grow, they’ll also gain more knowledge of what it means to be a chicken. It’s interesting to think about chickens going to a school of sorts, but that’s how things end up working out. Let me know your thoughts about all things chicken at [email protected].


A Chick Update (Part 6)

The chicks are now in the coop. Moving them was akin to watching a keystone cops movie—anyone who has tried to catch chickens knows precisely what I mean. The cage I built is nice because it gives the chickens plenty of space to run. However, getting the chickens out of there when it’s time for them to go is another story. I’ve found over the years that using the end of the brooder insert to corral them does help significantly. Even so, you’ve got to be really fast to grab the chicken, yet really gentle to avoid hurting them.

All the chicks did calm down once I had them in my hand. Picking them up regularly as they grew did help significantly. I’m not entirely sure why they make such a big deal out of being picked up, but having them settle right down is nice. I got them over to the coop one at a time.

Of course, one chick always has to make my life interesting. She deftly flew out of the top of the coop when I tried to get her. So, I had a chick running around the garage examining absolutely everything. I was prepared and closed the garage door. The chick is now frantically running about and the garage door noise didn’t help matters. In this case, I used a landing net, the rubber type, used for fishing. It has a long reach and the rubber net lets me catch the chick without hurting her. I’ve used the net a number of times to catch chickens and never hurt any of them.

The chicks ran into a corner when I put them inside the coop. They looked straight into the corner, probably figuring that if they couldn’t see the big hens, the big hens couldn’t see them. My new approach of placing a hen with a tendency to be broody in with the chicks worked well. She didn’t precisely defend them all the time, but she kept the other hens, especially Violet, from getting too bossy. Both Hyacinth and Daisy took turns watching over the chicks—mothering them sometimes, teaching them at others. Unlike my first experience adding chicks to the coop, this experience is going exceptionally well.

Saturday will mark the one week point for the chicks. I’ll keep the chicks and hens shut up together for two weeks so that they can get used to each other and establish a pecking order. So far I haven’t seen a single instance where a chick has been pecked to the point of bleeding or even lost any feathers. This morning I went in to see several of the chicks trying out the lower nest boxes (they still can’t fly to the upper nest boxes). Even though it will be August or September before they start laying, I like the idea of them getting the feel of things sooner than later.

As a point of interest, the hens will definitely teach the chicks how to behave in the coop. I have changed the feeding schedule so that the chicks are sure to get their fill each day. I also stand in the coop during the first feeding of the day and keep the hens and chicks separated. Otherwise, the chicks have learned that the hens eat first and they eat second. They’re also learning to leave the hens alone when they’re sitting in the nest box. Like all young things, the chicks have a lot to learn and I’m sure now that the hens will teach them (rather than hurt them).

Every time I embark on a new project, I learn something interesting. So far, this chick raising experience has taught me the need to introduce the chicks to the coop earlier, to provide them with a surrogate mother, and to ensure I pick them up as often as is possible. Of course, I’ve known of the need to be fast with a fishing net for quite some time now. Let me know your thoughts about introducing new chicks to a coop using this method at [email protected].


A Chick Update (Part 5)

In the continuing saga of the developing chicks (see A Chick Update (Part 4) you last saw the chicks exploring a world without walls. Of course, they felt instantly overwhelmed by all the new space at their disposal. When the full grown chickens appeared on the scene, the chicks were quite beside themselves. Such is the world of chicks. Everything is new and frightening. I keep emphasizing that chicks are suspicious of everything because people seem surprised at some of their reactions.

The chicks are having more of the full grown chickens visit with them (I started out with a Buff Orpington named Hyacinth). In fact, I’m letting the chickens sit with the chicks in their cage, one at a time. I keep looking for ways of easing this whole issue of establishing a pecking order.

Of course, establishing a pecking order brings me to another topic. Up until now, the amount of fighting between the chicks has been minimal, probably because they’re too small to care and because they were grouping together to keep warm and fight off the hoards of perceived enemies. This week I started seeing a little more fighting amongst the chicks. They’re starting to establish a pecking order between themselves. My need to help them through this transition is becoming more important.

Breeds come into play at this point. The Buff Orpingtons are called gentle giants for a reason. First, you can already see that there is a small size difference between the buffs and their fellow chicks. The size different will increase. The Buff Orpingtons (which can come in at about 9 pounds processed weight) will never get as big as a meat chicken (which can easily exceed 12 pounds processed weight), but they will get a little larger than most of the hens in the coop (with an average processed weight of 6 pounds). They also tend to lay relatively large eggs, assuming you can keep them from getting broody. In the fight for dominance though, they just don’t seem to get the idea. The three buffs will end up at the bottom of the pecking order. Then again, in the coop I’ve noticed that even though the buffs are at the bottom of the pecking order (basically because they don’t care), no one really messes with them much either.

In watching the chicks, it’s starting to look like the Barred Plymouth Rock chicks will be the most aggressive. They aren’t completely overwhelming the three Americaunas, but they do seem intent on having their way at the food dish and the watering pan. I’ll have to see how things work out. At this point, I haven’t introduced the chicks to the queen of the coop, a Black Australorp named Violet. She’s loud, she’s bossy, she keeps the other hens in line. I’ll definitely save her visit until last.

I’m still trying to decide on that magic moment to move the chicks from the cage to the coop.  I’ll want to do it soon, before they get too big.  They’ll stay in a cage in the coop for about a week and then I’ll try letting them out.  I’m thinking that if I introduce them to the coop when they’re younger, perhaps the other hens will be easier on them. Let me know your thoughts on raising chickens at [email protected].