Two’s company….three’s a crowd?

It’s a funny expression “Are you chicken?” meaning are you scared; so commonly heard in the playground as a taunt. In actual fact chickens are one of the scariest and feistiest birds I know. If you’ve ever introduced a chicken to an existing flock you will know how threatening and down right mean they can be. The game of “chicken” played by school children is also another interesting use of the word. Both come down to the Pecking Order that is prevalent in any flock. This is when each bird has to fight for their place within the flock and every time a new bird is introduced they have to go through the same procedure.

I had a little hen called Slippy; I was very fond of Slippy. She had a gawky face and peevish expression and a wonky, pale pink comb.

Slippy Chick

Slippy was at the bottom of the Pecking Order and it used to break my heart to see her receiving pecks and aggressive shoves around feeding time. She wouldn’t get many of the scraps I threw (despite my best endeavours) and would often be a loner wondering around pecking and scratching in solitude. However, a couple of my chickens moved onto the Big Perch in the Sky and I decided to get another four to make a round flock of eight. I gently manoeuvred the cardboard boxes containing the latest additions into the inner coop and released them into the safe confines to get used to their environment and settle down. Once suitably adjusted I opened up the door and off they went into, what I can only describe as, The Abyss…. Doris The Brave poked her beak out and promptly dived straight for the overhanging pine trees and hunkered down with Ethel-the-not-so-ready following hot on her heels and various furious, feathered fowl in hot pursuit. I turned around to see Rosemary cowering in a corner of the inner coop with an outraged (yes I can only describe it as rage) Slippy delivering a staccato of swift pecks to her head. I watched in amazement as Slippy whirled around like a hen possessed in pursuit of more fresh chicken targets; blood dripping from her gnarled beak (well not quite dripping blood but it was all getting a bit out of hand quite frankly). Slippy? My quiet, meek little lamb? This was my first lesson in the Pecking Order and it was no joke; my husband has been known to shake his head and murmur “If they were human size it’d be like something out of Jurassic Park.”

So, how to introduce new birds to your flock without causing stress and anxiety to you, I mean, to your chickens!

If possible have a separate coop for the new birds. They will seem less of a threat to the existing flock and when you finally introduce them it won’t be so dramatic. If you are handy with a drill, some pvc piping and some wire then you can build one of these fabulous chicken tractors designed by the inspirational Janet Luke for next to nothing. They are ingenious contraptions and, as well as providing extra housing for new birds, you can also put your chickens to work in the vege garden in a chicken tractor. They will do all the hard work by clearing and fertilizing a used vege bed leaving it ready for you to plant up again. Perfect!

Distraction is key – rather like dealing with a toddler! Hang a bunch of silver beet (chard leaves) from string in the coop for the flock to jump at or try a tasty Fat ball. It’ll keep them busy and give the newbies a break.

Silverbeet Silverbeet 2

Make sure there are places for new birds to hide within and hunker down to feel safe. My chickens seek solace in these low hanging evergreen branches.

Evergreen hideout

Dump a big load of weeds, soil and leaves for the flock to scratch through.

Make sure new birds are old enough to stick up for themselves

Put out a big array of feeders and water troughs to avoid wings bumping at the table. Don’t buy expensive ones; use ice cream containers, large plastic lids or even an old reflector post.

Reflector Post

Any super aggressive bird should be removed. Let her free range and eat away from the flock until things settle down. When re-introduced to the flock she’ll be taken down a peg or two as she will be seen as a “newbie”. Don’t worry, she’ll be fine!

If you have the means, let the existing flock free range in the day. The new birds can spend time getting used to their new environment and when the existing flock return they’ll be too exhausted from their adventures with the bugs and worms to want to pick a fight.

Free range 2 Free range

NEVER introduce one single bird to a flock. There is wisdom in the old adage “safety in numbers” after all.

Make sure you offer extra protein for all birds during this stressful time; even a dish of pro-biotic yoghurt  to prevent weight loss and feather loss will be well received.

Above all use your common sense and there’s no shame in sitting in your coop all day protecting your new hens (sorry, my husband just murmured something…crazy chicken woman what??!)


Every Healthy Chick needs a Tonic!

“Tonic? Singular? Don’t you mean Gin and Tonic?” I hear you murmur….. Nope. This is definitely a post all about tonic of the chicken variety today; mainly because I have a mound of comfrey leaves waiting to be put to good use and a lovely herb spiral loaded with goodies of the green and nutritious kind.

The girls Chicks

I like to give my “ladies” a little health tonic boost throughout the year but especially coming into winter. They’ve had a hard time of it this summer with the heat and the endless drought. It put them off the lay and many began to moult; a right scruffy bunch they looked too! Chickens need extra nutrition especially whilst laying. It makes sense to offer a herb tonic to keep your hen in tip top condition because that means your eggs will be tip top too.

You can make your own homemade tonic and tailor it to your chickens’ needs; it can also be free too if you have the right herbs already growing in your garden. Not that I’m a cheapskate…I just love a bargain!

This is what I generally use in my chicken tonic:

Perk Me Up Tonic for Jaded Chickens

2 handfuls of marjoram
2 handfuls of sage
2 handfuls of chickweed
1 handful of Pineapple sage
1 handful of Comfrey
1 handful of marigold/calendular flowers
1 handful of parsley

Chicken Tonic Herbs

Chop up the herbs and add to usual feed or simply throw around the coop as a healthy snack and a fun game for your chookies! You can dry these herbs for use in winter if you like. Then you will always have a steady supply. I do this with calendular flowers in the summer as they are great for making rich orange egg yolks.

Chicken Tonic 5 Chicken Tonic 6

In the summer when flowers are plentiful I add any of the following :
Violets or Heartsease

Chicken Tonic 3 Chicken Tonic 2

To help you on your way here is a list of herbs and their benefits :

Chickweed – packed to the brim with nutrients
Comfrey – rich in protein and a good source of potassium and calcium
Dandelion greens – immune system
Dill – relaxant, anti-oxidant
Fennel and garlic – laying stimulant (garlic will taint the taste of your eggs)
Lavender – stress reliever, insecticide
Lemon balm – stress reliever, antibacterial
Marigold – yellow yolks, insecticide
Marjoram – laying stimulant
Mint – insecticide
Nettle – high in nutrients and vitamins
Oregano – stimulant, anti-parasitic, anti-fungal
Pineapple sage – aids nervous system
Rosemary – insecticide
Sage – anti-oxidant, anti-parasitic, general health promoter
Thyme – anti-parasitic, anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial
Yarrow – anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, stress reliever

Enjoy making your own chicken tonic. If you’re short on time simply tie together some silverbeet (chard), spinach and herbs and hang in the chicken coop. You will amuse and delight your feathered friends whilst giving them some nutritional goodness too – everyone’s a winner!

Chick Weed