The beautiful personalities of three Australorp chickens settling into the backyard has been a thoroughly enjoyable part of the Christmas break. I can’t describe how much I love them. I wake up and can’t wait to say good morning to them.
Chickpea who turned out to be Chuckpea was swapped for a black pullet, at least…I hope she’s a pullet! It can be a little hard to tell, but we’ll just have to see. My youngest chose her name…Fluffy. So, Betty, Penelope and…Fluffy.
I’ve already had that heart-stopping moment of believing they were gone. I arrived later home than planned from the local Christmas twilight farmers market. The darkening garden was silent. The coop, empty…
Then, a gentle chicken-sleeping sound. I found them snoozing up high in the lilly-pilly tree. Such a relief to scoop them up and plop them into their safe night house. Foxes are plentiful around here in wine country.
Ah, they are already in my heart, these three.
We’ve had the first special gift to them via me. I was excited to find a cockroach in my potting shed, caught it and delivered it with the speed of a pizza delivery guy to the girls. Betty is the boss and so Betty dined on cockroach and we shared a knowing glance of mutual understanding.
We’ve also, already had that chat, about vegetables and boundaries. It’s related to the chat that you have with cats about not eating any creature that appears in Wind in the Willows. In particular, with chickens, we discussed the unauthorised harvesting of onions and beetroot. It happens. They love the raised-ness of raised-beds of course, and saw me scratching around planting, and so took it, naturally, as the invitation they had not actually been waiting for. It’s their nature, their gift. They did a brilliant job, really very gentle. Just in case they get a little exuberant under the spell of the harvest festival time, I’ve erected a sort of pacifist form of barbed wire so that forays into the vegetables are by invitation only for now. I know they will outsmart it. I know what it looks like. Wooly rainbow bunting that says “The place for chickens to party and feast is up here by these vegetables!”
You know what it’s like when families or friends converge on a house. Who gets which room, who gets which bed. Chickens are no different.
In the past we had the luxury of a chicken shed larger than my present garden shed, with multiple height perches and a large flock. Luxury in a tin shed of epic proportions. There was plenty of room to sleep anywhere. However, now with a smaller night house, space is limited and every space has a single purpose.
With the arrival of Fluffy, Betty and Penelope had to establish their authority. During the day this was with the odd peck and being punished for daring to share some watermelon. By night, Penelope and Betty both began to sleep in the nesting boxes, banishing Fluffy to sleep alone on the perches.
It isn’t a good idea for chickens to routinely sleep in the nesting area because they poo at night, making the area a little unsuitable for egg laying. It can also discourage them from laying as egg laying is usually a bit of a cosy private affair, with a bit of flapping around and shouting it from the rooftops afterwards to announce it.
I observed their interactions each day, and noticed in the last few days that the relationships between the three, had steadied and grown. Fluffy had earned her place in the hierarchy and all three were getting along swimmingly, each finding their role. Fluffy was no longer an outcast.
This signalled to me, that they would be willing to sleep in the same space together. So, tonight, to discourage Betty and Penelope from sleeping in the nest boxes, I attached cardboard to a piece of squared wire and slotted this in at around 8pm (summer time in Adelaide) as they were trying to settle in for sleep. Then at about 11pm, I checked on them by torchlight to make sure they were all asleep together on the perches and gently and quietly remove the partition. Will this work? I have no idea!
Although I let them out of the night house around 5am every morning, they are just before point of lay and who knows when the egg-laying urge will strike, so I don’t want to leave the removal of the partition until morning at this special time in a chicken life – the first egg should be a special and safe experience for a hen.
If there’s a lot of poo in the nestboxes and a chicken sized indentation in the straw when I check in the morning, it means they probably moved in there overnight and I’ll have to leave the removal of the partition until morning.
I think after a few nights of this, hopefully they will stop going into the nest boxes to sleep.
If anyone has any other genius tips for discouraging crashing out in the nest for rest, let me know.