I was very relieved with the recent March issue of NZ Lifestyle Block to read that there has been some research done on the effects of human induced stress on commercial chickens’ welfare and egg production.
Now that I am on to my second batch of rescued hens from a free range farm I have discovered a number of attitudes and behaviours that have made chicken ownership much easier.
1. Four is easier than two
I will always get three as a minimum number. They flock. Safety and comfort in numbers.
2. Chickens are cupboard lovers Approaching with food, titbits and treats from date of acquiring for 2-3 weeks has removed any fear of me when 1 approach their run. Even with an axe to bang in the fence stakes to move their run to fresh pasture… no threat.
3. Rescued hens may need to learn how to forage
When I turn the compost or fork over a garden plot there are now five of us in there. The first snail resulted in an engrossed audience. A tap with a brick and extracting the escargot caused a bun fight. Have I needed to show them a second time? No, chickens learn fast. Don’t children learn better without bullying?
4. Let them go free
I now allow all four of my hens to free range for a few hours each day when I am home. With two boundaries unfenced I collect die hens promptly when they stray and now they tend not to.
5. Chickens are so busy and active Keeping them in a small enclosure, chicken ark or en masse in a paddock for extended periods limits natural behaviour and dietary’ foraging. My four squabble less now than when I got them.
6. Chickens can have a lot of character, very different personalities and a definite pecking order
Observing these and acting accordingly can improve life for all. My chook ark had a long willow branch for roosting at night but Bolshi pecked any chicken within reach. I have since added a mezzanine double bunk for the two wee blonds and my biggest hen gets the nesting box.
7. Avoid chasing them
My big hen is so laid back she can be patted, picked up and carried like a pet. The others are ok with a little persuasion, ie, food. She has also figured out that the broccoli regrowth is tastier than the leaves. I fence or cage what I don’t want touched to avoid shooing them away.
8. Yes, I do name them
Not always recommended to avoid attachment but having seen or had pet lambs named Roast and Chilla and hens named Henrietta, Floppy Comb and Bokbok, such names are useful and it’s fun to differentiate one from the other. I could not picture my four girls in a commercial cage but thanks to the article about Dr Lauren Edwards’ research, it is a relief to know things are being done odier than just cage size to improve the sad lot of a laying hen.