On Saturday I spotted a small advert on a Farmers' Ads page on Facebook and made a vague enquiry, but as I didn't hear back from the seller, I dismissed the idea. Then yesterday, just as it was getting dark, I had a response to my query.
The advert was for Hyline chickens that had come to the end of their 'commercially productive' life and were due to be despatched. I've seen lots of information about charities that rehome birds that have been living in miserable conditions, but these were different, these were free-range birds and so should have been in reasonably good condition. Or at least as good as can be expected for birds living in large numbers together.
Anyway, Mr J was out for the day and not due home for a couple of hours, so I raced round to my neighbours' house and asked whether they fancied a drive out to collect a few chickens before they got shipped off during the night. I knew that this wasn't as cheeky a request as it might sound as they were hoping to get a few more chickens and had recently missed out on a rehoming day. Without blinking, she said yes and went to get her car keys.
I returned home to leave Mr J a note and to lock up the house, grabbing a chicken crate for the birds to travel back to their new homes and my purse. I'd been to the village where the farm is about a year ago and knew my way there. Or so I thought!
Having carefully given my neighbour the correct directions for the first half an hour along country lanes, I messed up for the last two miles and took us to, well I don't know where, but it wasn't the village we needed to be in. Luckily she had a Sat Nav and we did a rather long loop but found the farm.
It's a long time since I was on a poultry farm and had forgotten the very distinct aroma of a large number of birds altogether in one place. We went into the barn buildings and I went with the farmer into the barn where the birds were all gathered. Wow, the ammonia made my eyes water and I fought that horrid retching reflex that was going on in my throat. When I got over the initial impact I took at good look around me. Thousands of birds, all wandering around talking to each other! There were no cages, they were free to roam around the barn as they liked. And they liked, it was a constantly moving mass of feathered friends.
We selected birds that looked large and healthy with deep red combs (there were a lot to choose from) and put them into the chicken crate. We paid the farmer £1.50 per bird and left feeling pleased with our trip out. My neighbour was going to have four (until we got there and then she said she'd take six) and I was going to have half a dozen, but somehow we ended up with 13 in the crate. I guess both the farmer and I mis-counted, twice. When we got back Mr J was home and he had put our chickens and ducks to bed and made sure that they were safely locked into their houses.
My neighbour's husband helped me get their birds out of the crate, just the four that they had agreed with each other to have (which meant that we were going to have two extra chickens). I wasn't quite sure how Mr J was going to take suddenly having nine new birds arrive on our smallholding, totally unplanned, but worse undiscussed. Of course, he was fine and helped me to prepare the empty birdhouse that the Cream Legbar chickens had recently been moved out of. In the dark, with the use of our trusty head torches, we transferred the birds into the house. They were deeply asleep by this time and getting the slightly stupified birds out of crate was not easy in the dark.
This morning the new girls were a little wary of coming out of the house to explore their new environment, but my mid afternoon they seemed much more settled and had laid six lovely large eggs. I'm not expecting as many eggs tomorrow as those eggs laid today were already being formed yesterday. Tomorrow and the day after's egg count will be a better indication of how well they have settled in.
Over the course of the day I have picked up each hen, inspected it for mites and lice, checked their feet and eyes and they all look healthy and sturdy. Hopefully in a couple of days the smell that is still on their feathers will dissipate and they will be able to join the main flock.
I'm sure that it will take them a few days to get used to their new diet and new routine. Although they had access to the field, I'm not sure that they had all ventured outside very much. Their feed will have changed as we give our birds only organic feed, organic corn and fresh vegetables from our organic garden. Today they have had cider apple vinegar and garlic in their water and tomorrow I'll add the same and offer them a little plain live yoghurt. They will be dusted lightly with diatomacous earth (which is already in the henhouse), have the feathers trimmed on one wing (to reduce the chances of them flying over the low fence around the chicken field) and be fitted with a coloured plastic ring, which will help us identify them quickly and easily.
Our boys have been highly curious about the new arrivals and have spent much of the day staring through the fencing at the Hyline girls and trying to impress them with their vocal dexterity and scratchy dancing. The new girls don't look terribly impressed with their efforts, but I expect in a few days, like all our other girls, they will think that Big Red is just splendid.
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