We just rebedded the whole chicken coop with wood chips from a new arborist friend who had no where to go with all their chips. Free chips! Next up is to move them (the whole coop) out to one of our middle pastures to get them a head start on the grass and bugs. They are out before any of the ruminents because they won't overeat the new growth and don't threaten the tilth of the soil if it rains to hard.
Little did we know that chickens have a homing instinct just as strong as any wild bird. We moved the trailer yesterday about 100 feet from it's spot in the field behind our house. It had been there all winter and when we talked with a farmer friend about moving the flock, he cautioned us that moving too far too fast would result in confused hens. Andy wanted to move the trailer all the way to the high pasture, which is beyond their current roaming range, and fence them in for a few days to get them acclimated. However, having never done this before, we took the advice to do it slowly and in increments.
Last night, when dusk was still holding on, I noticed that about half the flock was running around frantically in the bare earth patch that used to house the trailer. Oh, no. They were heading home to where home used to be, even though that exact same home was in sight not more than 100 feet away. I put Elly down for bed and strapped Ethan into our front carrier and joined Andy in an attempt to lure them back to the trailer. We tried calling them, we tried food, we even tried chasing them. Nothing would dissuade them from their original home base. As night closed in, about 30 or so hens formed a huddle in the middle of the ground and began hiding under one another. I felt so bad for them. They were really scared and confused. I suggested that we take the roll of chicken fence and open it up about 20 feet and form a "U" shape around them. Then, when they were surrounded, we'd "walk" the fence towards the trailer and subsequently walk the hens back home.
That worked only as well as the hens would allow, which wasn't much. After about 20 feet of more or less dragging the mass of feathers and legs across the ground, we decided to let them spend the night in the old brooder house, which was another ten feet away. We got the fence up to the doorway and began pitching hen after hen inside. There is still a perch in there and even one row of nesting boxes. But for every three birds we threw in, one or two would come back out, in search of their old home. Of course, they only got as far as the fence would allow, so we again had a huddling mass on the open ground. While Andy attempted to wrap his arms around 35 hens at once (which was amazingly effective), I searched the perimeter for more lost hens. One by one, I snatched chicken legs and carried them back flapping upside down to the brooder house.
Ethan was not very excited about all this bending and swooping and such, so he was beginning to fuss a bit in the front carrier. Then I noticed that under the sides of the brooder house there were more hens huddled. How many of them had not returned to the trailer?! We later guessed about half the flock, which is roughly 100 hens. Andy crawled around for another ten minutes grabbing hidden hens until we just could not see anymore. We determined that whatever would be, would be for the night. The majority of the flock was safe.
This morning only about ten birds were free ranging, which means we did a pretty good job of triage capturing!
Andy moved the trailer back to it's original spot and we are going to lock them up tight tonight. Then tomorrow, we will move the whole trailer all the way to the high pasture, let the hens out, and FENCE THEM IN until they know where their NEW home is. Word to anyone trying to move a flock of hens: big or small, they return to home and if you can't help them find their way, you may be doing what we will be doing tomorrow:
Moving the chicken coop, take two!
Rebekah Sell lives on a small plot of land with her husband, Andy, on which they are hoping to build a sustainable homestead. With a small business and four kids, life is always interesting as Becky and Andy live fully the idea that the journey is the reward. Find her on Google+.