It’s a long and twisted tale. We decided to add a chicken coop, pen, and hens to our yard about 5 years ago–right when it was getting trendy. Hens definitely have distinct behaviors, and the pecking order can be brutal. Every spring we add new chicks–we either hatch them ourselves in an incubator or buy some from the feed store and raise them. Just like in the reality TV show “Survivor”, there’s always trouble when it comes to… “THE MERGE.” “All right ladies, drop your buffs!” I say, and the merge commences.
Once the chicks are bigger (maybe 3-4 weeks old), and can hold their own, you have to merge the younger ones with the older established brood. It can be challenging, and the “pecking order” is named as such for good reason–they really peck hard at each other (usually the head) to establish dominance and a hierarchy. Our problem has always been getting the older hens to allow the younger hens to roost/sleep inside the coop. Some people even go to such great lengths as to add a second coop. I’m not willing to do that.
Here is their coop from their view of it from inside the pen—it’s a nice place, and can easily hold 20 hens roosting inside. My hens have a pretty luxurious life. A chicken coop Taj Mahal with grass, and 4 or 5 large trees for shade. Good food. Worms. Places to take dust baths. A huge pen. In the photo you can see that we have the ability to shut this additional door to the coop, limiting them to that small run plus the coop. This is what we often do when we merge hens of different ages. We lock them inside with food and water and force them to get along. (It’s kind of like parenting kids.) We open it after a few days, and after that, they all sleep inside there…..well, until…
Well, until spring of 2014 when I decided to add 15 more hens to our flock of 10, giving us 25. Well, I’ve been known to go overboard, and I did. 25 hens (of 4 different ages) just didn’t merge well, and we could have filmed our own reality TV show back there. The young ones were absolutely not allowed inside the coop, and we couldn’t corral them in at night to force them inside. They discovered the trees. And oh, how they love to roost in the trees. We got up on ladders at night to try to bring them into the coop—but wow, those talons wouldn’t let go of the branches, and we soon gave up. I thought, “Surely when the winter rains come, they will move inside.” But no–there they have stayed, and they have never moved inside.
So now, after giving some away, and a few deaths from predators (owls) and a few natural deaths, we are down to 14 hens. But I still have two of my original hens, including the very first baby we ever hatched from an egg in the incubator. And this is what really shocked me the other night. I was wandering around outside under the full moon, the night before the total lunar eclipse with my friend Jennifer. I told her how half of my hens choose to roost in the trees instead of the coop—even in the rain or snow. I opened the coop—and there were no hens in the coop. Even my veteran girls had moved outside to the trees. I guess it’s the cool thing to do now. Our coop has never had a predator inside of it as far as I know, but perhaps they find safety in numbers—and the tree girls are now in charge of these decisions apparently.
My girls go to bed before it is dark out—just right at dusk, so I took these photos of my hens in the trees before it was dark outside for you to enjoy. These girls! Even in the rain.