Operation Chicken Rescue and Flock Integration
By Jenna Tyger
About a month ago, my husband and I adopted three new adult leghorn hens from Happy Trails Farm Animal Sanctuary in Ravenna, OH. These chickens came to the rescue from a factory farm in California (with a stop in New York in between). I know many people think it’s absolutely crazy to make this much of an effort for chickens – but everyone has their own feelings on that matter. I figured, if they made it all the way to Ohio, why not take a few. We have plenty of room, and our chickens are a hobby for us, not for making money. They live their whole natural lives on our property.
Around 3,000 of them were rescued altogether and transferred to different rescues. These chickens lived in cages their whole lives, and the idea of letting them live free for at least part of their lives appealed to me.
We picked the girls up after work on a Friday night and brought them home. Once our resident chickens were bedded down for the night, we added the new ones into the coop. They were scared, and didn’t want to leave the carrier. We finally got them out of the carrier, and they started exploring the coop. It was dark, but they didn’t really know what to do. They met the geese and ducks, who were scared of them. And then they tried to figure out how to get on the roosts, which proved difficult – I don’t think they’d had much practice. My husband finally picked them up one-by-one and put them on a part of the roost not too close to our other chickens. All was quiet and we left.
I wasn’t sure if they had the leg strength to stay on the roost, but they were still where we’d left them when my husband opened the coop the next day. As soon as food was poured, they were down and ready to eat. There were some minor skirmishes with the older chickens, but mostly they each stayed in their own groups – new chickens and old chickens. A mere week or so later, though, the groups were co?mingling like they’d always been together.
One thing we noticed right away about the new chickens was that they were debeaked, and unfortunately can’t really forage. They rely on the food we provide them, which they eat with gusto as soon as we pour it into their bowls. It’s unfortunate, since forage is natural to chickens and the food they find provides health benefits. It’s sad to see one chicken in particular, who has almost no top beak left. I’m not sure how she takes in food, but she’s active and has gained weight, and seems to be getting enough nutrition.
Another thing that has struck me about the chickens is that they are not at all afraid of us, despite being in cages their whole lives. Mainly they’re concerned with being fed, and surround us whenever we’re in the coop. They are more tolerant of petting than the chickens we raised since they were one day old.
I’m glad that we were able to participate in the rescue. These chickens may not be major egg producers at this point (our other chickens aren’t either), but it’s fun to watch them learn to live outside of a age.
Read this editor’s letter about her new chickens and their lively personalities.
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